Jesus Beyond Tolerance

We live a society that frequently debates the nature and implications of tolerance, and it is no secret that the traditional understanding of tolerance is increasingly becoming culturally redefined. All major dictionaries are in an agreement when they essentially define the term tolerance as the ability to respectfully disagree with an alternative view or opinion (a simplified definition). The new tolerance, however, could be defined as recognizing that all views are relevant and valid, and no view is superior to the other. Since I am pro-tolerance from the traditional perspective, feel free to respectfully disagree.

The nature of new tolerance, however, has a fundamental flaw: it is intolerant of those who disagree with its definition. The very nature of tolerance presupposes disagreement. If there is not the freedom to disagree, then we are no longer talking about tolerance; rather, we are talking about either conformity or utter silence in the midst of disagreement. New tolerance is essentially intellectual and conversational suicide. Biblical scholar D.A. Carson writes:

“The new tolerance suggests that actually accepting another’s position means believing that position to be true, or at least as true as your own. We move from allowing the free expression of contrary opinions to the acceptance of all opinions; we leap from permitting the articulation of beliefs and claims with which we do not agree to asserting that all beliefs and claims are equally valid. Thus we slide from the old tolerance to the new. [1]

Tolerance may be a good thing overall, but it may not be the God-thing that we should be pursuing. Typically, Christians (I’m just as guilty) have championed tolerance and used it as an excuse to avoid an unfamiliar cultural context.

Jesus Beyond Tolerance

Once again, tolerance isn’t bad. That said, even if the traditional concept of tolerance is won back and revived in the public square, Jesus may still not be satisfied with his people just tolerating others. Here is the thrust of this story: Jesus calls us to go and grow beyond mere tolerance to a place where we will bear one-another’s burdens. In Luke 10:25–27, Jesus tells a simple, yet profound illustration of how the kingdom of heaven is to operate in and through those who love God: The Good Samaritan. (I’d encourage you to pause and read it.)

Jesus’s parable speaks of a beaten, broken, and left for dead traveler on the side of the road who needs a rescuer. Two holy men intentionally ignored the half-dead man on two separate occasions. At this point, the original audience would have been confused because the priest who had passed him should’ve stopped and assisted the poor man based on God’s law (and his God given moral conscious). But a Samaritan would come to the rescue. The Samaritan saw the guy lying half dead on the road; had compassion for his condition; went to him; administered immediate medical care through spices and oils; lifted him up onto the donkey; walked him to the local inn (up to a 17 mile trip); and paid for an extended stay at the hotel, plus whatever else the guy needed to recover.

This parable is taken out of context when people say: Be a good person and God will save you! Clearly the Bible does not teach this (Ephesians 2, Romans 3). The point of the parable is that none of us truly live up to the fundamental standard of God’s Law: To perfectly love Him, and to perfectly love others (Mark 12:30–31). If we want salvation apart from Christ (which doesn’t exist) the standard would be to be perfect in all ways. We couldn’t/wouldn’t do that. That is why Jesus came to save…to do what we couldn’t/wouldn’t. We must also consider the reason why Jesus is telling this parable in the first place.

An expert in the Old Testament Law approached Jesus, and this expert wanted to trip Jesus up, and make him look foolish to the crowds that followed him. Jesus went beyond tolerance for this lawyer in a couple of ways. First, Jesus knew the heart of this man, yet still chose to meet him where he was and discuss the heart of the Law. Jesus, knowing the lawyers intentions, could have dismissed and ignored the challenge. But he didn’t. Jesus showed grace and shared truth. Secondly, Jesus gave the lawyer two opportunities (in the same conversation) to turn from his legalistic belief that the law could save him.

But there is another message here for those who are in Christ: go beyond merely tolerating and talking with those whom you disagree with. Genuinely and sacrificially care for them.

After recognizing that he couldn’t live up to the law, the lawyer tried to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Perhaps the lawyer was hoping that Jesus would respond, “Well, only those who you like!” Instead, Jesus told the parable of an enemy becoming a friend by self-sacrificially giving what he had to help a broken man. The parable doesn’t tell how the broken man responded, but that is the point. We are to be neighborly even if that self-sacrificial love isn’t reciprocated.

The term Samaritan is a good word today. For the Jews of Jesus’ day, it was an insult to be compared to a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans hated each other due do a history of theological, political, and geographical divisions. For Jesus to make the religious leaders look like fools, and the filthy Samaritan the hero would have been highly controversial. To put it into perspective, pretend you are the guy on the side of the road. Now, identify the person or group of people you detest for whatever reason. Finally, picture that person being the only one coming to your aid.

Another point Jesus is making here is that everyone is our neighbor, especially our enemies. Often times, we treat people who disagree with the traditional Christian worldview as enemies, when they are not. Whether it is a theological, social, or political disagreement, these people are not our enemies(even if they say we are their enemy). According to Jesus, they are our neighbors who are stamped with the image of God, and should be treated with integrity and dignity, not disdain. Let’s pretend that hating your enemy is acceptable, but you still claim Christianity, which operates under the notion that God wants all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) and that Christians are to be mission-minded in reaching those who don’t know God (Matthew 28:16–20). How in the world can you possibly hate your enemy to the love of Jesus?

American Christians have historically been guilty of mere tolerance when Jesus calls us beyond that. Now, beyond tolerance doesn’t mean agreement, affirmation, or approval of other’s sinful lifestyles, habits, or choices. Rather, beyond tolerance means that we are willing to break down walls, develop relationships, and live in the tension serving and loving others unconditionally. Certainly traditional tolerance will play a role, but it shouldn’t be the leading act in our relationships with others. In regards to the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan bore the burden as if it were his very own. Let’s be honest — we all love and appreciate it when people embrace us while full on knowing our faults and brokenness. Could we reciprocate that concept?

God Didn’t Tolerate You. Thank God.

When Jesus said to love your enemies (Matthew 5:44), it was quite profound. It’s a unique aspect of Christianity that causes a lot of necessary tension. Why is it so profound? Because according to Scripture, we who are in Christ were once enemies of God (Romans 5:10). But in spite of our sinful nature, and out of His love for us, Christ was willing to bear the burden of our sin on his shoulders. He would sacrifice himself for the sake of sinners. God didn’t merely tolerate you, but went beyond tolerance for you! God certainly tolerates our sin (though there will be a day when he will not), but he has gone above and beyond tolerance to make a way to Him through Christ’s atoning work. God doesn’t tolerate you; he liberates you.

Loving Like Jesus

Here are some take-a-ways to progressively (not perfectly) learn how to live and love like Jesus loves.

1. Image of God — Remember that all people are stamped with the image of God, even if they are not sealed with Spirit (Genesis 1:27, Genesis 9:6, Ephesians 1:13). The fact that all people are stamped in God’s image means that every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. When we approach conversations with people who share different convictions, remembering that they are made in the image of God will serve us well.

2. Know Your Role — Other people’s salvation is not dependent on you. The Holy Spirit’s job is to convict and convert, our job is to speak truth unswervingly, unapologetically, yet gracefully. This truth should not lead to laziness; rather it should encourage you to be bolder. Our job is to be the vessel that carries the Word to outsiders, and prays that by hearing and receiving the Word they will be saved (Romans 10:17).

3. Be Blameless — In some cases, there are times when those who disagree with our convictions decide to end a relationship. Let it not be because we were intolerant, disrespectful, hateful, impatient, or condemning. If anything, let it only be because of our commitment to Jesus. We should strive to be blameless without biblical compromise, and if the relationship ends, we should always be willing to reconcile and forgive (Matthew 6:14, Philippians 2:14–15 Acts 13:47, Colossians 4:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:11).

4. Evaluate Your Heart — Do we truly desire to befriend those who we disagree with. It is easy to say so, but hard to walk out. There will be tension and difficulty, but this will cause spiritual growth. It is easy to love those who are like you. To become more like Jesus we must learn to love like Jesus, and Jesus obviously loved his enemies. As we grow in Christ-likeness, the “us versus them” mentality should be tossed out along with our legalistic tendencies.

[1] Carson, DA. “Contemporary Tolerance Is Intrinsically Intolerant.” Http:// February 26, 2012. Accessed January 21, 2016.



Husband to Christie. Father to Cove and Maggie. Teaching Pastor for The Table. Commenting on theology, culture, biblical studies, the Church, and life.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Cody Whittington

Husband to Christie. Father to Cove and Maggie. Teaching Pastor for The Table. Commenting on theology, culture, biblical studies, the Church, and life.