Warning: some adult themes. Nothing inappropriate, but proceed with caution if you’re under 18.
As a Christian, I’ve heard a lot from people that we should “just love everybody”. It sounds nice, and on the face of it, it’s biblical, because the second great commandment from Jesus, taken from the book of Leviticus, is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The problem with the sentiment “just love everybody” is that it’s extremely vague. What does it really mean to love your neighbor as yourself? What even is love? What actions do I take to show that love to others? What do I say and do to demonstrate love properly?
Unfortunately, what a lot of Christians mean when they say “Just love everybody” is “Don’t tell them the truth.” Or “People don’t need to be judged, they just need to be loved.” That one is, ironically, pretty judgmental, because it implies that making judgments about behavior is inherently unloving toward the person, which does not follow. This kind of standard even excludes Jesus, who more than anyone had the right to convict people of sin.
Don’t get me wrong: saying that someone is less of a person because of their sin elevates you beyond the point where you need to be elevated. We were yet sinners, and Christ died for us. But we need to push back on this cultural re-definition of love.
If you had a child who was addicted to drugs, would it be unloving if you told them to stop? Would it be unloving if you stopped giving them money, or only assisted financially on the condition of them getting clean? Would it be ”overly judgmental” to tell them “This habit is ruining your life”? Would it be loving to let them wallow and continue in the suffering that their addiction causes them, slowly being drained of money and physical health in the process?
No person in their right mind who truly loves their children would answer “yes” to any of these questions.
Why do we treat other kinds of sin with kid gloves?
Why do we say that sexual immorality in the church is none of our business, or “It’s not my place to judge”?
Why is it unloving to say to a brother “You should stop watching porn”?
Why is it unloving to tell someone who professes the name of Jesus who struggles with same-sex attraction to resist the temptation to act on it?
Why is it considered unloving to tell a Christian couple not to cohabitate before marriage? If I could go back to early 2020 (and well before that time with every sin), I would say to myself: “Don’t pretend that God sanctions this behavior. And don’t put Him to the test. You know this is wrong. So stop making excuses, and stop doing it.”
These are souls hanging in the balance, and God does not compromise on what He calls sin just because a situation is supposedly unique. He’s heard it all before, folks. Because He’s seen it all.
1 Corinthians 13 is likely the most famous chapter of the Bible when it comes to discussing love. It is masterful. Hannah and I chose it as one of the texts to be read at our wedding.
Verse 6 says that love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth”. Truth and love are not opposites. They work together. Love does not enable sin. It opposes sin without compromise, because sin hurts people. Even if your sin hurts no one else, it still hurts you, and it still offends God. That alone is reason to do everything we can to stop.
But it doesn’t cast people out because of their sin either, because it “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.” That’s love. Seeing sin, not accepting it, but not rejecting the sinner either, and doing everything in one’s power to see them restored.
“I hate the power this has over your life, specifically because I love you.”
And as Rev. Burk Parsons so eloquently stated:
“Tell people the truth, and they’ll be more likely to believe you when you tell them you love them.
Love people, and they’ll be more likely to hear you when you tell them the truth.”
Friends, I know that I can be harsh, and direct, and not very winsome. I know that what I say can offend, and maybe to some, I come off as unkind or arrogant. If only you knew how harsh I am with myself. I’m not going to do the grandiose humblebrag and say “I am foremost among sinners,” because that’s not particularly authentic.
What I will tell you is that I am very aware that I deserve nothing good from God, which makes me love Him all the more, and want to live for Him more because of the grace He has given me. And everything I say to all of you applies doubly to me. I’m down in the trenches with you, wrestling with all of this, fighting and clawing for the ability to present my body as a living sacrifice to God, to create a pleasing aroma for Him in word and deed.
But I want you to hear me when I say this: I may not communicate this perfectly, but I care. I care deeply. I care so much for you that I want to see you in Heaven when the time comes to shuffle off this mortal coil. Beneath the direct and harsh truth I tell is a heart that beats for the salvation of everyone I know and love.
Love is pointing out sometimes that you are your own biggest problem. Love means accepting someone as they are, but also wanting better for them and helping them eliminate those obstacles. Love means giving someone what they need, even when it’s not necessarily what they want.
And I’ve come to learn that that’s what God’s grace is: taking a sinner as he is, and offering him the space to grow and be changed by the Spirit. When we offer grace to others, we must do the same thing.
You can be patient, kind, not envious or boastful, not proud, rude, self-seeking, easily angered, or keeping record of wrongs, and ALSO not rejoice in unrighteousness, and rejoice in the truth. And you can bear, believe, hope, and endure all things.
“Just love everybody.” Okay. Sounds good to me. I hope that you can love me even if our definitions of love don’t match.