Our society idolizes tolerance. We’re “supposed” to understand the other’s point of view, support them in living however they want, and admit they’re no less “right” than we are. From a Christian’s perspective, though, today’s ideas of tolerance look more like an attack on objective morality. People who disagree with you don’t just want you to tolerate them; they want you to agree with them. And in many cases they’re not willing to extend even tolerance back to you, much less agreement.
There are two extreme reactions Christians might have when faced with a society like ours: 1) go along with society or 2) start attacking people we don’t agree with. But neither of those options is the best one. Better to ask, “Does the Bible offer any guidelines for Christians navigating such as society?” People of God have always had to interact with people outside their faith, and scripture does provide guidelines for how we can approach such relationships.
Don’t Judge People
This first guideline has nothing to do with accepting the wrong things we see ungodly people doing. We can make moral decisions about another person’s actions (e.g. discern between right and wrong) and in the appropriate context tell them they’re not lining up with God’s law (e.g. preach the gospel and call for repentance). But to pronounce a sentence on someone and condemn them is not our right.
For what is it to me to judge those outside? Should you not judge those inside? But those outside God will judge. Remove the evil person from among yourselves (1 Cor. 5:12-13, LEB)
In the verses leading up to these, Paul has been talking about the need for Christians to exercise sound judgement within the church. He’s giving them a directive to put out of the church people who say they follow God yet flagrantly and unrepentantly practice sin. In contrast to that, he tells us it’s not our responsibility to do the same to people outside the church. We can’t condemn non-Christians for not acting like Christians. God’s the one who gets final say on their lives.
Don’t Excuse Them
While we’re not to condemn people who don’t follow God (e.g. passing final judgements like, “You’re going to burn in hell!”), we also aren’t to swing too far in the other direction (e.g. saying things like, “God doesn’t care how you live”). We can’t forget objective morality exists and that it’s defined by God.
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Is. 5:20, WEB)
You can avoid passing condemning judgement on a person without saying that the wrong thing they’re doing is right. For example, I can say that sex outside God’s plan for marriage is morally wrong without judging that everyone who is doing or has done that is past saving. We have to be able to stand up for what’s right while still loving people and hoping they’ll turn to God. In Romans 1, Paul talks about people who not only practice evil things “but also approve of those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32, WEB). Consenting, applauding, and agreeing with evil is a sin. And it’s still a sin whether or not you actually do the wicked thing yourself.
Don’t Join In Sin
God places a separation between the holy and the non-holy. People who enter a covenant with God are holy, set apart and consecrated for Him. That’s why we’re to “Come out from among them, and be separate” (2 Cor. 6:16-18, WEB). Even though we live in the world, we’re not “of the world.”
Going back to Corinthians, before Paul tells his readers to judge those within the church instead of those outside it, he also tells them “to have no company with sexual sinners.” Then he clarifies, “yet not at all meaning with the sexual sinners of this world, or with the covetous and extortionists, or with idolaters; for then you would have to leave the world” (1 Cor. 5:9-10, WEB).
Even though we’re set apart, you don’t have to become a hermit in your quest to avoid sin. If we’re to shine as light in the world, the world has to be able to see us (Matt. 5:14-16). The saying, “You may be the only Bible some people read” is true. So you can talk with and befriend people who don’t share your faith. Just “don’t be partakers with them” in doing things contrary to God’s way of life (Eph. 5:7, WEB). Remember that we’re part of and live by the standards of a different kingdom.
Don’t Hide Your Faith
Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. (Col. 4:5-6, WEB)
We should use wisdom in our interactions with people outside our faith. For one thing, God wants us to treat every single person with the sort of active goodwill He shows in His agape love. And for another, the Lord is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9, KJV). We should share that goal. We know that people who don’t follow God face a worse future than those who do, and we shouldn’t want that for them.
We can’t save people. Only Jesus can do that. But we can witness to His redeeming power and the glorious future that awaits the children of God. We can shine as lights and share His love with everyone we meet. At the bare minimum, we can avoid giving people a bad impression of our faith and be ready to answer their questions about why and what we believe.
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear (1 Pet. 3:15, KJV)