The Limits of Tolerance


Editor’s Note: The sermon below is by the Reverend Vincent S. Alig. A former missionary, church planter, and pastor in the PC(USA). Mr. Alig lives on the mountain side of Walhalla where, along with his wife and numerous friends and supporters, he is endeavoring to establish an evangelical retreat and study center. Mr. Alig preached this sermon on January 20, 2013, Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, at the Richland Presbyterian Church, Richland, SC. The Scriptures read were Proverbs 3:5-8 and Romans 13:8-10. If you are interested, Mr. Alig has written a book about his interesting life. More information may be found at

I had finally saved up $400.00 in my work at the Eisner grocery store. Now, at last I could buy David Walmsley’s bright yellow 1974 MX 100. He was going to buy a new 1975 Honda 125 Elsinore, so he needed to sell the Yamaha. I was thrilled to take home my first full-fledged motocross bike on that autumn afternoon.

I took the bike into my garage and went over it from stem to stern to make sure it was ready to ride. It was in beautiful condition and I couldn’t wait to get it out to the track for my first ride at the end of the month.

A few days later, David Walmsley stopped by. He was still waiting to buy his Elsinore, and asked if he could just take one last spin up the street on his old MX 100. I couldn’t see any harm in that. If anybody knew how to ride that Yamaha, it should be her former owner. So I handed the handlebars over to Walmsley.

He took off down the street like a scalded bat. I cringed as I listened to him straining the engine out past the redline through first gear, second gear, third gear, and fourth. Then when he finally shifted into fifth, he was still holding the throttle wide open. I heard the engine whine at a higher and higher pitch as the MX 100 became a smaller and smaller yellow blur at the other end of Green Leaves Road. Suddenly everything was silent.

I ran down the street with my buddies Steven and Thomas to find Walmsley trying to kick start the silent Yamaha. Only the kick starter wouldn’t move. The kick starter couldn’t move because David Walmsley had held the throttle wide-open too long. His frenzy for more and more speed had strained the engine beyond the limits of its tolerances. The piston seized solid against the cylinder wall and the rod bearings burnt out. The MX 100 was history. She wasn’t going to go anywhere without a couple hundred dollars worth of complete engine re-building.

I learned a couple of lessons that day. The first one was that former owners do not take as much care of their former possessions as current owners do. The second lesson was that it is very important to understand the limits of tolerance.

Understanding the limits of tolerance in an engine is of the utmost importance for the reaching of any performance goals. The tolerance is that crucial distance which must be maintained between the metal piston and the metal cylinder wall to enable the piston to continue to move up and down so that the engine can produce maximum power.

If the tolerance distances become too small (as when the piston expands too much as the engine overheats), the engine will seize solid as the piston gets so tight as to get stuck in the cylinder. If the tolerance distances become too great (as when the piston gets worn out from the abrasive effect of dirt in the engine), the engine won’t even be able to start because there won’t be enough compression of the fuel and air in the engine for the ignition to work. But if the engine is built and maintained within the limits of tolerance, then engine will run at peak performance and will be able to propel you all the way to the ends of the earth if you want.

In my last year at Tweed Coast Parish of the Uniting Church in Australia, I was thrilled when a senior from Tweed River High School phoned me. I was thrilled to get this phone call because this student wanted to interview me as part of her research for a senior thesis paper on the relevance of Christianity to life in the 21st century. Her central question to me was this: “Are the Ten Commandments relevant to the future of the world?” I wish that every high school student were seriously asking this question.

Such a question would have been unheard-of in previous generations. On this Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, let us remember that this is an all-important life-or-death question for the world in the 21st century.

If it isn’t such an important question, why did the ACLU go to such great lengths to disbar and punish Alabama Judge Roy Moore or anybody else who refused to remove the Ten Commandments from the wall of his public courtroom or the lawn of the public park a few years ago?

The relevance of the Ten Commandments is greater than ever. Yet, how many of us can even remember what the Ten Commandments are? When was the last time any of us took a good look at them to meditate on their wisdom? America’s love affair with unlimited tolerance has replaced any consciousness of the eternal limits of tolerance.

Unlimited tolerance (or multiculturalism) is “in” (says youth worker Bob Hostetler). It has become the sole virtue of our culture, and intolerance the sole vice.

…Today there is a “new unlimited tolerance,” [also known as multiculturalism] which means to consider every individual’s beliefs, values, lifestyle, and truth claims as equally valid. So not only does everyone have an equal right to his or her beliefs, but all beliefs are equally true.

Today’s unlimited tolerance goes beyond respecting others’ rights … to praise and endorse everyone’s beliefs, values, and lifestyle.

….If you say, “Jesus is the only way to salvation,” you’ll be branded as intolerant because unlimited tolerance today means to consider everyone’s belief as equally true.

….[But] Christians are subject to a much higher law than the new popular doctrine of unlimited tolerance. We follow the example of Christ, who out of His perfect love accepted Samaritans and Phoenicians and treated even tax collectors and prostitutes with dignity [but who also because of His perfect love commanded them all to “sin no more.”]1

There is a deep underlying pseudo-scientific worldview which has given rise to this exaltation of unlimited tolerance (multiculturalism) as the one rule to which all of life must be subject. The popular pseudo-scientific presupposition is that everything and everyone we see around us is the product of a random process of unpredictable events over billions of years. The world exists by the chance combination of events and reactions. As does all of the organic and inorganic matter on earth. Everything and everyone is simply the latest evolutionary version resulting from billions of years of random interactions. How dare anyone so randomly produced presume to elevate any one belief system or philosophy over another?

God has a different worldview. God’s worldview is from the vantage point of the sovereign Creator of everything that is. God’s worldview answers the scientific vision of the random universe with the Living Word of His life-creating order. The Ten Commandments of the Old Covenant are vitally relevant. The Ten Commandments form the bedrock of the universal limits of tolerance which have been completely fulfilled by the New Covenant order which God revealed to us in the appearing of Jesus Christ.

The Good News which God reveals to us in Christ is there are real limits of tolerance which He designed into creation for our well-being and joy. God’s limits of tolerance are the radically liberating limits of love. As God says to us in His word from the letter to the Romans:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love you neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)

The limits of love clearly delineate the deadliness of self-centered sin. God’s limits of love lead us all the way to an unrestricted life of boundless joy and peace now and forever. The more you think about it and the more you live it, the more you realize how wide-open God’s worldview really is in the laboratory of this life.

The amazing irony of the new unlimited tolerance is that the actual scientific worldview it claims to be based on is really a very narrow-minded system in its own rules and laws. As Billy Graham put it:

….There is no room for careless broad-mindedness in the laboratory. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level. It is never 100 degrees or 189 degrees, but always 212. Water freezes at 32 degrees; it is never 23 degrees or 31. Objects heavier than air always are attracted to the center of the earth. They always go down, never up.

I know this is very narrow, but the Law of Gravity decrees it so, and science is very narrow. Mathematics is also very narrow-minded. The sum of two plus two is four, never three and a half. That seems very narrow, but arithmetic is not broad-minded. Geometry is also narrow-minded. It says that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points on a plane. That seems very dogmatic and narrow-minded, but geometry is intolerant.

… If you should ask a woman the directions to New York City and she said, ‘Oh, just take any road you wish, they all lead there,’ you would question either her sanity or her truthfulness. Nevertheless, the new tolerance has chanted the mantra that all roads lead to heaven, and we have behaved as if we believe it.

….But Jesus Christ, Who journeyed from heaven to earth and back to heaven again, Who knew the way better than anyone who ever lived, said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. But narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)2

The Christian imperative goes beyond tolerance, which simply avoids offending someone else. We Christians are commanded to “do everything in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14 NIV). We are commanded to love, to actively seek to promote the life and good of others.”

Unlimited tolerance says, ‘You must approve of what I do.’

Love responds, “I must do something harder. I will treat you respectfully even when your behavior offends me.”

Unlimited tolerance says, “You must agree with me.”

Love responds, “I must do something harder. I will tell you the truth, because I believe that the truth will set you free.”

Unlimited tolerance says, “’You must let me have my way.’

Love responds, “I must do something harder. I will plead with you to follow God’s way, even if you get angry or say unkind things about me, because I believe you are worth the risk.”3

The limits of tolerance as outlined by God are the limits of love. The limits of love are costly, but more than worth the cost if we are to grow up all the way to the heights of God’s abundant life for us in Christ.

Suppose that a kite could think for itself. It might say, “Here I am high in the wind [on top of Stone Mountain] … and I feel the powerful lift of the wind, but I also feel an equally strong pull toward the ground from this string attached to my center and held tightly by that small child.

“This whole arrangement is wrong,” thinks the kite. “The so-called kite flyer on the ground is holding me down with that string. If it weren’t for that string to which I am cruelly tied, I could really fly. I know it because I can feel the power of the wind trying to push me higher, but the flyer on the ground holds me down. I know. I’ll secretly bring a pair of scissors on the next flight and then watch me soar!”

The rest of the story is the sad tale of the mysterious break in the string, the sudden jolts and then the tailspin fall to the crash on the earth. Something which the kite did not know is the aerodynamic [ limits of tolerance]. It was the tight connection of string and kite and the flyer on the earth that made kite flying a possibility in the first place.

It seemed logical to the kite, on the basis of the feelings of wind pressure and downward tug, that the youngster on the ground was hindering the kite. But these feelings were not a true or accurate readout of the total situation. The kite needed the ground based flyer even though the string put the kite itself under strain. The strain was a good strain, the tension was a good tension.

It is a fact about human life that we function best and are freest to reach our greatest potential when we trust the truth and keep connected to the truth. This is true in sports events, in science, and it is true spiritually as well. The connection many times creates intense strain upon us, but the strain is basic to living and it is the strain that creates growth.

God’s limits of tolerance hold us accountable to love like the string on the kite. It is the connection that makes the flight upward possible.4

Jesus Christ clearly pointed out the limits of tolerance on the way to salvation.

He plainly pointed out there are two roads in life. One is broad- the one lacking in faith, convictions, and morals. It is the easy, popular, supposedly-careless way. It is the way of the crowd, the way of the majority, the way of the world. Jesus said, “There are many who go by it.”

But Jesus also pointed out this road, easy though it seems to be, popular though it is, leads to destruction. So in loving, compassionate intolerance, He says, “Enter by the narrow gate….because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life.”

Christ was so intolerant of our lost estate He left His lofty throne in heaven, took on Himself the form of a human being, suffered at the hands of evil men and died on a cruel cross of shame to purchase our redemption. So serious was our plight He could not look upon it lightly. With the love that was His, He could not be broad-minded about a world held captive by its lusts, its appetites, and its sins.

Having paid such a fabulous price, He could not be tolerant about women and men’s indifference toward Him and the redemption He won. He said, “He who is not with Me is against Me.” (Matthew 12:30) And He also said, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36)

Christ spoke of two roads, two kingdoms, two masters, two rewards, and two eternities. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

The limits of tolerance are clear. We have the power to choose whom we will serve. The alternative to choosing Christ brings certain destruction. Christ said that! Only the way of the Cross leads home.5

The new unlimited tolerance of multiculturalism tries to be inoffensive. The love of Jesus takes risks. The new unlimited tolerance glorifies relativism. The love of Jesus reveals absolute truth. The new unlimited tolerance costs nothing. The love of Jesus costs everything.

Jesus doesn’t call us to be tolerant. He commands us to love. Only when we selflessly and sacrificially do that will the world see the “more excellent” alternative to the new unlimited tolerance.6

Not even Charles Darwin really believed in the random universe of evolution. As he lay on his deathbed, he lamented aloud at how impossible it would be to fill in all the missing links in his theory.

This is not a random universe. We are all the beautiful handiwork of the Creative Genius who knit us together in the sanctuary of our mothers’ wombs. We are the sacred creatures of the God of all love and goodness. God has revealed His created order to us on Mt. Sinai. He has even shown us the Way to fulfill His Ten Commandments in the love of Jesus Christ. We can see the eternal limits of tolerance in the cross of our Lord.

The world’s problems will never be solved until the question of sin is settled. And the cross is God’s answer to sin. To all who receive the blessed news of salvation through Christ, it crosses out – cancels forever–sin’s power.7

Live in the freedom of God’s love, so that the world may know the life-giving limits of tolerance which have been revealed to all of us on the cross of the King of Kings.



  1. Hostetler, Bob, “Ministering Amidst the New Tolerance,” Plugged In youthworkers’ newsletter, USA, Feb. 1999.
  2. Graham, Billy, “The Sin of Tolerance,” sermon published by B.G.E.A., PO Box 779, Minneapolis, MN 55440
  3. IBID note 1.
  4. Palmer, Earl, A Faith That Works, Regal, USA, 1980, pp. 76-77.
  5. IBID note 2.
  6. IBID note 1.
  7. IBID note 2.




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  1. Tony Locke says:

    Any chance he would let me repost this sermon?

  2. Refreshing to get wacked up side the head with the truth. Great preaching! I love your web site. Wish I were more worthy. Love John


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