My friend and former colleague Tim Keller says that tolerance doesn’t require us to abandon our convictions. Rather, true tolerance is having convictions that lead us to treat our opponents graciously.
For the Christian witness to be taken seriously in an increasingly pluralistic, non-religious society like the modern West, Christians must 1) be true to our convictions, 2) love, listen to, and serve those who do not share those convictions, and 3) consistently do both at the same time.
We find our model in Jesus, the one who welcomed sinners and ate with them. The one who offered friendship to people before they agreed with him and regardless of whether they ever ended up agreeing with him at all.
When the Samaritans rejected Jesus, the disciples wanted to call fire down on them. Jesus rebuked them for this thought.
When the rich ruler walked away from Jesus in idolatry, Jesus looked at him and loved him. And the man walked away sad. Not angry or hostile or feeling judged. Sad.
When people walk away from us, or our churches, or our way of embodying and speaking truth, do they walk away sad? Do they walk away wishing somehow that the truth we speak and embody could somehow, someday, also be true for them?
Here’s a little excerpt from my new book, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides, to add food for thought:
What matters more to us—that we successfully put others in their place, or that we are known to love well? That we win culture wars with carefully constructed arguments and political power plays, or that we win hearts with humility, truth, and love? God have mercy on us if we do not love well because all that matters to us is being right and winning arguments. Truth and love can go together. Truth and love must go together.
Paul said, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders. . . . Let your speech always be gracious” (Colossians 4:5-6). Not sometimes. Always.
Doesn’t a gracious tone make the most sense for those of us who live under grace? Even when we’re fighting with him, the Father never holds us in contempt. We are forever embraced because of another, who bore Abba’s outrage in our place. This being true, shouldn’t we Christians be the least offended and least offensive people in the world?
Scott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and author of Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides. You can find out more about Scott at scottsauls.com or by following him on Twitter at @scottsauls.