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The Problem with "Just Love Them"

see no evil

by Dennis Pollock

I heard a pastor preach a sermon recently in which he described an experience he had while jogging in a park. As he jogged someone began running alongside him and seemed interested in him in a sexual way. When the pastor told the individual that he was in the ministry and was in that area with a youth group, attempting to win people to Christ, his propositioner became defensive and began sharing his own feelings of being rejected by the church for his sexuality. The pastor told him that he did not want to judge him and tried to show love and compassion for the man. As he shared the incident the pastor went into some lengths to declare that the church should be in the business of loving people and not judging them. He repeated the same mantra several times: “Don’t judge them; just love them.”

The congregation all around me seemed to heartily agree with the pastor on this, based on the enthusiastic “amens” he received. I had the strange feeling that I might well be the only person in the church who had some problems with this slogan. It wasn’t that I disagreed entirely. To love people of all stripes, inclinations, and besetting sins is a given; it is at the heart of the Christian lifestyle. If “God so loved the world” with all its sins, rebellion, and carnality, who are we not to love them? And did not Jesus tell us: “Judge not, that you be not judged”? So on first glance, the idea of: “Don’t judge them; just love them” sounds perfectly Biblical and right. But anyone who bothers to investigate the entirety of Scripture must conclude that there is more to be said.

The Problem with “Just”

My biggest problem with the pastor’s mantra is the word just. I have no problem at all with “love them,” but I have a big problem with “just love them.” By using the little word “just,” the pastor seemed to be implying that for believers to criticize the lifestyle of the immoral would be wrong and counterproductive. “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” But is this really what the Bible, and specifically the New Testament instructs? Is it ever right for us to actually open our mouths and declare that adultery, fornication and homosexuality are wrong, immoral, and displeasing to God? Must we simply “be nice” to the immoral and hope that our niceness will be enough to help them to repent, believe on Christ, and be saved?

We could opine on this subject all day long. But happily for us we have the Scriptures which serve as a far more sure and certain guide as we attempt to discover the answers to these questions. These answers are readily discovered. We must begin with this: “Did Paul ever speak out against specific and particular sins, regarding sexual immorality? Did Jesus? What about Peter? If the “be nice, don’t say anything about people’s sins” concept is true, we should expect that this is precisely what we will find when we read the New Testament. After all, it would be hypocritical for Jesus and Paul to insist that we remain entirely silent about specific sins, while they, themselves address them frequently.

Let’s start with our Lord Jesus. Did Jesus ever confront individuals or groups of individuals about their sins? The answer to this is, of course He did. He did it continually, and even declared to His disciples: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil” (John 7:7). According to Jesus, the disciples were a little bit too nice. Apparently, they weren’t as quick as Jesus to confront their society with its sins and offensive behaviors. And as a result they were not nearly as hated as Jesus, since He had no qualms with testifying that certain works and behaviors were “evil.”

In the Gospels

As you read through the Gospel of John, you find Jesus in continual clashes with the leaders of Israel. He declares that they are a brood of snakes, foolish, hypocritical, and serve as the blind leading the blind. Many would argue that this was OK since Jesus was referring to spiritual leaders. In their minds it is fine to rebuke spiritual leaders for their sins, but common people get a free pass. When a preacher is stepping out of bounds, blast him. But when a church member is sleeping with his best friend’s wife, ignore it.

But not all of Jesus’ rebukes were aimed at the Pharisees. He declared: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (Matthew 15:19, 20). This was not a word for synagogue leaders; it was a word for one and all. And Jesus was not simply being “nicey-nicey” and refusing to address specific sins. He was targeting sins in a very precise and specific manner, listing them one by one so that no one could miss His point.

The truth is, if the Bible did not get specific about sins that offend God, no one would be able to agree about what those sins are, or even if there were any such sins. But if we are going to believe that the Scriptures are inspired by God, we must accept the reality of sin, and must pay particular attention to the sins listed individually and specifically in the New Testament. For example, the apostle Paul deals with a man who was sleeping with his step-mother in the Book of First Corinthians. Paul is outraged that the church allows such behavior and does not rebuke the man. He tells the church:

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Corinthians 5:4, 5)

Just exactly how the church was to do this (deliver the man to Satan) is a bit of a mystery, but this much is clear: Paul was not happy that the church was blissfully going along ignoring this church member’s sexual immorality. This was certainly not a: “Don’t judge them; just love them” philosophy; this was confrontation at its most fundamental level. Had you questioned Paul about this he would surely have told you that he was loving them. He was loving this man so much he was refusing to allow him to stroll his way to hell undisturbed, unconfronted, and unchallenged. But he wasn’t “just” loving him, if by “just” you mean “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

Those Who Won’t Make It

In Paul’s New Testament epistles he gives numerous lists of sins and wicked lifestyles which he insists will keep people out of heaven. To the Galatian believers he writes:

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21).

Was Paul being judgmental when he wrote this? No, he was being truthful. He was declaring that certain behaviors and lifestyles are offensive to God and those who practice these things will never go to heaven. And since he was being inspired by the Holy Spirit as he wrote this, we must conclude that he was exactly right!

Is there ever a time for us to say such things? Of course there is! A few years ago I discovered that there was a practicing homosexual who strangely seemed to appreciate my ministry – except for those articles I write which declare that homosexuality is sinful, offensive to God, and will keep one out of heaven. When he admitted to me in a letter that he was involved in this lifestyle, I warned him that this was wrong and could not be justified from the Scriptures. I told him I considered him my friend, but not my brother. I surely wasn’t following the: “Don’t judge them; just love them” philosophy of the pastor referred to earlier. But in truth I was loving him.

To have allowed him to go on thinking that the way he was living was acceptable to God, when the Scriptures plainly say the exact opposite, would have been cruel and heartless. Why must I say anything at all? Because the Bible, and particularly Paul, address this issue so plainly and incontrovertibly that we either must condemn the practice of homosexuality or we must condemn Paul as a bigot and a homophobe, and declare that the Bible is not inspired by God, which I am not at all prepared to do.

Declaring God’s Word

Is it judging to tell an adulterer that he or she cannot continue in their adultery and have a hope of heaven? No, it is simply repeating what the Bible says. Suppose a man comes to me and says, “I am a Muslim. I appreciate Jesus, but I do not accept Him as the Son of God.” I say to him, “If you do not recognize Jesus Christ as God’s Son you will never go to heaven.” Am I judging the man? No, I am not judging him. I am informing him about what the Bible says. He has confessed with his own mouth that he does not believe. I am simply telling Him what the Scriptures indicate concerning the eternal destiny of those who do not put their faith in Jesus.

When I was a pastor, a man who had been attending our church left his wife and began an affair with another woman. I went to him to try to restore him and we had a long talk. He admitted what he had done. He knew his behavior was wrong but was unwilling to break off the illicit relationship and return to his wife. In an attempt to shock this man into his senses I told him, “Do you know that according to the Scriptures I cannot even eat a meal with you?” (1 Corinthians 5:11). This man knew the Bible and agreed with me, but still seemed unwilling to repent. But whether he repented or not, I had an obligation to share the word with him and inform him of the severity of the choices he was making. Perhaps I was not “just loving him” but I was loving him – loving him so much I had to make myself and him uncomfortable in the hope that he might come to his senses. This is exactly what Paul writes in his second epistle to Timothy:

In humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:25, 26)

Getting Specific

As followers of Christ we must get specific about sin, even as Paul did. It is not enough to say: “Bad, nasty people will not go to heaven.” After all, hardly anybody believes that they are bad. Along with the apostle Paul, we must inform the world that fornicators will not go to heaven. Neither will adulterers. Neither will homosexuals, nor liars, nor thieves, nor drunks. It cannot be judgmental to warn people with the very words, thoughts, and precepts that we read in the Bible. Jesus called us, His followers, the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This must include shining forth the light of God’s moral precepts as well as His provision of salvation through Jesus Christ. We must be the conscience of our nation. Our world will never hear God’s holy laws and precepts from the celebrities, the pop stars, the news media, or the politicians. It is only from those who follow Christ and uphold the inspiration of the Scriptures that they will learn our Creator’s “thou shalts” and “thou shalt not’s.”

In attempting to win men and women to Christ, we must inform them that the lifestyle Jesus expects of His disciples is one of godliness and self-control. We cannot fantasize that it is possible to enter God’s family while still maintaining a licentious life of immorality and lawlessness. We must surely demonstrate love and respect for all people, but we must also inform them that repentance is a vital dimension of genuine faith. Love can do no less.


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