Was Jesus tolerant?
Before you knee jerk an answer think deeply about it for a moment. Because if you study the Gospels closely you will see that he was tolerant of sinners, but not of sin. And he wasn’t at all tolerant of hypocrisy.
To the sinners Jesus was an enigma. They loved being around him and he them. In spite of their transgressions, the God of the universe, not ony tolerated being with them, but seemed to thoroughly enjoy it! But, at the same time, he didn’t tolerate the sinners’ sin. He told them to “go and sin no more” in different ways and in different situations, time and time again. Utimately, his death on the cross proved that he couldn’t tolerate their sins long term. He died to provide all sinners a way out. Through his blood stained path on the Via Dolorosa sinners found the only real way to “go and sin no more.”
Was Jesus perceived as tolerant by the Pharisees? No way! He rebuked them every chance he could. It was almost like a hobby to him. He consistently used them as an example of how not to serve God. Check out the seven “woes” he unleashes on the scribes, teachers and religious leaders of his time in Matthew 23. They are like buckshot to the chest… powerful, penetrating and aimed straight at the heart.
So are we as Christians called to be tolerant? Yes and no! Jesus was tolerant and intolerant at the same time and we are called to be just like him. The Son of God hated transgression and had no problem calling a sin and a sin (see the woman at the well.) But, at the same time, he had no problem engaging them, even if it meant breaking cultural taboos (see the woman at the well again.)
He hung out with sinners and, maybe even more telling, sinners hung out with him. Throughout the Synoptics he is accused by the religious right of his time of being a partier and of hanging out in places that a man of God should never be hanging out. In Christ there was this strange tolerance/intolerance mix that was like a cattle prod to the religious hypocrites and a spiritual aphrodisiac to the sinners of his day. This strange brew drew sinners in, embraced them fully and convicted them deeply, all at the same time.
During the filming of our reality series, GOSPEL Journey Maui ( a reality series we filmed with a Mormon, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, etc), I’ll never forget when Emma, our Buddhist friend, shared something powerful and insightful about the whole issue of tolerance. She said that she had seen a love and a light from Zane, the production crew and me that could only be explained by the Divine. She mentioned at one point that we were more “tolerant” than most of her tolerant friends in Boulder.
Her statement surprised me at first. Because, to be honest, I am not technically a very tolerant person, neither is Zane or most of the people who were on the production crew. For instance I believe homosexuality is a sin, that abortion is murder, that marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman, etc. But Zane, the crew and I loved Emma and the other cast members no matter what. We shared some pretty straightforward “narrow minded” thinking from the Bible, but we did it with gentleness and respect. In short we were intolerant when it came to truth but super tolerant when it came to them. And this tolerance/intolerance mixture had a powerful impact on the group of young people we took to Maui.
What does all of this have to do with you? If you want to be like Jesus in a culture that increasingly dismisses Christianity as too political and too intolerant then we must change and stand firm at the same time. We stand firm on truth. After all, sin is sin. This stand for truth should never be compromised. There are those who want to repaint sin in rainbow colors and compromise the clear teachings of Scripture with moratoriums on discussions concerning certain types of sin or present theories that deal with the trajectory of truth and thereby conveniently bypass certain Biblical standards as a thing of the past.
These kinds of teachers and those who embrace them are messing with things that shouldn’t be messed with, all in the name of relevance. They are losing their saltiness, the distinguishing standards of truth that helps to make Christianity Christian. Just like salt, we are called to provide taste and some flavorful “bite” to this bland world of “have-it-your-way” living. The standards of Biblical morality (The 10 Commandments, living a holy life and stuff like that) provide just that.
We stand for truth. But we stand for love as well. We should love hanging out with all kinds of sinners, from homosexuals to far left secular liberals. And, even more telling, they should love hanging out with us.
That’s why I have a hard time aligning myself too much with those who claim to be “the religious right.” While I may agree with most, if not all, of their views on issues such as homosexuality, marriage, abortion, etc, I think that many of my conservative friends miss the point. Those who don’t know Christ are not the enemy. They are victims of the real and invisible enemy. We must love hanging out with them and they should love hanging out with us. And when we are, we shouldn’t be tempted to knock their whiskey bottles, cigarettes or whatever out of their hands. Instead we proclaim the truth in love. We care about them, listen to them and joyfully, humbly bring them to Jesus. He will deal with the rest of their garbage from the inside out…just like he deals with us and our garbage every day.
We should passionately love the sinner and genuinely hate their sin. This love/hate relationship should drive us so much that we, like Jesus, are willing to go through anything to help them conquer sin through the cross. Our “Via Dolorosa” is the struggle of staying on the pathway into that relationship with humility, willing to be scorned and verbally crucified so that they can know the freedom from sin that only comes through Jesus Christ.
Let us be tolerant of sinners. Let us be intolerant of sin and hypocristy. Let us learn to embrace the tension of this love/hate relationship.
Let us be like Jesus.
Greg Stier is the President and Founder of Dare 2 Share Ministries in Arvada, Colo., where he works with youth leaders and students, equipping them to be effective in sharing the gospel. With experience as a senior teaching pastor and in youth ministry for almost 20 years, Greg has a reputation of knowing and relating to today's teens. He is widely viewed as an authority and expert teen spirituality. He is known for motivating, mobilizing and equipping teens for positive change. For more information on Dare 2 Share Ministries, and the Invicible 08/09 conference tour, please visit www.dare2share.org.