I’ve been having some debates with Christian men I love and respect about what it means to love someone who is doing “sin.” Some believe that Christians must “speak the truth” into the other person. This is love, they say, because it helps that person understand what the right thing is to do. I am not a fan of this as an upfront approach, though I do agree that sometimes it works, even if it isn’t appreciated at the time of delivery. Instead, I propose that there is a better way to tickle someone with the love of God – to be a “love disturber” I like to call it.
The problem with ‘speaking the truth’ is that you are perceived as being a “judgmental Christian.” The message lands as being holier than thou. It has an undertone of disapproval. It offends the human ego, which naturally wants to defend itself. In so doing, the other person’s ears shut down and the desired effect – to touch them with the power of spiritual love, fails to be achieved.
It begs the question, why are Christians always going around trying to “save” people from sin, when they are often poor role models themselves? I remember my dearly departed friend Ed Sharpe once saying, “The only thing that bothers me about Mother Teresa is that she stands out so much.” How true. How different the world would be if the majority of Christians lived a life of service to others like Mother Teresa did.
The counter-argument is that we all have to earn a living. This is, in many ways, the crux of the matter. By having to earn a living like everyone else, Christians look like everyone else. Christians want career success, a nice house, acceptance and admiration from others and financial security. Only once those are in place, does the giving back begin, built on a retirement foundation of a secure financial future.
It does not have to be that way in my opinion. We can love others right now, at whatever age we are right now. We don’t have to wait until we’re old, secure and job-free. We just need to love our neighbour in the here and the now. Learning what this looks like is the challenge!
The answer has been debated for centuries. For me, the answer is clear. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
He also said the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39) Most noteworthy is how he connected the two by saying, “And the second is like it.” This means loving our neighbour as ourselves is equal in weight to loving God. My own experience is that if I hold even one small grudge against one person on the planet, I feel spiritually disconnected. I experience it as an emptiness inside and I loathe it.
Therefore what does it mean to love? Does it mean “speaking the truth into them?” Perhaps, but not by itself. When I read how Jesus loved God and loved his neighbour as himself, I see a curious capability. I see someone who was able to be completely accepting of a person’s right and freedom to commit sin, loving them exactly as they are, while at the same time, equally able to speak truth into them using teaching parables and scripture.
I once read that the definition of genius is the ability to hold two opposing ideas at the same time. By this definition, Jesus was an unparalleled genius. Those of us who profess to be his followers need to strive for that same genius. This means loving the murderer, the rapist, the adulterer, the gay person, the liar and person who violated your rights. We must love them as they are now. Only then, will they know, feel and believe that when we speak ‘truth’ into them, we truly have their best interests at heart and not our own need to justify ourselves as being right.
Martin Luther King understood this. He said, “…love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity.”
Does this mean being a doormat? This is every Christians great fear of truly loving a ‘sinner’. I always respond, “Was Jesus a doormat?” Not even close. Neither was Mother Teresa, MLK or many other great role models throughout the ages. Love transcends all things.
St. Paul wrote how true this is in these famous words, oft spoken at weddings, but timeless in application: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1Cor13:4-8)
We humans fail. But Love never fails. Thus, the path to turn another person away from doing things that are harmful to themselves or others is to love them first. When they feel loved, they feel accepted. When people feel accepted, they become willing to change, not to please you but to make their own lives better.
The greatest paradox is that when we love one another, we are rewarded with inner peace. This is my daily pursuit because peace is the reward that surpasses all the others. This peace, this love genius, comes when you learn to control your inner experience and build your spiritual endurance. May you be filled with God’s love today and always.
NOTE: If inner peace is a priority in your life, you may wish to go on your own inner peace mission.