1 John 4:20-21. CEB
Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.
When I read this today I sat back in surprise when I saw the bald statement that these people are liars. That is really pretty strong language. I would be more likely to say they are mistaken, or that they need to examine their hearts for a different/better interpretation of what love is. But liars? Is it a lie if you really believe it? Is it a lie if you are telling the truth so far as you know it?
Well, yes. Belief in an untrue statement or position does not make it true.
There are those who claim they “hate the sin, love the sinner.” This often leads them to seek ways to deal with the sin which are not loving by any stretch of the imagination. Some refuse to allow persons they consider sinners to be part of their congregation unless they stop practicing whatever the sin is. Addicts, known criminals, gang members, members of the LGBTQ+ community and others who are metaphorical “prostitutes and tax collectors” are excluded from the congregation. I know of a couple being kicked out of a church where they had been faithful members for decades because someone looking in their window saw them dancing in their living room to celebrate a wedding anniversary. That congregation believed that dancing is a sin, therefore . . . Talk about throwing out the baby with the bathwater!
The thing is, these folks truly believe that what they are doing in the name of hating the sin is loving. It is not.
A woman I knew was welcomed into a congregation with open arms when she became sober, but after a relapse the pastor called her to the front and chastised her publicly. This was hateful. The loving thing would have been to offer her support or counseling, to seek ways to help her overcome her alcoholism - to help her heal physically and spiritually.
It seems to me that the primary test of what the loving response should be is to treat others as you would have them treat you. You know, that whole “love your neighbor as you love yourself” thing. If the way we seek to deal with sin is to heal the sinner instead of hurting them, we are probably doing the loving thing.
Please note: Everyone is a sinner. God loves and forgives us. We must endeavor to do the same.
Gracious God, I love you. Help me to seek the path of love always. Grant that I might speak words of truth that heal division. Grant that I might truly love all of my siblings, as you love me. Amen