The Biblical Command Is Love—Not Tolerance

The Biblical Command Is Love—Not Tolerance

A popular campaign that many churches are promoting in our day is titled: “I Love My Church.”  How many churches do you know who may pass out bumper stickers or T-shirts with this slogan, but in reality, they merely tolerate one another?

The culture today is swimming in a sea of tolerance.  The politically correct behavior today is centered on tolerance and we’re commanded to tolerate everyone and every idea that comes our way.  Interestingly enough, many Christians in the church stand directly opposed to that type of ideology and rightly so.  However, many of the same Christians are unwilling to tolerate false doctrines and cultural movements, but they want to merely tolerate their fellow church members rather than engaging in the hard work of love.

One of the greatest errors of many church members today is the idea that God is perfectly happy with us merely tolerating one another and refusing to love one another in the life of the church.  God’s Word clearly teaches his people to love one another in a way that involves more than tolerance and casual passivity in the hallway of the local church building.

Love Is Commanded

In multiple places in the Bible (Rom. 12:10; Eph. 4:2; 1 Thess. 3:12; 2 Thess. 1:3; Heb. 10:24; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:11-12), we see God’s children being called to engage in the hard and often messy work of love toward fellow Christians.  Love is nowhere in God’s Word considered an option worthy of consideration in the church.  God drives his point home with crystal clarity that he has called his people to a life and ministry of love rather than mere tolerance.

Far too many people in the local church live as if 1 John 4:7 reads as follows:

Beloved, let us tolerate one another, for tolerance is from God, and whoever tolerates has been born of God and knows God.

While most Christians would stand boldly before the person who would dare to change God’s Word and pervert the holy Scriptures, but often they live in such a manner that seems to change love into tolerance.  We would never do this with a pen, but we do this with our attitudes.  We would never promote such an agenda in the world of academics, but we often promote it in the world of our local churches by how we live out 1 John 4:7.

Love Requires Sacrifice

It is impossible to love others without some means of sacrifice.  For instance, in Romans 12:10, the apostle Paul writes, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”  When Paul insists that the Christians in Rome should outdo one another in showing honor, this type of behavior will be one of sacrifice.  It may not be a financial sacrifice (although it could be), it will certainly involve some form of sacrifice such as time, resources, or talents.

To the church at Galatia, Paul said:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

In serving one another, you sacrifice some of yourself, some of your time, some of your money, some of your energy, and you pour into the life of another person.  You can’t serve someone that you don’t love.  Have you ever tried to serve someone out of a fake love?  Your heart wasn’t into it and perhaps the only reason you did it was in order to appear holy or to avoid showing your real dislike for another person or group.  True love requires a measure of sacrifice and that is never an easy thing.  Pride is natural and sacrifice is not only abnormal—but difficult in many ways.

Love Honors God

When we consider the fact that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that God demonstrated his love for fallen sinners in a sacrificial manner (Rom. 5:8; John 3:16), to engage in the labor of love and the lifestyle of love is to genuinely pursue God.  As Christians, we know that we’re called to be holy—in essence we’re called to be like God.  Have you ever considered the reality that we are never more like God than when we are engaging in true love for others?  The opposite is likewise true.  To refuse to love others is to refuse to be like God.

Tolerance may be something that the culture teaches, but if we genuinely want to be like Jesus and to pursue holiness as followers of Christ—we must go well beyond the borders of tolerance.  We are called to a life of love and that’s not an easy thing.

John 13:34 — A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.


The Love of the Church

In 1 Peter 4:7-19, Peter instructs the Christians of his day to serve and suffer – all for the glory of God as the end approaches. These Christians were experiencing trials, but the most difficult and fiery trials were still to come. Yet, Peter encouraged them to remain faithful in their service and in their suffering in order to bring great glory to God and to prevent the Word of God from being blasphemed.

Love in the Midst of Discipline

Peter emphasizes love and continuing in “fervent love” one toward another within the church. According to 1 Peter 4:8, love covers a multitude of sins. Now, it is important to realize the context of this passage before just lifting that sentence out of the surrounding text and using it to say something that Peter did not intend. Peter was not encouraging the church to sweep sin under the rug, turn a deaf ear to sin, or to pretend that a fellow brother in Christ is not committing adultery on his wife. He was not saying that at all. He was merely emphasizing the fact that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all full of imperfections that should be laid to rest when possible in order to love one another and worship together.

What Peter was not saying was that we should overlook a brother or sister who is living in rebellious and unrepentant sin. Those who use this passage to override church discipline are seeking to align Christ and Peter against one another. In fact, church discipline is not the opposite of love – it is love. John Leadley Dagg, the author of a well-known and influential church manual of the nineteenth century, noted, “It has been remarked, that when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it” (A Treatise on Church Order p. 274). For a body of believers to allow a person to continue in a pattern of unrepentant sin is the opposite of love. The very people who claim that church discipline is a bad thing do not understand biblical church discipline. Dr. Mohler also says, “Without a recovery of functional church discipline-firmly established upon the principles revealed in the Bible-the church will continue its slide into moral dissolution and relativism. Evangelicals have long recognized discipline as the ‘third mark’ of the authentic church. Authentic biblical discipline is not an elective, but a necessary and integral mark of authentic Christianity” (Discipline: The Missing Mark In Polity (2001): 43-62.).  Therefore, those that Peter was writing to were able to allow genuine love to permeate the church, cover sin, and reign in their hearts at the same time as they practiced discipline upon those sinning members who were unwilling to repent.

Love in the Midst of Suffering

If there is one place in the world where Christians should be able to find a safe haven from the world – it is in the community of the church. In Peter’s day, the Christians were suffering greatly under trials and persecution. When they came together, love was essential for healing the wounds caused in the world. It was a support group. It was a place of love and support where hurting hearts could experience healing. Peter encouraged these suffering Christians to continue in fervent love in order that their love would cover sin.

Unfortunately, today’s church seems to do the exact opposite. Often Christians find themselves being beat down, discouraged, and further stressed out by the gossipers, backbiters, and complainers that assemble with them for worship each week. In many cases, young Christians either slack off greatly or find another church in hopes that their problems will be solved. Most of those Christians end up figuring out the pattern within the local church. That pattern is often not summarized by the word “love.” Is it any wonder that pastors leave churches every two years? Is it any wonder that most churches are not growing and remaining strong? The majority of the churches today are focused on problems, critical toward one another, gossiping about one another, and involved in practices that do not honor God and bring glory to His name. Love is the key to having a great church that glorifies God and cares for one another. The assembly of believers is the one place that all Christians should be able to retreat from the suffering and problems of the world. The church should be a place of love.

1 Peter 4:8 – Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (ESV).

Pastor Josh Buice