Tolerant Or Intolerant?

Romans 12:9-21

Only a wise, strong love can face evil without fear or fainting, and do the right and most helpful thing
at the right time in the right spirit for all concerned.
Only real love can save us from a spineless tolerance and an equally, cruel tolerance.
There is a blessed intolerance, just as there is an equally blessed tolerance,
made possible by the generous, but unflinching demands of a Christ-like giving love.

It is love meeting people without blinking, or bowing and scraping, or running, or giving up,
or becoming a doormat for other's feet, or doing any other merely passive thing
which is so often identified with Jesus' injunction to "love your enemies." (Matthew 5:44)

Here is the one most frequent misunderstanding of the place and attitude of a Christ-like love.
That Jesus did not mean by these words that one merely "gives up"
in face of evil deeds is obvious from His own life.
When Jesus upset the tables of the money-changers in the temple and drove out those
who made of God's house of prayer "a den of thieves," He was certainly not giving up to evil.

And when Jesus died on a cross between two thieves, the innocent suffering with the guilty,
He was not yielding himself in meek subjection.

In His encounters with evil, something of infinite good always came.
And if we learn to love others as Christ also loves us, our encounters with evil will be positive
– we will do the most creative thing that can be done under the circumstances.

Paul's words to the Romans summarizes this possibility.
"Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good…
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…
Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all…
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good
." (12:9-21)

This is the very opposite of being a passive, spineless giving over to evil.
Indeed we are to hate the evil, and do all we can to destroy it.

There is a vicious intolerance in our world described by Jonathan Swift's satiric words:
"We are God's chosen few
all others will be damned;
There is no place in heaven for you
We can't have heaven crammed."

It is tragic that the sense of oneness which we seek in the love for which we were created
has been so twisted and mistaken.
What a travesty it would be if we set forth requirements that everyone included in our love
must have one point of view, and that is ours.
Certainly Jesus would never call this kind of intolerance blessed, nor would any other understanding person.
Obviously there is a tolerance which is a great virtue.

Tolerance may be an expression of love.

Jesus did not use any word similar to our word, "tolerance."
Perhaps, there was no similar word in the Greek or the Aramaic of His time,
though the attitude and spirit which we indicate that by was most surely His.

Luke relates a time when John came to Jesus with the complaint about a contemporary religious leader.
"Master, we saw men casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him,
because he does not follow with us
."

Jesus was indignant and rebuked John, and the other disciples for whom he was a spokesman.
In Luke 9:49-50 Jesus said, "Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you."

In affect, Jesus was saying that there are many approaches to God; to truth and right,
that just because some of the Christians to not make the same approach you do is no indication
that he is against truth or God or sight.
Certainly, we must not stop or hinder anyone who is earnestly seeking for light
or endeavoring to minister sincerely to the needs of his followers,
even though he may be doing it in a different way from ours.

Many terrible evils could have been avoided in these 2000+ years of Christian history if the words of Jesus
and His spirit had been accepted, understood, and obeyed.

I read the story of a man who had this to say:
"Across the way my neighbor's windows shine,
his roof-tree shields him from the storms that frown;
He toiled and saved to build it, staunch and brown,
and though my neighbors house is not like mine,
I would not put it down.

With patient care my neighbor, too, had built a house of faith,
wherein his soul might stay
a haven from the winds that sweep life's way.
It is different from my own – I felt no guilt - I burned it yesterday."

Strong, wise love will surely seek to preserve, not destroy, the house of faith so precious to others.

A good definition of tolerance is expressed by Philips Brooks:
"Tolerance expressed a perfectly legitimate and honorable relation between opposite minds.
I disagree with my friend.
But I respect him; I want him to be true to his convictions, yet I claim the right and duty
of trying to persuade him to my belief.
Tolerance is the meeting in perfect harmony of earnest conviction and personal indulgence
"

This is what we would not want to lose.
Nothing would be more disastrous than a renewal of bigotry, pride, and selfishness.
We need to preserve entire civilization the right of private judgment.
We must all fight and live for this right of others to differ with us, and for our right to differ with them.

Broad-mindness without love destroys.

The sad fact is that the true meaning of the word "tolerance" is being perverted and prostituted
by a great many Americans today.
Our national character, at least a great part of it, is beginning to resemble the character
in John Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress: "Mr. Facing-Both-Ways."

Too many of us are trying to straddle the fence.
Evil is so popular, and dressed up in such respectable clothes that we can't stand to oppose it.
After all we're doing the customary thing so as not to be different, so as to be like other people.

We are on the fence so often we get ourselves into one mess after another.

Robert Goodrich writes, "In the name of an easy tolerance and under the popularity banner
of a broad-mindedness… we have about all but arrived at the place where we imagine
that virtue consist in having the kind of mind that never shuts the door on anything,
the kind of spirit that is shocked by nothing."

For instance – anything goes.

In the Women's Home Companion some years ago, Mrs. Elizabeth Massey Hill wrote an article entitled,
"Don't Call Me Broad-minded."
She wrote, "To be broad-minded seems to be the most desirable trait possible today.
Beat your wife if you like, steal if you must, but never deviate from the path of broad-mindedness.
It amounts to be fetish, and I for one am sick of it.

… Did your neighbor keep his brother's widow out of her inheritance?
Poor thing, he must have been the victim of some childhood insecurity which left him
with a pathological craving for money.
Has your best friend run off with your husband?
You must realize that monogamy is an unnatural state for the mate animal and must likely
your friend's mother didn't teach her when she was small that it is rude to grab.

We must get a divorce on polite grounds, give a party for the happy pair…
And teach junior to call the lady, "Aunt…"

She goes on to say, "Well, I am now through being tolerant.
It seems to me that a bit of insistence on old-fashioned virtues might be healthy change…
Even in smaller matters I am quitting the broad-minded group…
There is a line, and I'm going to draw it.

So from now on, call me anything else you like, but don't call me a broad-minded!
Those are fighting words."


We will certainly need to take a fresh look at our cult of broad-mindedness and tolerance.
We need to see that there are two kinds of tolerance.
There is the blessed and there is the deadly, the Christlike and the vicious.

Jesus was warning us against the deadly kind of broad-mindedness and the disaster of following it
when He said, "Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy,
that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life,
and those who find it are few."
(Matthew 7:13)

Like the prophets before Him, Jesus was extremely "narrow-minded" – if you want to call it that
– when it came to justice, mercy, truth, and love.
But His was a strong love, a powerful kindness.
He was outstanding in His tenderness.

Sometimes, we see Jesus pictured too often as a "genial good fellow," who forgave everybody
from the woman taken in adultery, the lying Simon Peter, stealing tax collector,
Zacchaeus, the thief on the cross.
But what we have forgotten is that this forgiveness has upon it the costliness of the cross;
the indignation of the one who could drive out from the temple the money-changers
who made excessive profits, who made a "racket" out of poor people's desire for worship;
and the intolerance of one who could not stomach the hypocrisy and double-dealing of the Pharisees,
who "cleansed the outside of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and excess
."
(Matthew 23:25)

As a result of His refusing to put up with evil, they killed Him!
We must never forget that.
But we must also remember that His method of meeting evil did not save him from the cross,
it did have its own saving influence from which men can never escape.

Remember tolerance is evil when we are so broad-minded that it makes no difference
what anyone believes or does so long as he doesn't get in our way.
When such indifference reduces truth, right, justice, and mercy to a nothingness,
a matter of little or not important is the wide easy way to destruction.

The worst threat to our human welfare today is not communism or terrorism,
as dangerous as they are, but rather the indifferent tolerance that believes nothing with conviction
and takes no stand on any issue, for to do so will "hurt the business," "is unsafe,"
and other such reasons.

This is the great danger of the free world, as Sara Henderson Hay pictures it in her poem:
Heresy Indeed

"It is a piteous thing to be
Enlisted in no cause at all,
Unsworn to any heraldry;
To fly no banner from the wall,
Own nothing you would sweat or try for,
Or bruise your hands or bleed or die for.

To take the smooth and middle path,
The half-heart interest, the creed
Without extreme of hope or wrath,
Ah, this were heresy indeed
That all God's pity will not stay for,
And your immortal soul will pay for."

Nevertheless, there is a need for the right kind of intolerance, and there is a narrowness about truth
that demands reverence and respect.
The truths about electricity and atomic fission are exceedingly narrow.
Vary only 1 millionth of an inch, disregard the truth in the smallest way, and suffering and destruction will follow.
So that is how it is with truth about life.

Jesus said, "Enter by the narrow gate… for the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life,
and those who find it are few
."
And in Luke 9:24 Jesus said, "Whoever would save his life will lose it;
and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it
."
That is to say that self-centered living is going to destroy you and your happiness and your home.
Unless you put God into the center of your life, eventually, you will find utter futility and destruction.

We need men and women who will not be moderate or tolerant of ideals and acts that limit
or destroy the dignity and freedom of the human spirit.
Tolerance is dangerously vicious when it is an expression of careless unconcern for the truth
upon which the well-being of ourselves or of others depends.

Tolerance is an expression of wise love when it refuses to excuse the evils in our lives, in our homes,
and in our society, simply because they are the customer things.
Just because the thing is a custom does not make it right.
We must not excuse the evils in our lives just because it is popular and that everybody is doing it.

Large numbers of babies in the African bush die each year because these parents blindly, follow custom.
For generations these people have spread dried cow manure on the floors of their huts.
It was done to keep down the dust, and it is a time-honored custom.
But the custom is wrong because it is contrary to the truth that says that such coverings breed bacteria
and are often fatal to small children.

The desire for conformity is a powerful instinct within all of us and is a good thing up to a certain point,
but when the desire to be like others leads us to accept habits and practice ways
that are hurtful and destructive, to continue tolerating them is deadly – it is evil and sinful.

Blessed are the ones who are intolerant of the customs that are hurtful and dangerous.
Much of the good in our civilization was not brought about by conformists,
but by then nonconformists who learn to question and defy evil customs and practices
which are contrary to the truth of God.

Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus

"Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross;
Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the solemn watchword hear;
If while ye sleep He suffers, away with shame and fear;
Where'er ye meet with evil, within you or without,
Charge for the God of battles, and put the foe to rout.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the trumpet call obey;
Forth to the mighty conflict, in this His glorious day.
Ye that are brave now serve Him against unnumbered foes;
Let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, stand in His strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own.
Put on the Gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer;
Where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, each soldier to his post,
Close up the broken column, and shout through all the host:
Make good the loss so heavy, in those that still remain,
And prove to all around you that death itself is gain.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle, the next the victor's song.
To those who vanquish evil a crown of life shall be;
They with the King of Glory shall reign eternally."
-- George Duffield

This sermon was adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White