Two things you never want to do. Never scream “Fire!” in a crowded theater, and never whisper the word tolerance in church, unless you want to be tied to a stake and burned. OK, I’m being facetious and a little unfair, but some Christians don’t seem to want anything to do with anything that has the word tolerance in it.
We Christians love God and want to stand up for—and stand on—his Word, so we refuse to ignore, compromise on, or water down any of the clear teachings of Scripture about sinful lifestyles, wrong beliefs, sexually deviant behavior, socialism, secular humanism, Muzak, and domesticated cats. And this is good because none of these things should be tolerated, but in this chapter I’m not encouraging anyone to be tolerant of sinful lifestyles, beliefs, or things; I’m talking about being tolerant of sinful people.
Tolerance is allowing someone, or something, to be.
INTOLERANT OF SIN
Continued unrepentant sin should never be tolerated in the person of any Christian. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1, 2).
Despite what my five-year-old daughter Payton thought, we are all sinners (Romans 3:23). In home school a few years ago, my wife was sitting on the couch with our two young boys, teaching a lesson about sin. My youngest son, Sylas, asked, “Mommy, what is sin?” so Rhonda explained to him that sin is when we disobey God. She then went on to explain to the boys that we are all sinners. Payton was in the kitchen getting a drink of water—and not a part of the lesson—but when she heard this, she announced with a look of horror on her face, “I’m not a sinner!”
Rhonda replied, “Well, sweetie, you actually are—we all are.”
“But I’m not a sinner!” Payton exclaimed again.
Always the wise teacher, Rhonda said, “Well, sweetie, you’re actually sinning a little bit right now.”
Sin in the church is like a cancer that, if left untreated, leads to death.
Continued unrepentant sin should never be tolerated in the body of Christ. Sin in the church is like a cancer that, if left untreated, leads to death. We are supposed to eat with non-Christian sinners but not with unrepentant Christian ones. The apostle Paul wrote to Christians who were tolerating an incestuous relationship within their congregation:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11
Sinners should always be allowed in our presence. It’s their only hope. It’s our only hope for reaching them.
But we are commanded not to eat with another Christian who is tolerating sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness, or swindling in his or her life.
TOLERANT OF SINNERS
Sinners should always be tolerated.
Jesus made this point when he allowed a sinful woman to be in his presence, wiping his feet with her hair, kissing his feet, and pouring perfume on them while he ate at Simon the Pharisee’s house (Luke 7:36-50).
This confused Simon. He didn’t understand why a man of Jesus’ stature would tolerate this woman. Luke doesn’t tell us the nature of her sin, but from Luke’s comment that she was “a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town,” we infer that she most likely was a prostitute. Simon was befuddled. If Jesus really was a prophet of God—as the people claimed—why would he allow a woman like this to be in his presence?
Why would Jesus allow himself to be contaminated by the proceeds of that woman’s evil work? Wasn’t he condoning her lifestyle by receiving her attention and allowing her to anoint his feet with the spoils of her evil trade?
Of course not!
He wasn’t condoning her actions. He was just loving her.
Jesus was more tolerant of lost people than most of us will ever be, because he loved lost people more than most of us ever will. Tolerance is viewed by many in the church as watering down the message of Jesus, but when we look at how Jesus interacted with sinners who were in need of salvation, we learn that tolerance toward sinners was key to how he reached out to them. He chose to be with sinners because he wanted them to have hope. He allowed this prostitute to be in his presence at this dinner because he wanted her to be with him at the banquet he will host in eternity.
It’s all about the choices we make, and sometimes we make bad choices. Sin is about choice. We choose to sin.
Faith is also about choice. We choose to believe.
This woman had made some bad choices in the past, but those choices hadn’t made her intolerable, just sinful, so Jesus chose to have faith in the power of love lived out in her presence.
Tolerance is really an act of faith.
We must believe that people can change. We can’t forget that we are all sinners who sin. We are not sin. There’a clear difference. When it comes to sharing our faith in Jesus, allowing someone to be in our presence is a statement of our faith that coexistence between Christians and non-Christians will result in positive changes.
You’ve been reading with Arron Chambers from his book Eats With Sinners. Read the first chapter or watch Arron talk about his book here- eatswithsinners.com. Get your copy for personal or group use at navpress.com