Biblical Tolerance: Compassion for the Lost

Friends talking on a bench
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"Everyone has a right to his own opinion."

"What people do in private is their business."

"Different religions are simply different ways to God."

Secular culture wants our children to believe all opinions are valid, to approve all lifestyles and to treat all behaviors as acceptable. Your children will feel pressure to conform to this worldview. So how do you teach them to respond?

You can teach your children biblical tolerance — a valuable virtue that will serve your children throughout life. Worldly tolerance says: There are no rules, so don't judge others' choices. Biblical tolerance says: I will share God's truth with others in gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).

In Scripture, tolerance is linked with love — agape love, the selfless kind. For example, Ephesians 4:2 urges us to show "tolerance for one another in love" (NASB). Tolerance starts with being others-centered rather than self-centered. When someone with an unbiblical opinion or lifestyle confronts you or your child, restrain feelings to retaliate or put the person down. Your children will best learn tolerance as they watch you.

Biblical tolerance is based on seeing others as lost. They deserve our compassion. When you look at people this way, you can listen to them and treat them with openness and respect, even though you disagree with them. Biblical tolerance also allows you to share truth with gentleness.

Let's face it: God puts up with a lot from us — our poor choices, our wrong opinions about Him, our failures. Certainly, we should be able to do the same for others.

Of course, biblical tolerance does have boundaries: We are not to excuse sin or falsehood or embrace ungodly behaviors. But when properly applied, tolerance brings the peace of God.

The following activities and discussions are designed to help you talk with your kids about biblical tolerance. Whether they're preschoolers, teenagers or somewhere in between, your kids can learn to show tolerance toward all people.

— Larry Fowler

Key Points

  • Tolerance is a biblical virtue, but it is different than the world's understanding of tolerance./li>
  • Biblical tolerance treats others with respect and compassion.
  • Biblical tolerance shares the truth with gentleness.

Family Memory Verse

Hebrews 12:14
"Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord."

Scripture Study

For a more in-depth look at biblical tolerance, read these Bible passages:

  • John 4:4-26
  • John 8:1-11
  • Acts 17:22-24
  • Romans 12:9-21
  • Colossians 3:12-17

Preschool Activity
School-Age Activity
Tween Activity
Time With Your Teen
More Family Devotions


Preschool Activity

Have your child pretend to be a naughty pet. He could be a cat scratching the furniture or a dog barking too much.

Explain that when pets don't know that what they are doing is wrong, the gentle pet owner must guide them in a loving way. As your child continues his pretend play, you can act out the role of the pet owner. Give the "cat" a scratching post to use instead of the furniture or play fetch with the barking "dog." Pat the animal on the head and scratch him behind the ears.

Explain to your child that some people don't know the truth about Jesus. Like the animal that didn't know right from wrong, there are people who do not know the truth about Jesus and His love for them. Make sure to stress that people who do not know Jesus are people like us — not animals. Remind your child that if we are gentle with animals, we should be that much more gentle and loving with people. Tell your child that to show God's love, we should treat others with kindness and respect.

Judy Parker


School-age Activity

When your child isn't watching, wind three long pieces of yarn through the main level of your home — over tables, along the floor and around the furniture. Each one should end at a different location: Have one of the lines end at a treat and the other two at dead ends. Encourage your child to follow each of the strands to see how many treats he can find.

Afterward, talk about how there was only one right way to the prize. Ask: "How did you feel when you followed the strands that led to dead ends?" He may express feelings of disappointment and surprise because he expected a treat at the end of each option. Then say: "Now imagine that a friend of yours was here, and he could only choose one strand. How would you feel if he chose the wrong way?" Your child may talk about feeling bad for his friend who didn't get a treat or wanting to help his friend find the right way.

Explain that the Bible says there is only one way to have a relationship with God. John 14:6 says, "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.' " Some people believe there are other ways to God, but each of those ways leads to a dead end. Encourage your child to respond with compassion when others choose a "dead end." Then talk about ways he can tell others how to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

—Suzanne Gosselin


Tween Activity

Have a make-your-own-sundae night to help your tweens understand the importance of biblical tolerance. You'll need your favorite ice cream with the usual toppings, as well as a few other items that your family would never dream of putting on their sundaes. Diced onions, soy sauce, mustard — be creative!

Call your family in for dessert. Put the ice cream and all the toppings on the table as if nothing were unusual. Then invite your children to dig in. As your kids build their sundaes, dramatically "encourage" them to try the new toppings. Offer to top them with a spoonful of black olives or a dash of ketchup. When they've refused, make your own small dessert with one or two of the "wrong" toppings. Can you keep a straight face for a bite or two?

When the surprise of the moment has passed, tell your tweens that you were using that night's dessert as a way to remember the principle of biblical tolerance. Tell them that while God probably isn't too concerned about what goes on our ice cream, He does have a design for our lives. Some decisions are right. Some are wrong. Ask your kids:

  • How did you react when I threatened to "ruin" your ice cream with strange toppings? Was your reaction gentle or harsh?
  • Can you describe a situation in which you had a similar response to someone's wrong actions or beliefs?

Tell your kids that our culture pressures us to believe that all opinions and lifestyles are valid — that it is intolerant to believe that some things are right or wrong. Explain that the Bible calls us to a different worldview. Right and wrong are real. But we are not to treat those who are lost with judgment and retaliation, but rather compassion and love. We do share truth, but with gentleness.

Read Romans 12:9-21. Ask:

  • How does God want us to treat those who clearly don't share our biblical values?
  • What does it mean to "overcome evil with good?" Does it feel possible?
  • What are some specific ways you can respond in situations where people do not share your values and lifestyle?

—Vance Fry


Time With Your Teen

As their independence grows, teens quickly encounter situations that conflict with their biblical worldview. This is often evident in social settings, such as school or sports, where truth is no longer seen as absolute, temptations override morality and God is defined by personal preference. Your teen's views on premarital sex, sanctity of life, spirituality and more will come under scrutiny.

Your teen may feel put on the spot or defensive. And she will most likely feel pressure to conform. Help her work through these feelings from a new perspective — one that focuses on compassion for those who do not know God. Because biblical tolerance is not the same as acceptance, she can stand firmly in her knowledge of the truth while respectfully coming alongside those who cannot see to the truth.

Have your teen list the various mindsets and lifestyles she witnesses in everyday life. Now ask her to investigate and share with you what the Bible has to say about those issues. It may reassure her to know that, while these issues and the accompanying pressures are new to her, they do not surprise God. Show your teen scripturally why you believe what you believe, teaching biblical tolerance based on love. Discuss the power of love expressed in body language and tone of voice when sharing the truth with others. Help your teen explore ways she could show God's love to someone who opposes the truth.

Keep in mind that the best learning is more caught than taught. Model tolerance for your teen by knowing what you believe while extending gentleness and respect for those who don't have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

—Lynn Cowell

This article first appeared on ThrivingFamily.com in October 2010. "Preschool Activity" first appeared in Focus on Your Child Early Stages, February 2009. "School-Age Activity" first appeared in Focus on Your Child Discovery Years, February 2009. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
"Biblical Tolerance: Compassion for the Lost" © 2011 by Larry Fowler; "Preschool Activity" © 2011 by Judy Parker. "School-Age Activity" © 2011 by Suzanne Gosselin. Used by permission. "Tween Activity" © 2011 by Focus on the Family. "Time With Your Teen" © 2011 by Lynn Cowell. Used by permission.

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