July 3, 2013

Why Christians Should Look for Love In All the Wrong Places


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 "When Churches Would Rather Be 'Biblical' Than 'Gospel'" 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

After that post, I read a lot of comments on my 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 OK 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 70. 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?

CC Image • Guzmán Lozano on Flickr
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