Tuesday, October 21, 2008

You Be the Judge

This was before kings ruled Israel, so all the Israelites did whatever they thought was right.
-- Proverbs 14:12

Have you ever been accused of intolerance?

If you’re a Christ-follower who’s open about your faith, you probably have – or soon will be. Turn on the TV or surf the Internet a while. You don’t have to look hard to find articles or videos featuring Hollywood celebrities or “open-minded” journalists who point their fingers and use the dreaded “I-Word.”

But what exactly does tolerance mean? And depending on the situation, is intolerance always such a bad thing? Many see Christianity as very intolerant. For instance, Jesus declared Himself to be the exclusive path to God. "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” He said. This bold proclamation defies today’s all-inclusive, politically correct atmosphere. But Jesus has no tolerance for false, second-rate gods and allegiances.

It’s helpful to understand that the meaning of tolerance has evolved over the last few years. Not too long ago, to be tolerant meant recognizing and respecting the beliefs and values of others – even if you would never accept them as your own. But that’s all changed. Today, tolerance means accepting and acknowledging the beliefs and behaviors of others as equal to your own. All faiths and religions are of neutral value. And everything – even the simple concept of right and wrong – is now relative. My truth is just as good as your truth.

This viewpoint sounds very enlightened and liberating. But it has a few fatal flaws. As with man’s grasp of knowledge, man’s concept of tolerance constantly changes. On the other hand, God’s right and wrong never changes. The Bible – God’s words of truth to us – is rock-steady and dependable. That can’t be said for the fickleness of popular culture.

Today’s definition of tolerance is also hypocritical. When someone attacks Christian values, that viewpoint – by its own definition – is intolerant. “All viewpoints are equal,” they reason. “But some viewpoints aren’t as equal as others.”

As Christ-followers, we have open access to God’s truth through the Bible, prayer and even wise counsel from fellow Believers. We should have less trouble than others with telling right from wrong. We look toward the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, as our Guide. But following Him in front of an unbelieving world is another matter. And it opens us up – and rightfully so – to charges of hypocrisy.

As the saying goes, when you point your finger at someone, your other four fingers point back at you. Christ-followers must therefore look in the mirror before accusing others. As Jesus put it, we need to remove the plank from our own eye before removing the speck from our neighbor’s eye. To do otherwise risks the charge of self-righteousness. We also need to consider the person in need of guidance. Is this person a fellow Christ-follower? Or is this someone who never signed up for Jesus’ walk of faith?

These two situations demand different responses. As Christ-followers, we must hold ourselves to much higher standards of behavior. And on the flipside, we must let God be the judge of others outside the faith. He knows the whole story; we’re hardly in the position to condemn anyone.

But in all cases and with all people, love must be our motivation. Regardless of what the world tells us, it’s love – not tolerance – that’s our core value.

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