The answer to this question depends on what you mean by “tolerant”. Traditionally, tolerance meant “to recognize and respect others’ beliefs and practices without sharing them.” In this sense, yes, Christians should be tolerant, or respectful, of other people that believe differently than they do.
Unfortunately, this classical definition has been replaced with a new (but problematic) definition that says tolerance equals or implies agreement. Many Christians feel pressured to agree with the ideas of those around them, in the name of tolerance, for fear of being labeled as a “hater” or something else. So in this sense, no, Christians should not be "tolerant" of, compromise, or agree with beliefs that are wrong or that go against God’s Word or God’s commands.
The idea that tolerance means "agreement" is an incorrect definition. This is because tolerance requires disagreement. For example, do you like it when someone repeatedly clicks a pen or taps it on a desk?
Some people aren't bothered by that at all—in fact, they may enjoy the sound. Other people can’t stand that noise and want to plug their ears! If someone were clicking or taping a pen, which group is tolerating the noise? The tolerant group is the one that dislikes the noise or disagrees with allowing it to continue.
If you didn’t mind the sound, then you wouldn’t be tolerating it—you would be enjoying it! From this example, we can see that true tolerance requires disagreement, not agreement.
Some believe that tolerance means accepting or agreeing with others' behavior or beliefs—even if they are wrong, hurtful, or you are inherently against those behavior or beliefs.
But true tolerance is not acceptance or agreement. True tolerance means showing respect and love to others—without accepting sinful behavior or beliefs. If you embrace sin and say that it's OK, that is actually approving of injustice, which is goes against God's Word. God is just and expects us to be just as well (Psalm 33:5; Proverbs 21:15).
For example, let’s say that part of your school’s athletics policy is that any player who skips a class is not allowed to play in the next game. If your coach knew that one of the players on your team skipped and he showed “tolerance” by accepting their bad behavior and allowing them to play anyway, would that be fair or just? No, that would unjust and a violation of true tolerance.
True tolerance in that situation would mean respecting the student by giving them a warning and reminder rather than humiliating them and also enforcing the rule about having them sit out of the game. That would be an example of showing respect for the student but not accepting their wrongdoing. Unfortunately, when someone’s sin is accepted in the name of “tolerance”, then true tolerance is abused and this results in injustice.
The idea that tolerance means accepting or agreeing with others' behaviors or beliefs, even if they are wrong and harmful, is proven false by our natural reaction to injustice. For example, no one would ever say that bullying should be tolerated, or that crimes like murder, rape, or slavery should be tolerated. The injustice of accepting those acts as OK is clear. We recognize that some actions and beliefs are simply wrong and realize that we should seek to correct injustice—not tolerate it, agree with it, or embrace it. Our natural response to injustice shows that we understand true tolerance cannot mean completely accepting ANY action or belief system.
1 Corinthians 13:6 says that love does not rejoice in evil but rejoices with the truth. If you truly love someone, you will lovingly share the truth with them regarding actions or beliefs that are wrong or detrimental (Ephesians 4:15)—even when the truth is unpopular or hurts. Going along with a lie or letting someone believe a lie and using the excuse that you're being “tolerant”, isn’t truly loving that person or wanting what is best for them.
We make choices everyday based on what we believe is true. If we make the wrong choice because we have believed a lie, that will result in negative consequences for ourselves and possibly those around us, impacting our earthly life and our relationship with God. That is why we must not simply accept/agree with the sin or wrong ideas of those we love. Rather, we must share God's truth and love so they can walk in the way of life not death (Proverbs 13:14, 14:12, 14:27, Romans 6:23).
When you show true tolerance, some may claim that you are being intolerant. They might try to pressure to change your beliefs or convictions or approve of what they are doing. Isn’t it ironic that some may accuse another person of being intolerant, while they are being intolerant of the other's beliefs and see no problem with that?
Stay steadfast in the truth while still having compassion for those who question it. Jesus was full of both grace and truth (John 1:14). We can still speak the truth with humility as 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."
Do you know what's better than the world's definition of all-encompassing tolerance? LOVE. Maybe there's someone in your life who really annoys you or gets on your nerves. It might be easy to ignore or put up with them, and that's what some people think of what they use the word “tolerance”. But God calls us to a higher standard than just worldly tolerance—He calls us to the standard of love.
In Matthew 5:41, Jesus talks about going the second mile. In one sense, tolerance is like going the first mile with someone, in that you are just ignoring wrong behavior and putting up with them. But Jesus instructs His followers to go the second mile, which is truly loving the person that you disagree with and investing whatever is necessary to meet their needs instead of just begrudgingly putting up with them. Jesus then gives examples of how to love, not just tolerate, those you disagree with or who might be hostile toward you for your beliefs (Matthew 5:44). Jesus’ instructions include loving your enemies, blessing those who curse you, doing good to those who hate you, and praying for those who spitefully use and persecute you.
Yes, we should respect those who do not share our beliefs and show love and compassion despite others' choices. At the same time, we should not agree with or embrace something that is clearly a sin, is morally wrong, or goes against God’s Word. Tolerance means truly loving the other person enough to share the truth even when the truth hurts, investing what is necessary to meet their needs, and doing good to those you might not agree with instead of just putting up with them. Showing true tolerance is not always easy, but ask the Lord for wisdom and strength and He will help you show and speak the truth in love.
REFERENCES: 1. Greg Koukl. “The Intolerance of Tolerance | PragerU.” www.prageru.com, www.prageru.com/video/the-intolerance-of-tolerance. Accessed May 11, 2022.
Yes, Christians should respect others who believe differently than they do, but they should not agree with or embrace something that is clearly a sin, morally wrong, or goes against God’s Word. The notion that tolerance means agreement is a faulty definition because tolerance requires disagreement. You do not "tolerate" something you already agree with. Sin cannot be accepted in the name of tolerance because sin results in injustice and harm. Allowance, acceptance, or excuses for sin is not tolerance but injustice. God has called us to a higher standard than just "putting up with it"; He calls us to LOVE, which means investing in or doing good to those we disagree with (Matthew 5:44). True tolerance is not always easy, but we can ask God to give us wisdom and strength to speak the truth in love.
Hanna loves spending time with kids and teens. She enjoys being detectives with them to investigate God's Word to discover truths to answer any questions. She is the co-author of a newly published apologetics curriculum for children and teaches one online for highschoolers-adults. To learn more about her ministry you can visit networkerstec.com. For fun, she likes to play Ultimate Frisbee, read historical fiction, and paint.