Before there were kings that ruled nations, there were judges. The judges’ job was to instruct and encourage the Israelites to serve God as their king, but some judges were not very good at their job. Over and over we read “the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”1  The Israelites finally concluded that their sin was a result of poor leadership and decided the system needed to change. Finally, in obstinate rebellion they refused to follow any authority, and “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”2

It sounds very modern, doesn’t it? It is the definition of tolerance—everyone doing whatever is “right in his own eyes.” Believing that everyone should figure out for themselves how to live. Encouraging everyone to make up his/her own set of rules and follow his/her own desires. Assuming that everyone knows inherently the best path he/she should take. The end result, therefore, is that as people decide who they want to be and how they should live, we should all be tolerant.

But tolerance is foolish and deceitful—not my words but the apostle Paul’s. He warns believers about “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ,”3 who were preaching “a Jesus other than the Jesus”4 Paul was preaching. And then he says to these false preachers, “You gladly put up with (tolerate) fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with (tolerate) anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face.”5  Seriously, how “wise” is that? And please remember, Paul is talking about preachers! Preachers who are misleading believers to be tolerant.

Paul’s response? He mockingly retorts, “To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!”6  In other words, Paul and his colleagues were not “wise” enough or strong enough to tolerate that kind of behavior. He tells them that since they were listening to and tolerating fools, he would like to join in: “Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting.”7

And then he proceeds to boast! Which actually, doesn’t sound very Christ-like, does it? But in comparison with those who “masquerade as servants of righteousness,”8 Paul’s resumé was quite impressive. Of course, Paul does not lean on his accomplishments as something to be admired. He, in fact, tells the church at Philippi: “I consider them garbage.”9

But that’s not the point of his message to the Corinthians. His point? Believing in a different gospel, a gospel that “puts up with fools” who tolerate anything and every lifestyle, leads to “discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.”10 And then he adds that some may even indulge in “impurity, sexual sin and debauchery”11 (extreme indulgence in immoral behavior). The gospel of tolerance is deceitful. It appears to be kind and compassionate, and it is often argued that tolerant people are more “Christian” than Christians. But in reality, it is a destructive force—especially amongst believers who will likely “be led astray from [a] sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”12

So, what should our response be to this deceitful gospel? Should we demand that our beliefs be tolerated as well? Ironically, no. Paul concludes that as others boast about their ability to tolerate all beliefs, he will “boast all the more gladly about [his] weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on [him.]”13  He, in fact, tells us to “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.”14  Why? Because that is how Christ makes us strong.

So, should we tolerate the tolerant? It’s a tricky thing. Paul tells those who are listening to the false teachers: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”15  Sadly, some people (including churchgoers and preachers) mistakenly believe they are believers! They do not know Christ at all, even though they appear to be good and tolerant people.

Our response, then, is to encourage tolerant people to examine themselves, to help them see the truth about Christ—not to point out their failures. Here is our specific responsibility: “We pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right.”16 And then Paul ends by saying that “the authority the Lord gave me [is] for building you up, not for tearing you down.”17

Our response, then, is to build up the body of Christ, to be an example of Christ’s love, and to “strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.”18 To do anything else would be intolerable.

1Judges 10:6   2Judges 21:25   32 Corinthians 11:13   42 Corinthians 11:4   52 Corinthians 11:19-20   62 Corinthians 11:21   72 Corinthians 11:16   82 Corinthians 11:15   9Philippians 3:8   102 Corinthians 12:20   132 Corinthians 12:9   142 Corinthians 12:10   152 Corinthians 13:5   162 Corinthians 13:7   172 Corinthians 13:10   182 Corinthians 13:11

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