The Greek word anochē is defined by most Greek lexicons as forbearance, tolerance, clemency, and patience. To “tolerate” usually refers to what you allow; what you do not forbid. In contrast, “forbear” usually places the emphasis on self-restraint and what you hold yourself back from. Sadly, most of the time when we use the word “tolerate,” we use it as something we do even though we are “really bothered” by the situation and are actually just waiting for the chance to do something about it. That is the world’s way of tolerating, but it is not God’s way.
How God Tolerates Us
God’s way of forbearing or tolerating is the way He tolerates us: He knows He has given us free will, and so even when we are ignorant or in sin, He loves us, is kind to us, and “declares a truce” with us until we wake up to our error. If God and Christ can do that with us and others, and allow us all to live our own lives in spite of our error or sin, then we can do that too. We do not have to “tolerate” people while seething in anger, pouting, or “just waiting for the chance to straighten them out.” If we want to bring people to repentance the way God does, we have to learn to be forbearing and tolerant in a kind and loving way. It is unfortunate that the word “tolerate” has gotten such a bad reputation in Christian circles, because godly tolerance is a very important part of winning people to Christ.
How We Tolerate Others
Tolerance is the neutral zone between grace and truth. We are forbearing or tolerant in those times when we are with people who do not want to change their disobedient ways. Most of the time we are with such people we do not teach, reprove, or correct them with truth, nor do we act like what they are doing is fine with God. Forbearance or tolerance is not “grace.” Grace is “undeserved,” but everyone deserves kindness and tolerance. Grace is that special undeserved favor that helps people walk with God, while tolerance is the “truce” that we have with people who have not yet decided to walk with God. If we confuse tolerance for grace, then we never have genuine grace.
(The commentary above is from our free 1,000+ page Revised English Version® Commentary.)