Contemporary society has made the word “truth” unpopular and has replaced it with another virtue that has become more highly valued: tolerance.
These days one of the most negative things someone can be accused of is being intolerant. Almost no one wants that label.
However, there are times when truth leaves little room for tolerance. If you touch a 220-volt wire you will get shocked, maybe even killed even if you refuse to acknowledge the truth that electricity is powerful and dangerous.
When mixing chemicals, there is little room for tolerance if you want to get the desired results. You must be intolerant (that is precise) when mixing chemicals. If you do not, depending on the chemicals used, the results can be catastrophic.
There is also no room for tolerance when it comes to mathematics. If NASA engineers are tolerant of mathematical errors, the result will be rockets which explode during launch and dead astronauts.
Truth in other areas can also be significant. It is not wrong to caution someone whose poor choices may harm them or others. However, this does not mean we can make other’s decisions for them.
Whether someone accepts the truth I believe about Jesus, or the moral truth presented in scripture, I have no right to be mean-spirited. Even if someone believes neither in Christ nor the Bible, we must be kind. There is never a good excuse for being harsh or judgmental.
Jesus achieved perfect balance when it came to standing up for truth and still being kind. For example, in John 4, Jesus befriended an immoral woman in Samaria. He accepted her where she was, but also challenged her to leave her immoral life.
Consider the Apostle John’s description of Jesus. “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, NIV, my emphasis) Jesus was perfectly full of “grace and truth.” He was committed to both. But how?
The most famous Catholic priest in America during the first half of the twentieth century was Bishop Fulton Sheen. Each week over 30 million Americans watched him on television. He captured Jesus’ perfect balance when he wrote, “Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to truth. Intolerance applies only to truth, but never to persons…” On another occasion he said, “When it comes to truth be intolerant; when it comes to people be tolerant.”
How are we to live? We are to be like Jesus, 100% committed to people and 100% committed to truth. When we lose sight of either priority, we inevitably find ourselves out of balance.
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