Hot Potatoes: Tolerance
We’re in our third week of talking about hot potatoes, and today we talk about tolerance. We’re talking about this because tolerance is now seen as society’s greatest virtue. Over the past forty years, we have seen a major shift in our values. Forty years ago, there was almost universal agreement about what was true, what was right, and what was wrong. That didn’t mean that everyone did it – they didn’t. But forty years ago, in the generation that fought World War II, these people at least knew what was wrong. There was no disagreement about what was wrong, what was right, and what was true.
But we’re in a new day. Today we have a whole generation that doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong. Today, our society teaches that there is no right and wrong. We are taught that everything is right somewhere, and that nothing is wrong everywhere. As a result, people from all walks of life – Christian and atheist, religious and irreligious, conservatives and liberals – all generally agree that today our society is in a state of moral decline. 80% of Americans questioned say that the number one problem in America is not the economy, but the decline and decay of moral values. I’m sure the same is true in Canada. There is a decaying of values in our society.
What’s the problem? Tolerance. Another term for tolerance: truth decay. We no longer value truth. Instead, we value tolerance. We value letting everyone choose for themselves.
WHAT IS TOLERANCE? Tolerance, strictly speaking, is a good idea. You could define tolerance as being broadminded and fair. It’s to recognize and respect others’ beliefs and practices without necessarily agreeing or sympathizing. It means that in matters inessential, we live and let live. Tolerance can be a virtue. We should be tolerant of other people who believe, think, and act differently than we do. We shouldn’t force our beliefs on them. We shouldn’t refuse to hire them because they’re different. The Bible teaches us that we should treat people – everyone – with dignity and respect, and that we can accept people without approving of their lifestyle. We are called to be tolerant in that way.
But in recent times, tolerance has been redefined. Today, it no longer means tolerating competing ideas. Instead, tolerance today means that everyone’s beliefs, values, lifestyles, and truth claims are equal. It means forced neutrality. No one should express any idea that could offend another. And this new view of tolerance is strictly enforced through cultural pressure and speech codes. If you disagree with anyone, you’re intolerant.
One person writes:
It’s the only serious sin left. Even murder has its mitigating factors, but not this one. It is the pariah sin, the charge that makes you untouchable without need for further explanation. The sin is intolerance, and the greatest sinners…are evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. America is sick of intolerant people, and it’s not going to take them anymore. (Daniel Taylor, January 11, 1999 Christianity Today)
Today I want to look at three deceptive philosophies that have led us to this point, and then I want to look at the solution. I’m beginning with the deceptive philosophies first because your beliefs are important. It’s easy to buy into these philosophies without ever realizing it. In fact, they have influenced every single person here. If you turn on your television, read the newspaper, or have contact with anyone else in society, your values are affected. Your beliefs determine your behavior, and your behavior determines that you become. What you believe ultimately determines who you are.
The three deceptive philosophies that we’re going to look at can be summed up in two words: truth decay. They’re all philosophies that have caused us to question whether or not there is such a thing as universal truth. The first deceptive philosophy is this:
Individualism means that I live for myself; that only I can be the standard for my life; that only I can judge what is really truth; that you don’t have a right to tell me what’s right or wrong. Individualism means that ultimately, I am my own god. I get to set the standards for myself.
Individualism is nothing new. It’s been going on for centuries – even millennia. The Bible talks about a time in which Israel was in total chaos. Judges 21:25 describes it: “In those days Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” Does that sound vaguely applicable to today? Everyone had their own definition of right and wrong. Everyone is his or her own final authority, without reference to God or anyone else. There’s no standard, no judges, and no absolutes.
This is a great philosophy to hold on to, because it means that you never have to feel guilty. If you can set your own standards, then anything goes. The only thing that matters is me.
The second deceptive philosophy we’ve bought into is:
Secularism can be summarized in three words: God is unnecessary. It doesn’t mean that there is no God. You can believe in God and still be a secularist. All it means is that I don’t need him in my life.
For forty years now, we’ve been systematically reducing God from every area of public life – from schools, government, media, and newspapers. Today, God has been removed from the mainstream. The separation of church and state was originally designed to protect churches from the influence of the state, but today it’s used to protect the state from the influence of the church. We’ve removed God from all of life, except for an hour on Sunday morning. God isn’t necessary in life.
We’re at the point today that if you hold Christian beliefs, you’re suspect. If you’re a Christian political leader, you’re feared because what you believe may affect what you do. If, as in British Columbia, you go to a Christian university for teacher training, you can’t be accredited as a teacher because your Christian beliefs may make you intolerant. Secularism means that God has to be removed from everyday life.
The third deceptive philosophy is:
Relativism sounds like a medical condition caused by having bad relatives. But it isn’t. Relativism can be summed up in two words: no absolutes.
Relativism works like this: What’s true for me may not be true for you, and what’s true for you may not be true for me. Therefore, what’s right for me may be right for you, and what’s wrong for you may not be wrong for me. Nobody can say what’s right or wrong, because all truth is relative.
People say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe or do, as long as you’re sincere about it.” But think about it. If you believe a cup is full of water, but it turns out to be sulfuric acid, you will be sincerely dead. It does matter what you believe. If you leave church and take the off-ramp onto the highway instead of the onramp, and have a major collision, will your sincerity matter? If you’re offended by the “Wrong Way” sign and say, “Who are you to tell me which way is wrong?” will it help you avoid the collision? We need more than sincerity in life. We need absolutes.
The next time somebody tells you that there are no absolutes in life, ask them, “Are you absolutely sure?” If you make an absolute statement that there are no absolutes, you’ve just contradicted yourself. You’ve just proved yourself untrue.
Not only that, but the entire world is built on the fact that there are certain absolutes. I’ve found that gravity is true for me, but it also appears to be true for you. What would happen if you went to your bank and said, “Well, that may appear to be $5 to you, but to me it’s a million?” You would probably end up absolutely overdrawn. I’ve found that when I go to a pharmacy for medicine, I don’t want to hear the pharmacist say, “There are no absolutes, and I thought this medicine would be as good as any other!” Our whole world is built on the fact that there are abso lutes.
What if you were playing Scrabble, and all of a sudden came up with an unrecognizable word? You put it on the board, and somebody else says, “That’s not a word!” You respond, “Well, it’s a word to me, and it gets 57 points!” Or what if there were no traffic laws? What if stop signs meant “Stop if you feel like it”? What if the line down the middle of the road meant, “Pick a side, any side”? We’d all be dead. Don’t let anybody fool you. Don’t be conned by individualism (living for myself), secularism (God is unnecessary), and relativism (there are no absolutes).
Now, these three values have led us to the point that the highest value in our society is tolerance. We value tolerance more than truth. As G.K. Chesterton put it, tolerance is a virtue for those who do not believe much. If you disagree with anyone else, you’re called a bigot. You’re narrow-minded, judgmental, and intolerant. Remember again: tolerance no longer means that I will respect you and treat you with dignity, even though I disagree with you. Now tolerance means that you have to agree that every idea is valid. If you don’t condone or agree with somebody else, then you’re labeled as intolerant.
What’s the cost of tolerance? Our culture is collapsing. Children are now divorcing their parents. Pornography is at every corner store. Violence is mainstream. Our kids have to face realities at a younger age than any of us did. In the next thirty minutes, 228 children will be beaten, molested, and otherwise abused. 57 kids will run away from home, and three out of those girls will end up selling sex to survive. 20 children will attempt suicide. 285 children will become victims of a broken home. Today, adult bookstores outnumber McDonald’s three to one.
Ephesians 4:17-19 says:
With the Lord’s authority let me say this: Live no longer as the ungodly do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their closed minds are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They don’t care anymore about right and wrong, and they have given themselves over to immoral ways. Their lives are filled with all kinds of impurity and greed. But that isn’t what you were taught when you learned about Christ.
How can I react to the issue of tolerance? How can I handle this hot potato? Three ways:
1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT FOUNDATION FOR YOUR LIFE
The first step that you have to take is you have to choose the right foundation for your life. My mother is having her bathroom renovated. She had a bit of a scare last week when she began to think that her floor tiles were laid without a proper foundation. It turns out that without a proper foundation, the tiles could crack as the wood underneath expands and contracts. A proper foundation is the start of any good building project.
You have to choose your standard in life – your foundation. There’s a book – God’s Word, the Bible – that contains truth. And the first step to handling the issue of tolerance is to make sure that your life is built on a foundation that will endure. Proverbs 2:9 says that if you tune our hearts to God’s wisdom, “Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will know how to find the right course of action every time.”
One time, Jesus got up to speak to a hillside of people. He spoke about what God says about prayer, about money, about worry, about sex. He taught in a way that connected with everyone who listened. And at the end of his message, he said this:
Anyone who listens to my teaching and obeys me is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse, because it is built on rock. But anyone who hears my teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will fall with a mighty crash. (Matthew 7:24-27)
What Jesus was saying is this: you have a choice. You can view God’s Word as an incidental to your life. You can view his Bible as just another book to help you make homeowner improvements to your life. It can be a Bible study that you never apply to your life. But Jesus warns you that if that’s the case, you won’t have a solid foundation to your life. Without a solid foundation, your life will crumble.
Or you can build your life on God’s solid foundation. You can make his words foundational. Jesus said, “If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25 The Message). If you’re going to survive the storms of life, you need to build your life on a solid foundation. You need to build your life on God.
Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” God’s Word is like a flashlight. If you build on his unchanging truth, you won’t stumble as much. You won’t make so many mistakes.
Really, the question is this: which foundation are you going to build on? You only have three choices. You can build on your own foundation. You can make yourself the final arbiter of truth and justice. You can do what works for you, and build your own standard for living. But, Jesus says, you’re going to find your own foundation to be very weak when the storms come. Your own foundation isn’t going to do it.
You have a second choice. You can build your foundation on an external standard. You can look at what society’s doing. You can look at what’s popular, what’s the latest fad. But you’ll run into two problems. In a few years, the world’s going to change, their fads will change, and their standards will change. And you’ll find that their foundation is so unstable that it will never give you the solid foundation that you need.
Or, you can make the third choice, and say, “My foundation is God. I believe that his truth is absolute, universal, and unchanging.” In a few minutes, I’m going to lead you in a prayer to do just that. That’s the first step you need to take. Choose the right foundation for your life.
The second way that you can react to the issue of tolerance is:
2. COMMIT TO LETTING GOD CHANGE YOUR THINKING
That’s the second key to handling tolerance. Don’t let the world change you. Commit to letting God change your thinking. Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”
The problem with a lot of us is that we’re more influenced by the world than by God. We’re more informed by Oprah than Obadiah. A lot of us are going to get to heaven one day and have a better knowledge of sports stats and television shows than we will of God’s Word. One person translates Romans 12:2 this way: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” Don’t buy into individualism, secularism, and relativism. Commit to being different from the world.
How do you do this? Verse 2 continues, “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” It’s all about what you’re thinking about. When your mind begins to wander, where does it go? What you think is vitally important. If you think the world’s way, you’ll end up just like the world. If you think God’s way, you’ll end up just like God.
John Stott wrote:
There is an urgent need for more Christian thinkers who will dedicate their minds to Christ, not just as lecturers, but also as authors, journalists, dramatists, and broadcasters, as television script-writers, producers and personalities, and as artists and actors who use a variety of art forms in which to communicate the gospel.
The world needs Christian thinkers.
Your thoughts are like an automatic pilot. What is your au tomatic pilot? Finish this sentence: “It’s just like me to be…” That is the agenda you’ve set in your life. One of the things you ought to start choosing to think about is God’s Word. Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:3 NKJV). If you want to change, start filling your mind with the Scripture. Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with scoffers. But they delight in doing everything the LORD wants; day and night they think about his law.” When we meditate on God’s word it gets into our mind and changes us.
Philippians 4:8 says, “Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Colossians 3:6 says, “Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise.” Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Joshua 1:8 tells us, “Study this Book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night so you may be sure to obey all that is written in it. Only then will you succeed.” You begin by thinking God’s word. If you’re not having a daily quiet time, you’re not seeing much change in your life – at least not as much as you could be seeing. Commit to letting God change your mind. Let him be your influence. Read his Word. Memorize it.
Choose the right foundation for your life, and commit to let God change your mind. There’s one more way to handle the issue of tolerance:
3. CHALLENGE THE THINKING OF OTHERS AROUND YOU
You’re not the only person who has been influenced by society. We all have been. That’s why we need to be prepared to challenge – respectfully but truthfully – the deceptive philosophies of our day. Learn what to say when someone tells you, “There’s no such thing as absolute truth.” Learn how to handle it when someone says, “Your faith in Christ is good for you, but I really don’t need it.”
A lot of us don’t know how to do this. Some of us just begin to clam up. We’re terrified. We don’t know what to say. If that’s you, you need to get a book like Paul Little’s Know Why You Believe. You don’t need to be a genius. You just need a little help. Do your homework, and if you don’t know what to say – get some help. You don’t need to know all the answers. But don’t clam up!
Some of us have no problem speaking up, but we don’t do it with enough love. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says, “If you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But you must do this in a gentle and respectful way.” God isn’t honored by over-the-top rhetoric. Love those who are opposed to you. Show respect to them. Learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.
The founder of Prison Fellowship, Charles Colson, addressed a press conference. One member of the press stood up and admitted that he liked the work of Prison Fellowship, but he didn’t really care for Colson’s “exclusivist” message. After all, he said, “All roads lead to heaven.” What would you say at that point?
Charles Colson asked the reporter, “Do you approve of Mother Theresa?” The reporter said yes. “Do you know why she helps the dying?” “She’s a great humanitarian,” the reporter shrugged.
“No,” Colson answered. “She does it because she loves Jesus – the One who says he is the only road to heaven. And that’s why I do the work you like in the prisons. I wouldn’t do it for a moral teacher.” There were no more questions.
If we are to be salt and light in this world, we need to learn how to challenge – respectfully and yet boldly – the deceptive philosophies of our day. We need to learn how to present Christ in a winsome and attractive way.
Apologist, author, and speaker Josh McDowell writes:
Tolerance says, “You must approve of what I do.” Love responds, “I must do something harder: I will love you, even when your behavior offends me.”
Tolerance says, “You must agree with me.” Love responds, “I must do something harder: I will tell you the truth, because I am convinced ‘the truth will set you free.'”
Tolerance says, “You must allow me to have my way.” Love responds, “I must do something harder: I will plead with you to follow the right way, because I believe you are worth the risk.”
Tolerance seeks to be inoffensive; love takes risks. Tolerance glorifies division; love seeks unity. Tolerance costs nothing; love costs everything.
If you would like to place your life in the hands of the one who not only tells the truth, but who is the truth – if you would like to come to the one who can’t tolerate sin, but instead sent his Son to pay for your sins, then would you pray this in your heart:
“Father, I’m so thankful that you always tell us the truth. I’m thankful that your Word is a solid foundation upon which I can build my life. And today I declare that my foundation for deciding right and wrong is you. It’s not going to be public opinion, and not even what I think. It’s not going to be what’s convenient. It’s going to be you.
“Today, as much as I know how, I give my life to you. I ask forgiveness for my sins, through what Jesus did on the cross for me. And I pledge to follow you for the rest of my life. In the name of Jesus, Amen.”