I am the kind of person who wants everybody to get along. I have the kind of faith that doesn’t want to exclude people. It bothers me when someone hurts another person. So the word tolerance is a word I liked until I started reading the Scriptures. Can tolerance and faith coexist?
The Bible is very clear that people will have different beliefs than you and that others will not take it lightly:
Romans 1:18-25 says that God gives us all evidence that he is true.
John 14:6 says that Jesus is the only way among all other spiritual paths.
Luke 6:22 says that we are blessed when others reject us.
John 15:18 say that when the world hates you, they hated Christ first.
These Scriptures are clear: People are not always going to agree with you and will even get hostile because faith in God is exclusive through Jesus. So how do we respond to this reality as Christ followers?
It’s hard to resist a kind person. It’s hard to be hostile towards a compassionate person. It’s difficult to deny someone’s forgiveness.
How Jesus dealt with differing opinions is how we should deal with opinions that are different from ours. Jesus was gracious, and graciousness is stronger and a better choice than tolerance. Graciousness is defined as having a forgiving attitude and compassionate posture as you walk in wisdom with those whose opinions, attitudes and beliefs are different than yours.
Here are some effective ways to love like Jesus in a tolerant culture.
1. Channel your passions.
Jesus faced popular opposition in his day. In one case, when confronted with stubborn, unredeemed and resistant people, Jesus is said to have been angry at their stance. Mark says Jesus “looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts” (Mark 3:5).
This might be the only time we see Jesus angry and perform a miracle at the same time. So how does Jesus channel his anger and sadness at their ignorance? He chooses to be angry (without sinning, of course) and do God’s will at the same time—showing us that it can be done.
2. Pay it forward positively.
Paul insists, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil … do not take revenge … do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17). Jesus’ mission was to seek and save the lost. He had a fierce determination to not allow the opposition of others to sidetrack him from his purpose or to deflect him from his mission. And at the end of the day, Jesus overcame evil with good. He didn’t overcome evil with protest. He didn’t overcome evil with Twitter rants. Jesus didn’t overcome evil with boycotting. Yes, he did get attention by flipping a table and pulling out a whip, but he didn’t overcome evil by yelling or arguing with others.
Peter tried to repay evil for evil by picking a battle and even hurting someone physically when he cut off a Roman guard’s ear. Trying to pay back an eye for an eye or an ear for an ear is not the heart of Jesus. As a matter of fact, said to Peter, “Am I leading a rebellion?” And he healed the soldier’s ear (Luke 22).
Jesus’ response was healing, not hurtful. That should be our response, as well. For example, do we boycott Target for instituting transgender bathrooms, or do we offer to clean the bathrooms at Target to show the world that serving is more valuable than protesting?
3. Genuinely love those in opposition to you.
The best thing you can do is love those who don’t agree with you: not just pray for them, but love them (Luke 6:27). Loving your enemies means that you not only pray for them but bless them when they persecute you. It means showing kindness to those who disagree with you.
Jesus didn’t just write off the Romans for their tyranny, he engaged them by going to the house of a centurion and healing his servant’s son (Luke 7:1–10). While everyone was boycotting Rome’s rules and regulations, Jesus was willing to go into a centurion’s house with a miracle, not a reprimand or a demand.
4. Know who your real Enemy is.
We are not battling against against a person, but an ideology, or in spiritual terms, a stronghold or pattern of belief. As Christians, we must know that our opponents are not our real enemies. We must regularly remind ourselves of the real war going on behind the scenes, as described in Ephesians 6:10–20. The real war is in the spiritual world, and it must be fought with spiritual weapons.
Our real enemies are spiritual: “principalities … powers … the rulers of the darkness of this world.” Our perceived “human enemies” are confused, misunderstood and even being held captive by the real Enemy of our souls.
5. Pursue a change of heart, not a change of opinion.
Jesus took the initiative when things got heavy and when others pushed back. He stood up to his opponents with grace and truth. But he didn’t fight on their terms, but on his terms. He turned the tables … strategically and literally.
Jesus was more concerned with the heart of someone than their political opinion. He took the controversy to them. He appealed to their logic as well as their conscience. That’s why, for example, he posed the question, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” (Luke 5:23).
Jesus sought not to win arguments, but to change of hearts and minds. His desire was to bring them to a place of surrender so that they could experience forgiveness. And that must be our motivation with those who disagree with us: that “they may see [our] good deeds and praise [our] Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
6. Always let the Holy Spirit lead you.
What does it look like for you to love a transgender individual, an addicted teenager, a liberal, a Republican, the girl who is living with her boyfriend, your gay neighbors, your porn-addicted friend, the person who believes that all roads lead to heaven and that you are narrow-minded? In the words of Paul:
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Cor. 13:4–7).
First Corinthians 13 is not about marriage (sorry well-meaning people), but spiritual gifts. It’s about enabling the Holy Spirit to use you to make a difference in the people around you—and to make a difference, you need love.
If you don’t have love as you engage others, you are nothing. Plain and simple. The love Paul describes isn’t a passive love. It’s quite the opposite, actually. It’s an aggressive love because it speaks out of moments you’ll have as you love people who exhibit boasting and passionate disagreement.
That’s why we get a list of words, like patience, kindness and not holding grudges. Because this is in the context of the Holy Spirit: Only he can give you this kind of love, this kind of mindset, and this kind of heart for others.
For you to be a gift and a blessing to those around you, let the Holy Spirit give you the ability to respond according to this Scripture, and watch the tolerance around you lose strength. God’s Spirit of Truth will always be stronger than the tolerance of culture. Always.
Alan Pastian is a campus pastor at River Valley Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota (an Outreach 100 church, No. 23 Fastest-Growing and No. 46 Largest). For more: AlanPastian.com