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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Faith that's Bigger than a Bumper Sticker: Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin? (Romans 5:6-8, Mathew 7:1-5)


While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people. It isn’t often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person. But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

 

“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye.

 
I realized this week that I haven’t been loving my wife as well as I should have been.  So what if I told you that, yesterday morning, before she had her first cup of coffee, I presented her with a list of everything she did wrong last week.  I did that out of my love for her; wasn’t that a loving thing for me to do?  You see, I love her, but I hate all her sins.

 

I didn’t want to leave anyone else out, so I started thinking about how much I love the rest of my family and friends, and how much I hate their sins.  I sent them all a list of all their sins, because I love them, you know, and that took awhile, because some of them are really big sinners!

 

But then, I started thinking about all the people I don’t even know.  I don’t want to let God down, and so I’ve taken it upon myself to go up to complete strangers when I see them sinning and letting them know what they’re doing is wrong, because that’s how I show my love for them.  I just can’t help but think of how pleased God is with me for doing such a good job hating sin!  I don’t want to brag, but I’m pretty proud of what a loving Christian I’ve been this week by hating so much sin!

 

If some of you are thinking of going home and applying this principle with your loved ones, let me know today so I can begin scheduling counseling appointments for the rest of the week.

 

“Love the sinner and hate the sin.”  A popular phrase many Christians claim to believe, but the only household I know of where I know of this being practiced is in the Costanza household on Seinfeld as they celebrated “Festivus.”  If you're familiar with the scene, you're can just feel the love, can’t you?

 

As Christians, we know Jesus wants us to love people – whether they be sinners or saints – I don’t think anyone would argue with that.  But, we don’t want to be soft on sin, now do we?  And so, we strike a middle ground that makes sense in our heads – love the sinner and hate the sin.  Perhaps with that duality rattling around in our heads, it’s just enough to help Christians sleep at night.

 

Loving the sinner and hating the sin is easy to say, but impossible to practice.  You can’t practice love and hate at the same time; it’s an impossible dual focus.  By the very definition, “whatever you focus on primarily requires you to focus less on everything else.  Either we focus on loving (the sinner) or hating (the sin).  When you put it that way it seems fairly obvious that we ought to choose loving over hating.  That is, we want to be like Jesus, which means that people would know us primarily because they catch us and feel us loving, not hating.”[1]

 

Some people point to Scripture as giving them permission, or perhaps even the mandate, to hate sin.  Scripture passages like Romans 12:9 that say: “Love must be sincere; hate what is evil, cling to what is good.”  Well there you go, right?  Hate what is evil – sin, right?

 

Let’s look at the context here.  Can you make someone else’s love sincere? No, you can only make your own love sincere. Can you make another person cling to what is good? No, you can only make yourself do that.”  So when it comes to hating sin, “you can only hate the sin that is inside you, because you are the only human being who can see into your innermost being.”[2]

 

So yes, you can hate sin if you want to.  But your own sin.  Not someone else’s.

 

We like to sit in the seat of judgment.  Feels good to feel right.  But, to hate your sin suggests I have none of my own to worry about, that I’m better than you, holier than you, more righteous than you, in my own mind, anyway.  The truth is, any time we look down our nose on others, we are likely further away from the kingdom of God than the sinners we condemn.

 

An unhealthy preoccupation with the sins of others is nothing new, but Jesus saved his harshest criticisms for those who were self-righteous and judgmental toward others.  In his day, that was often the Pharisees, whose favorite past-time just happened to be judging other people.  One time, a Pharisee and a tax collector were praying in the temple, and Jesus overheard them both.  The Pharisee bragged about what a good fellow he was, and even thanked God that he was not like other people, sinners, like this tax collector.  The tax collector simply looked at the floor and mumbled, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Jesus said that it was the lowly tax collector, not the high and mighty Pharisee, who was redeemed that day (Luke 18:9-14).

 

Or another time, Jesus came across an angry mob who had surrounded a woman caught in adultery.  It takes two to tango, but for now, we won’t worry about where her partner was. They were worked up into a frenzy, and someone shouted, “The law says she should be stoned to death,” to which Jesus replied, “So it does.  Whoever among you, angry mob, is without sin, that person is free to cast the first stone” (John 8:1-11).

 

Jesus wants us to be less concerned with the sins of others than we are with our own sin.  Otherwise, it’s as if we are obsessed with a speck of dust in someone else’s eye, oblivious to an eight-foot-long two-by-four in our own eye (Matthew 7:1-5).

 

Do me a favor and point at the person next to you.  It’s not polite, I know, but do it anyway.  Keep ‘em pointed and take a look at your hand.  How many of your fingers are pointing at them?  And how many of your fingers are pointing back at you?

 

Same thing happens when we cast judgment on others.  What we say about others says more about us than it does about them.  Hating the sin of another exposes us more than it exposes them.

 

Even when we couch it in pious language and say we love the sinner but hate their sin, friends, that’s not our sin to hate.  We still sound very much like the Pharisees, even though we tell ourselves, “I don’t hate them, I only hate everything about them; see how different that is?”  Those who say, “Love the sinner; hate the sin” often speak out of an unacknowledged sense of moral superiority.  That’s not being compassionate, it’s condescending.

 

Jesus told us not to judge.  He did tell us to love.  Love God, love our neighbor.  The whole of God’s law is there.  God’s law is love; God is love.  Period.  You can’t love and hate at the same time.

 

About love, the Scriptures tell us “it keeps no record of wrong” (1 Corinthians 13:5).  No way around it – you can’t love someone while you keep a tally sheet of their sins.  You can’t love someone while you look down your nose at them.  You can’t love someone while you think you’re better than they are.  Mother Teresa said, “If you love people, you don’t have time to judge them.”

 

Love is God’s reigning attribute.  God is love.  Love always wins.  Love is always primary.

“But what about truth??” you ask.

 

What about it?

 

“We can’t sacrifice truth on the altar of love!”

 

But we can sacrifice love on the altar of truth? Love is the greatest.

 

“But I do love sinners! I love them enough to tell them the truth! That they need to repent of their sin so they can go to heaven!”

 

As my friend Jim Harnish says, “Our doctrine is based on the love of God, which means we’d much rather love the hell out of people than scare the hell out of them.”

 

Jesus said that people would know we are his followers by our love.  Not our slogans on tee-shirts and bumper stickers, but by our love (John 13:35).

 

Friends, love isn’t something you say or feel. Love is something you do.

 

If I ever tell you, “I love this person, but I hate his sin,” I want you to ask me something. “How have you shown him you love him?”

 

And if I say, “By pointing out his sin. Duh,” I want you to say to me, “That’s not love. Love isn’t pointing out sin. Maybe in the context of an already loving, trusting relationship, but other things have to come first. Like listening. A lunch invitation. An offer to help with something and following through. And finding out more about the person’s childhood. And smiling and laughing together. So, do you love this person?  Really?  How do you love them?”

 

If you’re so concerned about sinners, treat them like Jesus did.  Jesus humbled himself, left heaven, and came to earth for sinners.  Ate with them.  Befriended them.  Cared about them.  Gave his life for them.  God showed his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).  To those who are shouting slogans about that sin or another, I’d like to ask them, “Those sinners you’re so concerned about – do you love them enough to give your life for them, or do you hope that your shouting will bring people over to your side?”

 

Shouting the loudest doesn’t make you right.  It makes you loud.  The Scriptures tell us, “Love does not insist on its own way” (1 Corinthians 13:5).

 

You can’t hate and love at the same time.  Hate is but a manifestation of sin. Evil cannot drive out evil (Romans 12:21).  Only love can overcome evil. Hating sin doesn't defeat sin, it only feeds it.

 

The path to overcoming sin is not hatred. It's love. Perfect love. The perfect love of our heavenly father who has created us all and who hates nothing he has made.  The perfect love of Jesus Christ, the embodied gift of the Father's unfailing love.  The perfect love of the Holy Spirit, who perfect us empowers us to love as God loves. And the perfect love of the community of faith, saints and sinners, all, ushering in Gods kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

 

Sin is overcome through God's love, not our hate.  As long as we hate anything or anyone, sin still wins.

 

When it comes to how we will measure up before God, God isn’t going to ask to see the list of sins we hated to make sure we hit all the right ones.  What God will ask is, "How well did you love?”

 

Friends, we should all be less concerned with being right, and more concerned with being loving.

 

Maybe you’ve heard the story of the Cherokee grandmother who was known in her community to be the wisest, strongest, most compassionate member of the community.  Her grandson asked how she had become so kind.  She replied, “There are two wolves inside me.  One is full of love.  The other is full of hate.  There is a constant battle within me between them.”

 

Her grandson’s eyes went wide, and he asked, “Which one will win?”

 

“The one I feed.”

 

Love the sinner and hate the sin?  Well, no.  You can only feed one at a time.

 

Loving my wife by hating her sin is not only unwise, it’s not even possible.  If you love someone, you love them.  God loves us without any qualifications – through ups and downs, rights and wrongs, understandings and misunderstandings.  “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a phrase that adds a comma where Jesus put a period.  We don’t need the second half of that.  We can stop with the first.  Choose love.  Period.



[1] Kendall, Bishop David. Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin: http://fmcusa.org/davidkendall/2013/06/18/love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin/
[2] Collins, Ken. Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner: http://www.kencollins.com/discipleship/disc-31.htm

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