One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22: 35-40
This morning the Saturday men’s group completed our study of Adam Hamilton’s book Half Truths, by considering the popular but problematic cliché, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
We used the book as background and preparation, then let our reading, and the scriptures, and our thinking, and our prayer, and our experiences guide the conversation. As facilitator, I am just along for the ride.
Preacher/writer Tony Campolo suggests a more biblically accurate alternative when he says, “Love everybody, hate your own sin.”
I appreciate Campolo’s comment, because it highlights what my friend George pointed out when he said we are all better off in the conversation around sin when we live in humility.
Don’t be all judgy!
Of course the teachings of Jesus confirm the critical importance of humility, especially when we are in relationship with other people. Jesus did not invite us to judge other people, and Jesus certainly did not suggest we categorize them as sinners; what Jesus teaches, consistently, is that we must see other people as our neighbors, and love them.
The problem with Hate the sin, love the sinner is that it invites us to view other people through the lens of their sin rather than our common need for love. Our love is then – too easily – condescending.
We are all sinners, regardless. Instead of labelling our neighbor as a sinner (and when we do that we end up thinking about particular sins from our highly subjective list), what if we saw them, first, as a child of God? What if we simply loved our neighbor and left the judging to God?
We are God’s Invitation:
This is where my ongoing theme of, “Jesus is God’s invitation” comes into play. When we point out where people fall short so we can self-righteously “love their sorry selves”, then we are not exactly emissaries of grace!
While it may be true that the only qualification necessary to attend any church is that of “Sinner”, the invitation Jesus offers is to “Beloved Children of God.”
The Father didn’t welcome the Prodigal Son by saying, “You squandered your inheritance; you walked away from your family; you became a pitiful drunk; you sold your self-respect to prostitutes; you have been selfish and prideful. I may love you, but at the same time let’s be clear about the extent of your hateful sin.”
What the Father actually said was, “Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found…” (Luke 15)
We all tend to be judgy sometimes, it’s a part of our human nature. But we can do better, and if we intend to be followers of the way of Jesus then we absolutely must.
How then do we proceed? Well, George helped here too when he shared this quote form golfing great Ben Hogan, who had been asked what is the most important shot – The drive? The approach? The chip? The putt? “The most important shot,” Hogan responded, “is always the next one.”
And that is where we find ourselves today. We are sinners, and we tend to be judgmental all the time. But we are more properly identified as God’s Beloved Children, and the most important thing we can do as disciples is – to echo Hogan – the next thing.
Peace, and the grace to live lives of invitational love – DEREK