Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

  • Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin
  • Matthew 7:1-5
  • Bill Couch
  • June 7, 2015
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6-7-15 sermon.mov from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

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This morning we come to the conclusion of our series of messages entitled “Half Truths in a World that Needs the Whole Truth”. We want to acknowledge Adam Hamilton, pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City for stimulating our thoughts about these sermons.

We have examined some Christian clichés that many people think are in the Bible. None of these statements is found in the Bible:

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

“God helps those who help themselves”

There is a kernel of truth in each of those statements, but the way they are typically interpreted contradicts key principles taught in the Bible. If you missed any of those messages I encourage you to go to our web site where you can read, watch or listen to the sermons. Or you can order a CD or DVD at our media table in the foyer of the sanctuary.

Today we look at another half truth: “Love the sinner. Hate the sin.” That quotation sounds good at first glance and many of us have used it. Let’s probe a little deeper and see if it is in line with the teachings of the Bible. Let’s look at the words of Jesus about judging others.
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Matthew 7:1-5

“Love the Sinner. Hate the Sin.” It sounds gracious. The person speaking desires for it to come across this way: “I want you to know how much I love you, and because of that I’m concerned about something you are doing.” The person receiving the statement hears it this way: “I’m a compassionate guy, but let me make it perfectly clear that I don’t accept or approve your behavior.” It is difficult for you to feel loved when I’m telling you how much I hate your sin.

Jesus confronted a group who hated the sin of adultery. Let’s listen to how Jesus handled this situation:

2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:2-11

Can you imagine this group without Jesus’ intervention? “We love you lady, but we hate your sin of adultery so we are going to kill you.” Whack! The rocks start flying. It does not feel like love. She feels judged and condemned. That is how someone feels when we say, “I love you but I hate your sin.”

“I love you but I hate your sin of drunkenness.” Whack!

“I love you but I hate your sin of materialism.” Whack!

“I love you but I hate your sin of gossip.” Whack!

“I love you but I hate your sin of not caring for the poor.” Whack!

“I love you but I hate your sin of not tithing!’ Whack! Did you know that is on the sin list!! It is!!

It is hard for you to feel loved when I’m pointing out your sin. You feel judged and condemned. The real problem is that when I am focusing on your sin, it is hard for me to look honestly at myself. Judging others is a diversion—it keeps me from becoming aware of my own sinfulness and need to repent and experience forgiveness and grace. I begin to feel superior. I am better than you are. At least I don’t have your sin!! Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” When we are judging others we forget that we are under judgment too! “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Jesus told a parable about how this works:

 

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)

 

The Pharisee was very aware of the tax collector’s sins, but oblivious to his own sins of pride and self-righteousness. The tax collector was focused on his own sinfulness and need of forgiveness—not judging anyone else. He left the temple forgiven. The Pharisee left with a false sense of his own goodness by comparing himself to a “sinner”.

In our scripture reading at the beginning of this message, Jesus said that when we focus on pointing out someone else’s sin, we are trying to remove the speck in their eye while ignoring the plank or log in our own eye. Jesus said, remove the log out of your own eye before you try to point out the one in someone else’s eye. The truth is that we always have a plank in our own eye. The closer we get to Christ, the more aware we become of our own sinfulness and need for abundant grace. As we mature in Christ he delivers us from our sin  and continues to reveal to us more and more areas of our lives where we need his transforming grace: busyness, our worry, our lack of trust, our failure to care for the poor. We’ve always got a plank that we need to let Jesus be removing from our eyes and quit worrying about what’s in our brother’s eye.

Some people say, “The Bible says that we are supposed to ‘speak the truth in love’, doesn’t that mean that if my brother or sister is living in sin then I am supposed to lovingly point it out to them?” That is probably one of the most misquoted passages of scripture in the Bible. It is yanked completely out of context. When Paul wrote to the Ephesians to “speak the truth in love,” he was not talking about pointing out someone else’s sin.

Let’s read the rest of the verse and look at in context to see what this expression really means. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:15)  The focus is upon our own spiritual growth by “speaking the truth in love” not on pointing out someone else’s sin. We are to integrate truth and love within our own lives so that when we speak, truth and love always come out. We quit lying to ourselves and to others. We are to speak with compassion and love. In the rest of the chapter he explains what it means to “speak the truth in love”:

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. Ephesians 4:25

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32

“Speaking the truth in love” is about being truthful and honest. It is about being compassionate, loving and building others up—not judging them or removing the speck from their eye without honestly sharing with them, “I’ve got this plank in my own eye, this sin I’m struggling with.”

When someone claims they are going to “speak the truth in love” I assume they are getting ready to strangle me with their own agenda about something they think I should be doing differently—something they don’t like—and they are invoking scripture to give authority to their message.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Glennon Melton is the author of a book entitled, Carry On Warrior, which is exceedingly popular among young moms. She also has a blog called “momastery”—a forum dealing with encouraging moms. Our daughter Kristin has found her message of grace to be extremely uplifting and sent us this video to watch on the subject of judging others:

VIDEO:  GLENNON MELTON, “PUT DOWN THE STONE”

Glennon learned to speak “her truth and not your truth.” She focused on vulnerability—honestly revealing where God was working in her life—her sins, her struggles and where she was experiencing forgiveness, grace, healing and wholeness. She did not focus on “the truth” for another person—which really means “what I think is wrong with you.”  Glennon applied the principles of the whole fourth chapter of Ephesians by truthfully speaking where the Holy Spirit was working on her–the plank in her own eye–and allowing the Holy Spirit to work on others without pointing out what she thought was wrong with them. When I am vulnerable and honest and open about where the Holy Spirit is working on me, it frees others to be open and honest and let the Holy Spirit work on them. When we point out the sins and flaws of others we are casting stones of judgment and condemnation. The other person becomes defensive and shuts down—we are not a safe place. One of the most loving things we can do for another person is to share our own struggles with them.

I share with you the truth about myself—the plank in my own eye–being open and honest. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not–hiding behind a facade of goodness or competency. I’m authentic and real. I struggle with my need to control and my fear of failure; my need to be seen as successful. At the core is a fear of rejection. When I share “my truth” it frees the other person to say, “Me too!! I thought I was the only one!” By sharing “my truth” I create a safe place for them to share their truth—whatever it may be. With the vast majority of people we know, this is how we should communicate “truth in love”.

When we have shared our truth and developed a close relationship of mutual trust, we may ask, “I know I have some blind spots–do you see anything that is destructive or harmful in my life?” The other person may reciprocate and ask for us to share any blind spots we see in their life.  Also to those whom we have developed a deep level of trust we may be able to say: “I’m concerned about something I see in your life. Would it be OK if I shared that with you?” We ask permission. “If they say “No,” we drop it. To blurt it out without permission is to speak truth without love. This level of conversation works only with a handful of our very closest friends.

These principles do not apply directly to parenting children from toddlers up through teen years. Parents are given the responsibility to train up a child in the way he should go. That means that we have to address inappropriate or destructive behavior directly. But we are also to instruct and discipline our children in a spirit of love and respect. When appropriate share with them some of the struggles we had when we were their age.

In 1998, Time Magazine hosted a gathering of world leaders and celebrities to celebrate its 75th anniversary. Many of the 1,100 persons present had been on the cover of Time magazine. Among the guests were Former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill Gates, Sean Connery, Sophia Loren, President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary, and Billy Graham escorted by his daughter GiGi.

Billy Graham and his daughter sat at the table with President and Mrs.  Clinton at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and while he was under investigation for Impeachment proceedings. How do you think Billy Graham would interact with President and Mrs. Clinton? Would he cast stones or would he speak what Paul really meant by “truth in love”? Listen to how his daughter describes her father that night:

Daddy sat with the Clintons and was so warm and gracious. In the limousine going back to the hotel, Daddy and I were talking about how difficult it must be for the Clintons with so many Christians gossiping and judging them. His comment was: “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict; it’s God’s job to judge; and it’s our job to love.” My father is so accepting, so non-judgmental.

 

“Love the Sinner. Hate the Sin.” There is only one word of truth in that cliché: “Love”. So let’s replace that half truth with the whole truth: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”