Tolerance Is Not Love And Love Is Not Tolerance

Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

The idea and concept of ‘love’ is one of the most misunderstood things in our modern day and age.  It seems like everyone is talking about the power and importance of love.  Protests have been spring up everywhere in our country in the name of love.  Hollywood and television stars speak about love weekly.  On social media, it is about impossible not to stumble across pictures and quotes on love.  There is even a new hand sign for love where a person cups their hands together to make the shape of a heart. 

That old song from 1979 by John Paul Young still rings true, “Love is in the air.  Love is in the air in every sight and every sound.”    

Unfortunately, though, even though love is in the air and even though there is an incredible amount of talk about the subject of love, I am afraid that the majority of people talking about love do not completely understand what it is.  Perhaps it could be said that we live in a time in history where love has been promoted and discussed more than ever before, while at the same time having a vast amount of ignorance on what love actually is.

To complicate things even more, not only are many talking about love incorrectly, but they are also imposing their misguided view of love upon the masses.  For example, we are being told that we must learn to love more and more, for love is the thing that can offset and cancel out hate.  We are told that we need to love to make this world a better place for everyone, as if love will make a perfect utopia. 

As previously mentioned, though, those who are pushing the campaign to love, unfortunately, do not understand what real love is.  In other words, they teach us that love is all about avoiding offense to someone else; however, this is not love.  They tell us that love actively approves of what others are doing; however, this is not love.  They share that love is quick to agree with our friends and neighbors; however, this is not love.  They express that love makes sure our friends can have their way at all costs; however, this is not love.  They impress upon us that love seeks to be inoffensive and glorifies diversity; however, this is not love. They gush that love is an intensity of feeling; however, this is not love.  They say love is what makes us feel happy and fuzzy and warm inside; however, this is not love.  They assert that love allows us to be free from hurt feelings and displeasure; however, this is not love.  They tell us that love blindly validates and approves of another person’s dreams and aspirations no matter what they are; however, this is not love.

Indeed, there is great confusion about what love is in our culture.  While it is true that everyone seems to be in love with the idea of ‘love’, it is also unfortunately true that very few people understand what love really is. 

Maybe the problem is that we have confused ‘love’ for the idea of ‘tolerance.’  Yes, maybe we have confused the terms love and tolerance.    

Consider the word tolerance for a moment. The word tolerance in our contemporary culture has evolved to mean that a person should not only put up with another person’s point of view but must also celebrate, enable, and promote that person’s point of view, regardless if one agrees with it or not. Any opposition to this modern view of tolerance is immediately seen as hateful and not loving. Therefore it is easy to see how the current view of tolerance can be mistaken for the idea of love. 

Generally speaking, though, the Bible frowns upon tolerance. For example, in Revelation 2, the pastor of the Church of Thyatira was condemned for tolerating a false teacher in the church, whereas the pastor of the Church of Ephesus was commended for not tolerating false teaching. In other words, tolerance has generally been seen not as a Christian virtue but more often than not, a pagan virtue. But love?  Yes, true love is a Christian virtue – it is at the heart of what Christianity is all about.   

So if love is not tolerance and tolerance is not love, what exactly is love, at least according to Christianity?

Well, love does not act the way that we might think – it does not typically operate the way that it is portrayed in Nicholas Sparks movies or sung about in BeyoncĂ© and Katy Perry’s music.  Love is not defined by those signs at ‘love not hate’ protests.  For example, love does its works secretly and hides its actions from the applause of others – it does not do its acts of charity to be seen or known by others.  True love is not boastful or arrogant.  It does not seek to gain but seeks to give.  True love does not insist on its own way, and it is not irritable or resentful.  Love does not make a lot of noise rejoicing in the evil of others, but it rejoices and works for the truth – it pleads with people who are in error, it risks the possible offense to restore a neighbor in the freedom of truth. And finally, love does not hold on to its actions towards a neighbor as if it is keeping score, but rather, it acts for others free of charge.  

Clearly love is not the same as tolerance.  It also is not a floaty feeling.  It is not a romantic emotion.  It is not a self-serving.  It is not sourced in ourselves.  But rather, this true love seeks to honor God and Him alone for our good and joy.  Love seeks the proper teaching about the Lord with correct doctrine.  Love seeks to remember the Sabbath and God’s Word.  Love seeks to respect those in authority like parents and governing officials.  Love seeks to preserve life, especially those that are weak and insignificant – those unable to protect themselves in the womb or at the end of life.  Love seeks to protect marriage from pornography, divorce, and adultery.  Love seeks to defend our neighbor’s possessions, and it seeks to defend our neighbor’s reputation.  Love seeks to rest in contentment. Love is sacrificing – it is seen and demonstrated when a person gives of themselves for the good of another, as when Jesus laid down His life for you, for me, and for the entire world (1 John 3:16). 

Today we stand on the edge of the Season of Lent.  And with Lent, we are being prepared for the most dramatic display of God’s love – the Cross.  Indeed, we hear in our Gospel reading that Jesus talks about His love for you, for me, and for the entire world as he says to the disciples that the Son of Man will be delivered over to the Gentiles, be mocked, shamefully treated, spit upon, flogged, and killed. Jesus was preparing the disciple of what was about to come – His love in action towards mankind through suffering and dying.   

Dear friends, in Jesus we do not see tolerance, but we see love.  If Jesus would have gone the way of tolerance, He would ‘not’ have gone to the cross but would have left us in our sins.  And if we were left in our sins, we would be left with damnation.  So much for the way of tolerance!  But because of His great love for us and His rich mercy, Jesus could not tolerate our sin.  Indeed, the Son of God could not tolerate our sin, so He was compelled to the cross – in love – to do something about it.

You see, Jesus is God’s anointed.  He is the keeper of the sheep.  And as the great Shepherd who keeps His sheep, He lays down His life – in love – for the sheep.  He cannot and will not tolerate straying sheep or threatening wolves.  Truly, Jesus is the display of the Father’s love – the one who suffers long and is kind, not puffed up, the one who never fails.  Jesus is the one who is driven by mercy and compassion to deliver you and me.  He is gracious when we are in distress; His face shines upon us in our grief over sin.  And by His steadfast-unending-consistent-persistent-everlasting-love He saves us. 

Out of love for His creation – you – Jesus has opened your eyes to see Him and see His forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Out of love, Jesus came to the aid of the blind man of our Gospel reading and He comes to us in our sorrow and misery and shares His goodness and mercy and love with us.  He creates in us humble and contrite hearts that we might always cry out to Him for mercy.  He fills us with His love.  He grants us renewal by the Holy Spirit.  He gives us eyes to see His glory in His Word and Sacraments.  He does this not out of tolerance – oh no!  But rather, He does this because of His love – love for you.   

In the name of Jesus: Amen.  

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