Tolerance is a bad word in many Christian circles. And rightly so: what it often refers to is an indifferent attitude toward sin.
Sin rightly defined is horrible. We ought never to be indifferent. We ought to help people out of it by pointing them to Jesus Christ. Our tolerance often is driven by fear of man or a desire to not ‘ruffle feathers.’
So how does tolerance reveal grace? Well… when there’s a different subject. Not our tolerance. God’s tolerance.
God’s tolerance isn’t indifference, or driven by fear.
God’s tolerance is more rightly defined as permitting behavior that is at odds with His holiness for a season. Perhaps it could be summarized “delayed judgment.”
Just ran across this in 1 Samuel. Eli’s sons are absolutely positively acting horrifically as representatives of a holy God. Very great sin, the Bible tells us.
No lightning bolt. No fireball. Their actions continued.
And thus we see God’s tolerance of sin. Of besmirching of his name. Of dishonor, for a season. Years, apparently, going by with common people looking on as God’s priests ran amok. Apparently not caring.
I think this is so incredible.
In the case of Eli’s sons, it is a tolerance of a fixed duration… because it fit God’s plans. He’s got plans. He’s willing to suffer external shame for his plans to come to fruition. In the case of Hophni and Phinehas, his patience is revealed as he waits for Samuel to grow… to contrast God’s deliverance through a child, God’s Word through a child… as opposed to man.
God’s plan has always been that in the fullness of time, he would send a child. A messiah. A prophet, priest, and king. And he bore with constant and continual sin… seeming defeats, seeming setbacks… when he was waiting patiently for his plan.
And what drives home the amazingness (is that a word?) for me is one of the reasons for his temporal tolerance. It is found in Hebrews 11:39-40:
“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
The author is saying that God allowed his people to suffer and perish and be afflicted and not receive what was promised… because he was waiting for us. We needed to be added in. He loved us so incredibly much… that he tolerated much affliction in his people, and apparent shame and setback for himself.
2 Peter 3:9 has the same thought:
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
See… God is tolerant… patient… because he wants to include all that are his.
Jesus was serious when he said that he would not lose any that God had given him. That’s how serious God is about redeeming every single person on whom he has set his love.
And once his… we are a new creation, righteousness given not earned, sin forgiven through the finished work of Jesus… no longer aimed for certain wrath delayed only by temporal tolerance, but rather gloriously redeemed and united and adopted into God’s family forever.
So yes, grace in tolerance. In God bearing apparent shame and apparent loss and apparent setback and apparently doing nothing about evil and sin… because his plan is sure, his love is set, his reason includes you.
Fantastic. May his kindness pull us toward repentance and trust in him alone.