I have several cries from the Bible to utterly adhere to, and I don’t always or even most of the time adhere to those precepts. Luckily I do not know many people, or more intolerance might be evident. I am not by nature or by lineage, or by raising, a particularly tolerant person. Whether that be because of Catholic upbringing, witnessing it in my parents, or by teaching myself to be an utterly jaded post-modernist, it might be none of those things, it might be all three, I don’t really want to go there right now.
The point is that when I see sin, I get upset. Ironically, I sin as well, and my particular brands of sin are not as intrusive as they probably ought to be in my mindset. I try not to beat myself up with that, and just let God work on me. Beating myself up over sin has done little in my life, aside from drive me into catatonic depression. And I am a first hand witness to the saying, that there is nothing more painful than being utterly aware of a catastrophic problem within myself, and being utterly powerless to change it.
So why am I so intolerant?
Well, let’s address tolerance first. And I’ve heard a plethora of sermons and written pieces on the call that “Christians are not called to be tolerant.”
And oh boy am I going down a rabbit hole now.
The first definition of tolerance is such: the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.
So when opinions existence, and behavior exists that are outside our consideration of morality as Christians, intolerance is our refusal to accept those things.
The cultural definition seems to be a bit broader. Intolerance as a word has really become synonymous with religion, and the growing rift between atheists and believers. It is a term usually tagged with a feeling of bigotry and hatred.
I would agree that Christians are not called to be tolerant, yet I would also say they are.
We are not to sit back and say nothing for appearance reasons when in the national or local debate immorality is being espoused. We are not to endorse poor behavior as something that is ok because of wide spread acceptance in public circles.
So we’re not tolerating certain things, but speaking out against them, however our response is of the most particular importance, more so than anything else, because I believe it’s at this point that we’re getting it very wrong.
Many, many, many Christians seemed to have appointed themselves as rebuking-machines. And they do so angrily, and self righteously mistaking self righteous anger with true righteous anger. Rebuking other Christians is a part of the mindset of a Christian, but it is not 95% of what we do, it’s not even 50% of what we do, or even 10%.
Very simple right there. Love God, love others. Now I might be confused but I don’t think it says there “Rebuke your neighbor as yourself.” Nope, it certainly doesn’t. It says “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Most people are not good at loving, in fact I’m not particularly good at loving either. I make it a point to try and offer hugs, and tell people at my support groups that I love them. It’s like turning the key on the motor of my heart and revving it. Unfortunately the cold start valve is having some issues, but if I press the gas at the same time, that tired and angry heart might just fire up with some love in it. I’m trying to be intentional with offering love.
Let’s go even deeper and ask, why are so we poor at loving? And has rebuking become more of a twist reaction because our hearts cannot bear the risk of loving?
Hard-lining Christian preachers will call up the idea of rebuking, or convicting others of their sins, and then settle down in their arm chair and declare it such a hard message to preach and such a hard message to hear. I disagree. I think rebuking has become easy for us, because our hearts are so battered and angry anyway! A circle of resentment, self-righteous anger, confusion, inability to change, and fear of the national shift toward immorality has ironically cut us off from our most effective tool to bring society back to our Godly moral beliefs. Yes you guessed it, that’s love. Love, uncharacteristic compassion, and an offering of time, resources, and a great risk for rejection and pain. There it is. That’s the truly hard teaching. Any resentful old fool can tell somebody what a sinner they are, but the truly wise can overlook that sin, not ignore it, but refocus, and see the transformed person that Jesus Christ can and will make from the sinner standing before them. And as they stand there, hurting, afraid, and lost, can we just offer them some love?
Instead of self righteously declaring “Look at your sin, sinner!” Why don’t we say, “My friend, I know you have been hurt so badly, and this has lead to some poor decisions, but I love you. And my Father loves you as well. He loves you truly and deeply, and he wants to offer you a way out of your sadness. Come with me, let me instruct you, guide you up in the ways of my Father, and help you to receive his son and the transformation that process entails. I promise that this will occur if you wholeheartedly seek it. It will not be easy, but it will be worthwhile. Come, let’s go, an exciting journey awaits!”
This is an example for a person to person confrontation, but on the national or local level we have to remember the same thing: offer love. We have to be so very careful though. We have to make sure our motives are right, or in our tone or inflections we may seem condescending and self-righteous. Once again, not a good idea. The rest of society is looking for any little thing they can find to plaster the message of churches and Christians as odd, backward, mean, cruel, or violent. Let’s not give them an inch. Let’s show them love and morality. Let’s welcome them in, because in truth we are dealing with hurting people who need our help. So it’s important on the person to person basis, as well as on local and national levels, and the internet for that matter, to be polite, kind, courteous, friendly, and loving. And that’s hard, and a hard teaching, because they are looking for a fight. They are looking for a mud slinging match, don’t give them one. Being loving will not satisfy our inner anger at the direction of our society, but it will offer a clear route to righteousness and God loving morality. We can’t be out there to satisfy our rage at the situation. We have to, have to, have to be out there to provide another course and a loving example.
I guess what I’m trying to point to is this: In the atheistic communities, and other communities, they can see one thing only, and that’s our cruel method of constant rebuking. If I was on the outside looking in at a Christian community constantly trying to increase my own inner pain and guilt, I would want nothing to do with such a cruel and heartless people. But Jesus said it is by your love that others will know you are my disciples.
We have got to, got to, got to learn how to love again. We’ve got to learn how to love ourselves as those made clean before God. And then we can learn how to love others as ourselves. I find it interesting that Jesus included the last part in that statement, love your neighbor as yourself. As yourself. If you don’t love yourself as a redeemed Christian, how then can you love others?
And here’s a disclaimer, we ought not to love the flesh, the old self, but love the new self being transformed in the grace offered by God. Grace is a gifted transformation here, not earned, but perhaps deserved, at least in the eyes of God, because he sees each of us as his children. If we had been unworthy of redemption, God would not have offered Jesus Christ as a living sacrifice for our sins. God sees great value in us. I’m not saying we’ve earned that value, I’m saying God created us with inherent value, and that value is apparent in God’s mercy and love for us. Our value and identity comes from God, and is made apparent by God offering Jesus Christ, not because of our actions, but because of his incredible infinite love for us. Let’s be pictures of Christ in the world, reflecting the light of the son.
So I’m not going to tolerate evil in the world in a way that I endorse it. I’m going to tolerate sin in my non-believing friends, because I’m trying to show them the heart of God which is unconditional love. I’m going to try to show them that love in how I act toward them, and how I live my life on a daily basis.
What’s the application? Well I have friends who are atheists and post atheist pictures and text on Facebook. Do I go under those posts and rebuke the hell out of them? No I don’t. But I do post encouraging scripture on my Facebook wall. And I try to magnify the positive things they do, and offer them love. If I see a picture of them carving pumpkins with their family, I post a reply and say what a wonderful thing that it is to do with family, and how I recall my parents spending time with me when I carved pumpkins at a young age. Now I am offering them love and encouragement. And I will also on occasion, not constantly, but on occasion invite them to my church. “Just show up” I’ll say, you don’t have to agree, but I think you’ll enjoy it. And then perhaps they’ll receive that message someday. And very importantly, I pray for them. I submit prayer requests for people I love and people I do not love equally. It has to be that way. My best revenge against someone I dislike is bringing them to know God’s love and receive it.
Here is the powerful thing. I can quote scripture on and on and on for as long as I want, but non-believers are not recognizing the inherent authority. Fine, so what do I do if they don’t respond to scripture? I love on them. And when I’m not constantly rebuking and angrily arguing with them, they start to hear a quiet testimony coming from my heart. They hear my words of encouragement, they see a smile on my face when before there had been none. And they start to wonder, what is it that is so good about this Christian thing he’s got going on? Maybe, just maybe, I ought to look into that. Because I see that example of love, and love is one thing I simply cannot ignore.
Paul the apostle became all things to all people, and by doing so converted thousands and tens of thousands, laying the foundation for the beginnings of the church. The Romans were concerned with glory, the glory of Rome, so Paul came there and told them about the glory of God! The Hebrews had a strong concern for light and the equation of light to God. So Paul taught about Jesus being the light in the darkness! The Greeks were concerned with knowledge and wisdom, so Paul explained in terms they could understand, that through the sacrifice of Christ knowledge is made apparent, and we can know Christ, and know we have eternal life.
Ravi Zacharias said it better than I could, “The pursuit of the Hebrews was idealized and symbolized by light. “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” “The people that sat in darkness have seen a great light.” “This is the light that lighteth every man that comes into the world.” The pursuit of the Greeks was symbolized by knowledge. That’s why the Biblical writers say, “These things are written that you might know that you have eternal life.” For the Hebrews, it was light. For the Greeks, it was knowledge. For the Romans, it was glory. For the Romans, it was glory, the glory of the city of Rome, the glory of the city that wasn’t built in a day. And here we have it. The apostle Paul, a Hebrew by birth, a citizen of Rome, living in a Greek city, had to give to them the ideal of his ethic. And he says this: “God, who caused the light to shine out of darkness, has caused His light to shine in our hearts, to give to us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus our Lord.” For the apostle Paul, the ultimate ethic was not an abstraction, not symbolized merely by light, not merely by knowledge, not merely by glory, but in the very face of our Lord. “God who caused the light to shine out of darkness has caused his light to shine in our hearts to give to us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The final point I’d like to make is that I believe the ultimate message that American’s can hear is that of the Love of God. We’ve got to come to people on those terms, on terms of love. Of course America is diverse, and needs intellectual arguments, conviction of sin, emotional arguments, and many other approaches, but it seems paramount among all these approaches is the American desire to love and be loved. Let’s come to them on those terms, and invite them to receive the gift of Christ, the love of God!
Go in peace and love today, and everyday 🙂