What God Thinks About Tolerance
Speaker: Dr. Harold J. Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living | For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? 1 Corinthians 4:7
Question: On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the greatest, how tolerant are you? “Tolerant of what?” you might ask, thinking of politics, religion, sports, or intelligence. Most of us think of ourselves as being quite tolerant, and certainly if we are in the minority, we demand tolerance and respect as a kind of sacred right.
But the deeper issue evokes another question: Should we be tolerant at all? “Whoa!” you may be thinking, wondering if today’s commentary is a plea for greater tolerance or a bigoted voice for intolerance.
OK, before you decide, think for a moment of the impact of what Wendell Willkie wrote a generation ago. He said, “No man has a right… to treat any other man tolerantly, for tolerance is the assumption of superiority.” That phrase, “the assumption of superiority” is the key to the whole issue. He is saying that when you are tolerant of others, you think of yourselves as being superior to them, yet in what you think of as the largeness of your spirit you won’t condemn them. He says that tolerance means you look down on them. Is he right?
When every person is on equal footing, nobody looks down on anybody else. Under Communism, there was a saying that all people are equal, but some are “more equal” than others, meaning that party officials had the best food, the best drink, the best housing and the best cars–yet everyone was equal.
If God considers us to be equal (and He does), then shouldn’t God’s children adopt the attitude of their Father and put prejudice aside once and for all? True, yet the world as it is and the way it should be are pretty far apart. The reality is that we as Christians are often as guilty of prejudice and intolerance as anyone else. Baptists look down on Pentecostals, and Presbyterians know they are superior to both, while Episcopalians tower above the whole spectrum of other groups yet are viewed by Catholics as slightly lower than they.
What causes this attitude? In one word it is pride, something that ought not to be part of the thinking of any believer. “For who makes you different from anyone else?” asked Paul when he wrote to the Corinthians, condemning them for their willful pride. He then asked, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Prejudices are the outward manifestation of an inward condition of the heart which is called pride. And if there is one negative mental attitude which God uniformly condemns; it is pride. Warren Wiersbe wrote, “In his pride, Moses lost his temper and was kept out of the Promised Land (Numbers 20:1-13). Pride kept Joshua from seeking God’s will at Ai, and he lost the battle (Joshua 7). King Nebuchadnezzar’s pride turned him into an animal (Daniel 4), and Peter’s pride led to his denial of Christ (Luke 22:31-34).”
While the price tag attached to pride is a costly one, there is good news! Should you take time to make a study of the sixty-two references to pride found in the Bible, you will learn that men and women can repent of their pride, and with repentance comes humility of heart and spirit which God honors.
A closing thought: Do you remember I asked you to evaluate your tolerance at the beginning of this commentary? Remember? When you have God’s perspective, tolerance is unnecessary because you view your fellows as equals on the same level, looking to Him for forgiveness and help. It’s perspective that makes the difference.
Resource reading: 1 Corinthians 4:5-7