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Compassion and the True Meaning of Tolerance

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Several years ago, we walked the journey of retribution and justice with a close friend who was convicted of a serious crime. He was deeply repentant and eaten up with regret. We were publicly persecuted for our actions.

Compassion and Tolerance

When our compassion extended beyond the victims to the perpetrator, people condemned us. Our compassion implied “tolerance” of evil behavior. There was a misguided belief that we condoned his actions.

Where do compassion and tolerance meet? How are they meant to coincide with one another? What is the true meaning of “tolerance”?

The Tolerance of Jesus

As we consider the direction our society has taken – and the way it defines tolerance, it’s important to examine the tolerance of Jesus.

We see an example of his tolerance in Matthew chapter nine.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:10-13

In this passage, Jesus shares God’s heart. God desires mercy – not the empty sacrifices of the righteous – or should I say self-righteous. The Pharisees went through the motions of “religion” outwardly but they didn’t cherish God inwardly. They didn’t understand the inner workings of his heart.

Jesus emphasized that His ministry is intended for those in need. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” The repulsive, degenerate, guilty, and broken have his attention. This is compassion.

The sinners Jesus hung around with at that dinner knew they needed a Savior. The Pharisees didn’t see their need.

The True Meaning of Tolerance

Hanging out with them didn’t mean Jesus condoned their behavior in any way.

Jesus exercised the true meaning of tolerance which is to respect someone’s views while personally holding to the truth and agreeing to disagree with them.

Jesus was in their midst without ceasing to be God.

A Distorted Definition of Tolerance

Today a perverted definition of tolerance has been adopted.

Tolerance today means acceptance and approval of all views as truth.

Our society is trying to cram Christ-followers (and everyone else) into a box of worldly viewpoints. When we don’t willingly acquiesce, we’re targeted.


God’s beautiful values and morality are so clearly defined in the Bible and through the life of Christ. When we, in loyalty to him, uphold those values we are increasingly labeled as “intolerant” and viewed as “horribly mean” people by many. Some have even lost their livelihood because of their beliefs.

Please hear me loud and clear on this.

DO NOT allow anyone to make you feel badly about demonstrating compassion to “undesirable” people – or about refusing to accept all behaviors and viewpoints as right and true.

They are not all right and true.

Know that you are not wrong or mean or bad.

Some things to know about compassion:

  • Demonstrating compassion does not mean we condone evil or immoral behavior.
  • It’s possible to demonstrate real compassion without adopting the lifestyle and beliefs of the person we’re demonstrating compassion to.
  • Authentic compassion and true tolerance can coexist.

Compassion and tolerance were married perfectly in Jesus.

He demonstrated the highest level of compassion when he died for us – and he did it for unrepentant people. He never condoned or tolerated our sin. Instead, he dealt with it, saving us from its consequences and power.

So there’s a choice that has to be made by you . . . pandering to the world or remaining loyal to God . . . attempting to gain the world’s acceptance or resting in God’s love for you. What will you choose?

Have you experienced persecution for demonstrating compassion or labeled as “intolerant” as you lived out God’s values? What do you think about the info in this post?

It can be tough out there. If you need prayer, please let me know. I’d be happy to pray for you.


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  1. Carey says:

    Very helpful post.. it reminds me of the movie “Dead Man Walking” (which I saw years ago, and as a result I’m sure contains scenes and topics I would not condone watching nowadays). Anyway, the theme was a Nun who did the exact thing you’re suggestion toward a convicted rapist and murderer. She was persecuted… as you were. But the point was the same as yours: true compassion is to all people, not just the squeeky-clean or “sort of dirty” ones. Blessing to you for writing this bold post Lisa.

    • LMB says:

      Thanks Carey! I love what you said . . . “not just the squeeky-clean or sort of dirty ones.” Sort of dirty! An accurate choice of words for how we often appropriate compassion in this world.

  2. Pam says:

    Hi Lisa,
    I am new to your website and was just looking around. I love this article! Thank you so much. God bless!

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