The church, by its very nature, is diverse. Anyone from any tribe, any nation, any economic class, and any background can be an equal part of the community of Jesus.
This is obviously first and foremost beautiful, but let’s also admit that it can be tough.
People from the city are one with people from the country. People from one nation sit at the table with members of a rival nation. People with different political, religious, and cultural backgrounds sing, pray, and praise God together. This is the picture John paints in Revelation:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands…Revelation 7:9
With all the diversity, it should be no surprise when we run into conflicts that involve these differences.
That is where tolerance comes in. Paul lays out three qualities we need to have if we want to be able to show tolerance in love.
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.Ephesians 4:1–3
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselvesPhilippians 2:3
Humility involves looking to others’ needs first. This starts, I think, with admitting our imperfection. Unless we presume to know as much as God, we have flaws whether we know it or not. This means that when someone has a different opinion, view point, or even personality, we need to approach that situation with humility.
This may mean admitting that they read their Bible too and that they take it just as seriously as you do. The questions they ask of the Bible may be different, so they may have different answers and interpretations, but if we begin with the assumption that they don’t read their Bible or take it seriously, then we aren’t showing them the respect they deserve.
Assuming that we are the only ones that even reads their Bibles or cares about what the Scripture says leads us to rejecting someone’s opinion before they ever even get it out of their mouth.
Humility also calls us to give people the benefit of the doubt. While we should do this in most situations, when it comes to our brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to start assuming the best. We need to give them the benefit of the doubt. Even if they mess up 489 times in one day, we are still to forgive them as God has forgiven us.
The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.2 Timothy 2:24–26
Go ahead and read that passage five more times.
Don’t we all need a little of that?
There is a time to “pull people out of the fire” as Jude talks about, but if that is our default mode of dealing with controversy, then we have gone wrong somewhere. While Jesus dealt with people sternly at times, it was mainly when He was correcting leaders who had a lot of influence.
But let me make a huge distinction between what Jesus did and what some Christians do. When Jesus corrected people harshly, it was over life and death issues. You know, things like how we treat the poor, over-emphasizing our works, and killing prophets. These weren’t things Christians could disagree on and still have unity. Yet, I see some people treating others harshly over their view of how the Holy Spirit works or whether on not one can worship with an instrument!
But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?Romans 2:3–4
There are many reasons for being patient; reasons that are more important than the one I’m about to give. But if we aren’t patient towards others when they screw up, how can we expect them to be patient with us whenever we inevitably mess things up? As Paul said in the passage above, “Who do you think you are? You judge people who do the same things you do!”
We extend patience to our Christian brothers and sisters because God is patient with us.
Some Christians, though, may seek to fire a preacher after his first offense! Or they’ll leave a congregation whenever something doesn’t go their way! This is no way to treat the family of God.
If you read the above and thought, “That’s right! People should be tolerant towards what I’m comfortable with!” then you completely missed the point. This article is to challenge you to be tolerant towards everyone else. This means things won’t always be comfortable; the Cross sure wasn’t!! Yet, it led to resurrection, so perhaps you giving someone else a shot may lead you to receiving life in a surprising way! This blog is read by hundreds of people, so I don’t know what your situation is, but I bet we could always be a little more humble, a little more gentle, a little more patient, a little more tolerant, and a whole lot more loving!
Thanks for an excellent analysis of how we should respond to others. If followed, these characteristics should eliminate much of our divisions within the body of Christ. All of the above characteristics Jesus exemplified before His disciples.