The Truth is CriticalBy Nathan Mates
In today's secular society, one of the greatest insults to another person is to accuse them of being intolerant. This is based on the misguided belief that at the root of all of our problems is that we don't care for other people in the right way. "Can't we all just get along?" has become the catchphrase, said during the L.A. riots of 1992, and it sums up the movement.
The world has used this weapon of accusations of intolerance against the church: we are intolerant because we call sexual immorality a sin. We are intolerant because we call abortion an act of murder. We are intolerant because we would dare to evangelize to other groups-- we must think they're wrong in their beliefs if we did such a thing. We are intolerant because we support a student's choice to voluntary prayer in schools. All of these things must prove our intolerance, because we seek to change what's going on in the society around us. Not coincidentally, their seeking to condemn and force Christians to change isn't intolerant, it's "for our and everyone's good."
Sadly, this slavish devotion to "tolerance" and "harmony" has infiltrated the church somewhat. There are some who'd rather never hear a harsh word spoken, something going against the orthodoxy, simply because it rocks the boat. To these people, their guiding verse is this: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." [Ephesians 4:29]
The problem with that verse is that, sometimes, the truth hurts. The author of Hebrews notes this: "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." [Hebrews 4:12] Unless you are dead, the slicing of God's word through your soul, body, and mind has a very good chance of hurting. And, in the avoid-pain-at-all-costs, everyone-must-get-along school of "tolerance," any hurt is to be avoided.
If one reads the Bible, one quickly sees that being the deliverer of the truth is hardly a way to become popular. Consider the prophets of the Old Testament-- aside from a small minority like Moses, most of the prophets were widely hated. Jeremiah wrote this about his experience: "They tried to end my life in a pit and threw stones at me; the waters closed over my head, and I thought I was about to be cut off." [Lamentations 3:53-54] Why? Because Jeremiah had told them this message from God: "Why should I forgive you? Your children have forsaken me and sworn by gods that are not gods. I supplied all their needs, yet they committed adultery and thronged to the houses of prostitutes." [Jeremiah 5:7]
Jeremiah was hardly the exception to the rule. Speaking about the experience of people in general, the author of Hebrews wrote this: "Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated" [Hebrews 11:36-37] As tradition has it that the prophet Isaiah was sawn in half, Jeremiah was killed by the sword, this verse is commonly understood to refer to the experience of prophets. But, the prophets continued to deliver harsh messages to the people.
In the New Testament, the experience is the same. Jesus's claim that mercy was a higher priority than the sabbath [John 9:14-16, others], that he was the Messiah [Luke 22:70], and the like incensed the local religious leaders to seek to take his life. Jesus minced no words with the Pharisees; Matthew 23 is a whole chapter of Jesus's words condemning the Pharisees. Calling someone a "son of hell" [Matthew 23:15] is about as far from "tolerance" as one could get.
Even after Jesus, people were still mistreated for laying down the truth-- Stephen was martyred, in part for delivering the truth, asking the Pharisees "Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him-- you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it." [Acts 7:52-53]
Today's "tolerance loving" people would prefer to throw out everything not delivered exactly the way they want-- if it's not perceived as wholesome, for the building up, it's rejected. And yet, the Bible is full of places where Ephesians 4:29 was not followed. Does this mean that all the harsh words of the prophets should be thrown out? Absolutely not. On the contrary, it should remind us all the more that the truth is not always going to be pleasantly received by the audience. No amount of sugarcoating God's word will dull its sharp blade. The truth of God's word doesn't matter whether it's packaged well or with a bite.
Consider this about all of the persecutions of the prophets above: they all came after God's word was delivered. To us, this was unjustified, as God's word is quite true and should have been accepted. But, put yourself in the mindset of the audiences of the word. The prophets' words were about as subtle as a slap in the face. They were hardly "tolerant." In fact, most of them would not be received as being "helpful for building up" -- Jesus's righteous denunciations of the Pharisees were designed to rip them up.
Further, in the mindset of the audiences, since the message wasn't perceived as "tolerant" or "helpful," it should be rejected, right? Absolutely not. Even if it hurts, even if we think the message is "critical," we should listen to what is said, and judge the truth of the message separately from the delivery. We need to get away from feelings (which can be swayed by our sinful nature) and learn to judge messages by their content instead of how we feel. While it's nice to have both the truth and have it delivered well, if there's ever a choice between the two, truth must win. Tolerance needs to take a back seat to the truth in this age of false teachings wrapped up in feel-good packages.