Why Christians are Supposed to Look for Love In All the Wrong Places

June 26, 2013

Jesus had some bad habits.

I’m sure he didn’t brush his teeth everyday.  And he was pretty bad at giving people direct answers to their questions.  He was known to have bad table manners when he went to the temple…

…And Jesus was friends with all the wrong people.

Of course, you already know that.  You know that Jesus hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors and all sorts of other seedy characters.  They were the “wrong” people to be hanging out with.  We romanticize this idea – how welcoming and kind Jesus was to everyone to all the outcasts…

…And then we make sure we do the opposite.

Since my post last week sparked a lot of good discussion, I’ve been thinking a lot about who are the “wrong” people for us to hang out with, the “wrong” sins to forgive.

The conclusion I came to surprised me.

Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner.

In the last week, I read a lot of comments here on the blog, Twitter and Facebook that can be summed up this way:

“Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

It’s funny how that’s such an oft-quoted Bible verse for being nowhere in the Bible.  There were all kinds of comments about how as Christians we should never excuse, condone, approve or celebrate sin.  We have to make it clear whose behavior we don’t approve of (as if we’re in danger of that.)  Trust me, the church’s message on homosexuality is like milk commercials…everyone knows about milk.

Why did the Pharisees get their undies in such a bunch about Jesus eating with sinners?

Could it be because they assumed that Jesus approved of their behavior?

Could it be that Jesus’ priority was people, rather than preserving his holier-than-thou image?  Could it be that Jesus was okay with people assuming that he approved of the sins of prostitutes and tax collectors?

Love the Loopholes

When Jesus said “Love your neighbor,” the religious people glibly asked, “Well who is my neighbor?”  When they asked Jesus if they should forgive their brother seven times, Jesus multiplied their math by seventy.  And for 2000 years, we’ve been trying to find similar loopholes.

See, we’re fine with loving our neighbor.  We just define, very specifically, who our neighbors are.

We’re cool with forgiving people.  But forgiveness has a statute of limitations.

That’s because we’re not actually loving people.  We’re focused on changing people, not even to look more like Jesus, but to look more like ourselves.  We feign love as a carrot to get people to do what we want.  We’ll bring a sinner to church…but they had better repent on our timeframe, or else our love runs out.  See “hating the sin” is our cute little loophole to excuse us from actually loving sinners.  Our vision starts blurring so we can’t see people, only sins.

Why does Jesus tell us to forgive seventy times seven (essentially infinitely)?  Because some people will never become what you want them to be.  Some people (not you I’m sure) will remain sinners, no matter how much they pray for God to take their sin away.  Some people will remain broken and offensive and wrong and will need your love, forgiveness and compassion until they die.

Hanging Out with the Wrong Crowd

So back to the original question – who are the “wrong” people for us to be hanging out with, showing compassion to?  We could pick out a few obvious choices.  The panhandler on the bridge.  The crazy cat lady across the street.

But the world is packed with “wrong” people.  You don’t have to go far to find them.

There are plenty of sinners who act wrong.  There are millions of people who believe wrong and vote wrong.  The internet is full of bloggers whose opinions are wrong.  I’m sure I’m one of them from time to time.  There have been days when dozens of people line up to tell me so.

Jesus hung out with the “wrong” crowd.  Maybe we’re supposed to show compassion to people who are…wrong.

Maybe the first words out of our mouths or keyboards aren’t supposed to be “You’re wrong!”  If you only show love to people who agree with you, who act like you and sin like you, then you don’t have to show much love.

The greatest love isn’t shown when two people agree.  It’s when they are convinced that the other is wrong.

Well, I covered a lot of ground, so there’s lots to talk about.  I’d love to hear stories of people you love, despite their wrongness!  If you’re a “hate the sin, love the sinner” person, how does that play out?

17 responses to Why Christians are Supposed to Look for Love In All the Wrong Places

  1. I guess that my prayer most days is that I see people the way God sees them, through their masks, bad moods, actions and respond as He would. Doesn’t always work, but sure helps me to remember that God loves them, and also I *know* I’m nowhere near perfect even after a lifetime of church attendance. I know there is way more for me to learn, especially in the area of knowing God, not just studying His word, but KNOWING Him, and the more I know Him, the less judgement I have for others.

  2. I heard Tony Campolo reinterpret that saying in an interview. Love the sinner and hate your own sin. That seems to get to the heart of what Jesus was saying when he dealt with the subject. I find it freeing when I don’t feel the need to police people around me; dealing with my own crap is exhausting enough as it is. And better than that, dealing with my own crap frees me to forgive others and their flaws, real or perceived.

    • I love that – “Love the sinner, hate your own sin!” This is frequently where I end up: compassion because I recognize my own sinfulness and how I am no better – different, maybe, but no better.
      Melissa Jones recently posted..MommyBee Designs

  3. When I was a teenager, one of the things I heard a lot at church camp and such was that if you wanted to be a good Christian you needed to surround yourself with “godly” people.

    On one hand, this isn’t exactly bad advice, especially for a teenager–staying away from bad influences and all that. But at some point, perhaps, it gets misinterpreted or carried too far. It causes you to sort all the people you meet into “godly” and “ungodly”–as if any human is really in a position to do such a thing. It also causes you to treat some people as your friends while treating others as mission projects. It’s a twisted way of viewing the world.

    My husband was not a Christian when we met, and although he’s willing to attend church he still considers himself only “Christian-ish” at best. And, in the 15 or so years that I’ve known him, I’ve gone from “I can’t be with him–we’ll be unequally yoked!” to “maybe I can get him ‘saved'” to finally just loving the guy right where he’s at right now because my life would be a poorer thing without him. If I had avoided him in favor of a more “godly” person back then, I think I would’ve been much worse off.

    Oh, and call me cynical, but I’m betting that you’re not going to get the same amount of discussion as last week. Maybe if you talked about abortion or something.

  4. Perhaps an equally important question is, who are the right people to hang out with? Are there right people to hang out with?

    I mean in some ways the conservative wings of the church would fault Jesus for hanging out with the “sinners” even today, but what is so interesting about Jesus is that he also hung out with the Pharisees despite their judgmental, holier-than-thou attitudes, which if it were today there would probably be a group wondering why Jesus bothered with those people.

    I used to think that Jesus didn’t really like or maybe even love the Pharisees, they were so easy to dislike. Then I realized that being a Pharisee is pretty easy and Jesus did love them, just that love looked different than what he showed the “sinners.” Jesus wanted to expose us to our own brokenness, and certain people seemed to require more work to do that than others. Once we realize our brokenness we then can go to God in repentance for mercy and forgiveness.
    Jeremy M. recently posted..Final Thoughts on Resident Aliens

  5. It seems easier to sit around judging other people’s issues than it is to cry out to God, “Search me and show me where I am found wanting.” It is easier to love ourselves than it is to love others. Funny that loving yourself wasn’t in the law nor was it in Jesus’ 2 commands. Yet, our society spends a great deal of “me time” learning to love ourselves.

    I love that you said we romanticize the idea of Jesus hanging out with the “wrong” people. We do. Somehow tax collectors become government employees (who are only slightly irritating, but basically good) instead of thugs and prostitutes become more like Pretty Woman instead of broken women selling their bodies, similar to the women who wait on the streets we avoid. It seems that modern American Christians spend a whole lot of time as “martyrs” for being controversial for ALL the wrong reasons in Christ’s name. Mostly for being jerks.

    Ultimately, the only judging I should be doing is of my heart and my life. Grace and Love is what I should offer to everyone else.
    Brina recently posted..What Apology|2013 is not… and what it is.

  6. This is beautifully and provocatively written, Matt. Great questions! And not many easy answers to any of them. Jeremy’s comment is interesting to ponder – Jesus did hang out with sinners and tax collectors a lot, that much we know. But clearly, there were Pharisees around a lot of the time, too. And Jesus seems to have geared his responses differently, depending on the need at hand. Maybe the harsher, more judgmental words directed at the Pharisees offered the only hope of breaking through the legalistic barriers they surrounded themselves with?

    The Prodigal Son parable always reminds me of this reality – Jesus loved the Pharisees, too. I know I forget that when I’m impatient with the slowness of the American church to break through our own version of legalism and let compassion and love flourish. I forget that those who build walls of rules around themselves are, at heart, frightened children. (Hard to believe, right?) It’s much easier for me to hate what they say and how they behave. But I don’t think we’re called to hate anyone, ever. And we’re not called to prioritize sinful behaviors, either. We are called to shine the light of truth on our own selves first and foremost.

    I think there needs to be space for the truly prophetic voice in our culture – but I don’t see much of that at all. Instead, I see fear-based judgments, exclusion and dreadful amounts of generalizing, tarring and feathering. How do we speak out against real injustice without getting snared by moralizing? My answer, which is certainly not the best one, is avoidance: I don’t read or comment on anyone writing from the far right end of the spectrum. And I don’t engage in pubic sparring, either. So I guess I’m asking you: how can we become more proactive without falling off the fence into either screed or our own plumped up variety of moral judgment??
    Diana Trautwein recently posted..Midweek Service: An Old Advent Sermon — Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

  7. Matt, are you saying that having compassion and hating sin are mutually exclusive? Didn’t Jesus give a reason for his hanging out with sinners; isn’t it the sick who need the doctor? It sounds like the compassion of Jesus was to warn people about the implications of their sin. Granted there are many take this to condemnation instead of compassion, but to go completely the other way seems just as eternally dangerous.
    Cliff Richardson recently posted..Limitless by Nick Vujicic

  8. Love the sinner,fine, but when the sinner wants to blatantly shove their sin in my face and scream “Don’t Judge Me” it becomes a problem. Too often they take exception to things I do that they don’t approve of. That is to be expected. Then they turn around and get angry when we disapprove of their behavior. That is also to be expected. What I don’t like is the escalation of blatant sin with the implied threat of “Do You Dare Judge Me Now”. If we even whisper, “no, what you are doing is wrong and will someday hurt you” then we are labeled closed-minded, haters and phobic.

    Granted, sometimes we are close-minded, haters or phobic. Everyone fails at perfect love. We all need to take the log out of our eye before dabbling with some else’s speck. I just don’t like to see the parades of people saying “judge us now and it will be your turn to be hated”.

  9. I.find it hard to believe Jesus would be alright with people thinking he approved of anyone’s sin. Would that not undermine his call for people to repent from sin?

  10. “Love the sinner; hate the sin” is just one of countless Christian cliches.

    It’s part of the reason unbelievers see Christians as phonies and hypocrites, because they KNOW we don’t love them… and KNOW we’re not united. These are the 2 major things that should mark the Christian, but to a huge degree, they don’t.

    We’re supposed to possess and express the VERY LIFE and nature of Jesus. Do we?
    Geno recently posted..A Song To Get You Thinking

  11. Very well written. But a little reminder to love those whose life-long religious bias is being flipped on its head. I am in my 50’s and am still figuring out how I am supposed to think. I am erring on the side of love everyone, feeling I cannot go wrong. But I feel uncertain about how I am supposed to think. God does hate sin. He is just and righteous and lots of people were judged in the Bible. One thing I know. God is not willing for any to perish. He loves us all. He wants me to have His character being built in my life. Oter stuff, I am not so sure about.

  12. There is such an amazing conversation going on here. I just found this site and I am so glad I did! My two cents: I think that Jesus didn’t necessarily “approve” of sin as much as he accepted them as sinners – plain and simple – the ultimate love for His neighbors.
    Mike recently posted..Bible Verses About Death

  13. Good stuff Matt. I think if we quit fretting over our “witness” a little and get in there where the love is needed our image will be just fine. Those that would judge us tarnished don’t matter.
    Ken Hagerman recently posted..Missing Inaction

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