Tolerance for Unity and Increase
AMONG the evils that afflict this corrupt old dying system of things is intolerance. Look where we may we find manifestations of it. The issue of racial intolerance is being hotly debated in South Africa, even as it is throughout the United States. Ideological and political intolerance manifests itself not only in Iron Curtain countries but also in many of the democracies. And religious intolerance, which goes back to the very first human murderer, Cain, shows itself in the attempt to force observance of Catholic holy days on the non-Catholic populations of Montreal, Canada, and New York city; in the desecration of Jewish graves in Germany; in the stoning of Protestant church buildings in Colombia; not to say anything of the world-wide intolerance expressed toward the witnesses of Jehovah.
Intolerance is bad fruit. All who practice it in any form could not possibly have or belong to the true religion or the pure worship of Jehovah God. “There is not a fine tree producing rotten fruit; again there is not a rotten tree producing fine fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit.”—Luke 6:43, 44, NW.
Those who manifest intolerance do not know God, for he is a most tolerant God. In what way or ways has Jehovah manifested tolerance? In that he has tolerated this wicked old system of things for more than four thousand years. Some men, suffering under injustices and oppression, have questioned God’s wisdom in permitting these conditions and have accused God of being in sympathy with wickedness. Thereby such men show that they lack understanding. David, even though he had suffered much at the hands of envious King Saul, did not thus foolishly accuse God. Showing that he had proper understanding, he expressed himself thus: “Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: evil shall not sojourn with thee. The arrogant shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. Thou wilt destroy them that speak lies: Jehovah abhorreth the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”—Ps. 5:4-6, AS.
WHY GOD HAS TOLERATED WICKEDNESS
Jehovah has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to end all wickedness. That being so we can be certain that he would not now tolerate it unless he had some very good reasons for doing so. Which reasons are? The same for which he spared Pharaoh for a time: “For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, so that you would have been effaced from the earth; but this is why I have spared you: to show you my power, and to have my fame recounted throughout all the earth.” (Ex. 9:15, 16, AT) Back there Jehovah not only answered in his favor the question “Who owns the earth and is its ruler?” but he also made a prophetic picture of the time when he will answer in his favor the question “Who owns the universe and is its ruler?”
Ever since the rebellion in the garden of Eden Jehovah’s supremacy has been challenged. To give the Devil full opportunity to demonstrate that he is unreformable and to give him time to build up his organization, consisting of demons (fallen angels) and the nations of this world, to its greatest strength God has tolerated wickedness. Then, in his own due time, Jehovah God will display his superior power and destroy Satan and his entire organization even as he destroyed Pharaoh and his hosts in the Red sea. That will mark the end of God’s tolerance of Satan and his old world.—1 John 5:19; Rev. 12:7-10; 18:21; 19:19, 20, NW.
This vindication of Jehovah’s name and supremacy is of far greater importance than all the suffering God has permitted man to endure. At the same time God has accomplished very worth-while purposes by letting his creatures thus suffer unjustly. Satan boasted he could turn all men away from God. To prove the Devil a liar God permitted him to try to do so. As shown by the book of Job (chapters 1 and 2) this meant letting the Devil bring temptation and suffering upon men. Those who withstood the test would thereby vindicate Jehovah’s side of the question and would prove their own obedience and integrity and come in for a share in the blessings of God’s new world of righteousness. “If, now, God, although having the will to demonstrate his wrath and to make his power known, tolerated with much long-suffering vessels of wrath made fit for destruction, in order that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, . . . what of it?” Surely in view of such worth-while results God is fully justified in letting his creatures suffer unjustly.—Heb. 5:8, 9; Rom. 9:17-26, NW.
Not only has Jehovah God thus been tolerant with those practicing willful malicious wickedness, but he has at the same time shown mercy toward those who have dedicated themselves to his service; particularly in that he arranged for the sacrifice of his Son to take away their sins. (John 3:16) Since God is merciful, ever willing to forgive us our sins if we come to him in true repentance, should we not be willing to likewise show mercy to those who offend or sin against us? (1 John 2:1, 2) The fact is, being forgiven ourselves depends upon our forgiving others: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” That is why Jesus also stated, “Happy are the merciful, since they will be shown mercy.”—Matt. 6:12; 5:7, NW.
SHOWING TOLERANCE TO EACH OTHER
Sometimes Christians permit foolish arguments to come up between them on such a thing as diet. One will maintain that a vegetarian diet is best and therefore all Christians should be vegetarians, while the other will insist that meat is indispensable. The one will point to the fact that Adam was not given meat to eat, and the other will point to the fact that the Jews were commanded to eat flesh. And so they will argue back and forth. Getting into arguments over such inconsequential matters is displaying intolerance which is most unprofitable, and contrary to the plain admonition Paul gives at Romans 14:2-4 (NW): “One man has faith to eat everything, but the man who is weak eats vegetables. Let the one eating not look down on the one not eating, and let the one not eating not judge the one eating, for God has welcomed that one. Who are you to judge the house servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for Jehovah can make him stand.”
How foolish for Christians, who are of the same mind in regard to really important matters: the Kingdom, the issue of supremacy and the vindication of Jehovah’s name, the need of maintaining integrity and keeping separate from the world, what the Bible teaches as regards the basic doctrines; who see in harmony as regards the fulfillment of prophecies; and further, who work side by side in publishing the good news of God’s kingdom publicly and from house to house; yes, how foolish for Christians, who are agreed on all these points, to permit themselves to become divided, to get into arguments, to allow misunderstandings and bitterness to come between them over such immaterial matters as diet or which of the various therapies for treating mankind’s ills is the best! Yes, most foolish in view of the danger that some might be stumbled and be pushed out of the truth by such arguments.
Profitable tolerance indicates avoiding needless issues. We should carefully avoid needlessly offending others who may not be so mature as to appreciate the folly of being sticklers for such nonessentials, and on the other hand we should avoid giving offense by being sticklers ourselves. That is the sum and substance of Paul’s advice at 1 Corinthians 10:25-30. We should forego our liberty of choice in such matters for the sake of the conscience of others; for after all, “The kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but means righteousness and peace and joy with holy spirit.”—Rom. 14:17, NW.
Incidentally, those who consider food so very important are in danger of making the same mistake as did Esau, who sold his birthright for a bowl of lentils. Or like Martha, who was so concerned about the incidental material things that she neglected the really important things. In modern times Christian ministers at assemblies who forego part of the spiritual feast in their concern to be served first with the material food give evidence of being more like Esau and Martha than like Jacob and Mary!
TOLERANCE FOR INCREASE
Not that Christians are to be wishy-washy, without any principles. Not at all! When vital issues arise and the principles of God’s Word are at stake, true Christians will not compromise. Regardless of how unpopular it may make them, they will refuse to heil men, to bow down to any image or likeness, to take blood transfusions, etc. On the other hand, they will not stop speaking out the good news so long as they have tongues and there is someone to talk to. But where principle is not involved, where no direct command of God would be violated, they will gladly yield, will readily ignore their own personal preferences so as to help others on to the way of salvation instead of stumbling them. As Paul expressed it: “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat flesh at all, that I may not make my brother stumble.”—1 Cor. 8:13, NW.
Christian ministers must also show tolerance to those whom they would give the milk of the Word. (Heb. 5:12) To those, for example, who make an issue regarding strict observance of the sabbath. In Paul’s day some Jews, who became Christians, still felt very strongly regarding the keeping of the sabbath. On the other hand, Greeks and others who had not been under the law of Moses had no difficulty in appreciating that Jehovah nailed the law to the torture stake of Christ. (Col. 2:14, NW) So today, there are many who feel very strongly regarding seventh-day observance. The wise minister will exercise Christian tolerance by not harping on the fact that such observance is no longer required. Rather, he will ignore that controversial minor point and concentrate on putting across the truth regarding the main issues, the Kingdom and the vindication of Jehovah’s name. Such is a time to remember that “a slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be tactful toward all”. (2 Tim. 2:24, 25, NW) The same would apply to other minor pet religious notions that some may want to cherish.
Christian ministers will also exercise profitable tolerance in the matter of clothes; they will not insist that those who attend their meetings measure up to certain standards as to appearance. Nor will they discriminate between rich and poor, exalting the one and dishonoring the other. All such favoritism is a form of intolerance which the Bible most plainly condemns: “You look with favor upon the one wearing the splendid clothing and say: ‘You take this seat here in an honorable place,’ and you say to the poor one: ‘You keep standing,’ or, ‘Take that seat there beside my footstool,’ . . . if you continue showing favoritism, you are working a sin, for you are reproved by the law as transgressors.”—Jas. 2:1-9, NW.
Christian tolerance also means that when we are engaged teaching others the truth of God’s Word we overlook their personal habits, such as the use of tobacco. Nor should we pry into the personal affairs or past history of those with whom we are studying the Bible. None of us have anything to brag about as to what we were when we came to the Lord and his organization. (1 Cor. 6:9-11) So long as the people are hungry for the truth let us give it to them. As they continue to grow in knowledge and understanding and to associate with Jehovah’s people they will see a clean organization and it will dawn upon them that they too should clean up.
If we would have a share in the increase that is now taking place by helping others to see their privilege of dedicating themselves to Jehovah God through Christ Jesus, then we must show tolerance. If we love our neighbor as ourselves we will have patience with him and will. not needlessly stumble him. If he needs education on eating, drinking, observing days, or in regard to personal habits, let us be tactful with him on these matters. Love will gladly deny itself certain things so that others may be aided, for is not the eternal destiny of others of far greater importance than our personal preferences and conveniences?—Rom. 14:14-20.
Fulfillment of Bible prophecy shows that we are living in the most momentous days of man’s history because God’s kingdom, for which Christians have been praying for 1,900 years, has been established and Christ is present. (Matt. 24:1-51; Rev. 11:15-18) Soon that kingdom will vindicate Jehovah’s name and supremacy by wiping out all wickedness and by establishing a new world of righteousness. (2 Pet. 3:7-13) By seeking first the Kingdom in our lives and by concentrating on the Kingdom theme in our preaching we shall avoid getting side-tracked on such insignificant things as the eating of meat or vegetables, drinking coffee, tea or alcoholic beverages or questionable personal habits.
“We, though, who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those not strong, and not to be pleasing ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor in what is good for his upbuilding.” (Rom. 15:1, 2, NW) Intolerance is the rotten fruit of false worship. Christian tolerance is the fine fruit of true worship that results in unity and increase.
To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to people of all kinds, that I might by all means save some. But I do all things for the sake of the good news, that I may become a sharer of it with others.—1 Cor. 9:22, 23, NW.