Loving Sinners - Part I
I have been criticized by weak-willed "politically correct" compromisers of the Truth for not being "loving toward sinners." This is nothing new and I have been putting up with their whining for decades, but I thought I would devote a few columns to the topic of what it means to truly love the sinner. What they call lacking in love, I correctly point out as failing to take a stand for the truth and what I call ungodly compromise with the carnal culture of secular society, they call "tolerance." As everyone knows, tolerance is the virtue of those without convictions.
Let me begin by asking this – if you went to a doctor and he sees that you have cancer but decides not to tell you because he is afraid of hurting your feelings, is that the loving thing to do? Of course not. You expect the doctor to tell you the complete and honest truth, no matter how painful it may be in the short run. That is because in the long run, you know that he has your best interest at heart. My role as Medical Assistant to the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, is to provide you with the truth of your spiritual diagnosis. Just as you expect the painful truth from you physical doctor, I will provide you with the same level of painful truth in the spiritual treatment of your awful condition. You can have confidence that no matter how much it may hurt in the short run; ultimately I have your long-term best interest at heart. After all, I am looking out for the eternal destiny of your immortal soul.
Because this is such an important topic, I am going to have to break it up over two columns to cover it all. In this column, I will be dealing with diagnosis and in the next I will look at treatment for debilitating spiritual conditions. Some of you may question my qualifications to practice spiritual therapy but you may rest content in the knowledge that I am a Man of God, called by God to minister to those who lack the spiritual depth and dedication that I have. I am about the most spiritually healthy person I know of, living a life as free from known sin as possible. I am uncompromising in my stand for the Truth and I have no tolerance for spiritual error or emotional excess. Beyond that, I have a humble and contrite spirit, making me the ideal example of spiritual similitude.
Diagnosis of spiritual maladies is a tricky task. Many people are not up to it themselves because they are suffering symptoms of spiritual sickness that rob them of the discernment they need to accurately tell what is wrong with others. Many preachers are good at identifying symptoms during their Sunday morning sermons. They preach against dancing, movies, smoking, drinking and all the rest but they are often blind to the underlying root causes. Beyond their inability or unwillingness to identify and deal with sin at its root, there are a couple of areas where weak-willed preachers fall short of sound spiritual diagnosis.
The first area has to do with symptoms of things that they themselves suffer from. If you have a preacher who has run greedily after the error of Balaam for filthy lucre and has an avaricious heart he will do one of two things. He will either preach on money all the time or he will never mention it. The same is true of a pastor who has a problem with lust. Either every sermon will be about sexual sin or else the topic will never come up. You should never trust a pastor who either talks about one thing every time he gets in the pulpit or else has a topic that he never mentions.
Beyond the obvious weakness of such pastors is the fact that not all spiritual ailments have obvious symptoms. As a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, I keep a very close eye on my church members. I watch for the nervous twitch or the unconscious flinch when I am preaching so that I know what sins a person may be dealing with. Then, as they shake my hand on the way out the door, I call attention to their nervousness at the topic that pricked their sensitive conscience. If the person acts acutely embarrassed at having their secret sin revealed (as they usually do) I often follow up with next week's sermon topic covering the very sin that they are struggling with.
Most of the time, however, people are unaware that they are suffering from spiritual sickness and I have to awaken them to the fact that a particular message was meant for them. The difficulty for these people is that they usually don't respond to a subtle approach and I have to be fairly obvious in alerting them to their spiritual danger, even if it means mentioning their names from the pulpit. It is this approach that my critics find unloving when, in actuality, it is the most loving thing I could do. By alerting the entire church to their sinful condition and imminent danger, I can enlist the aid of the congregation in watching for the dear brother's or sister's soul. By drawing attention to their spiritual malady, I help keep the prayer list up to date and on everyone's mind. I even make sure that Bible Study topics are aimed at addressing their particular problems. It is a matter of marshalling all our resources toward lifting them out of the muck and mire of sin and bringing them into the glorious fellowship of God's people.
By far the most valuable service I perform in my role as diagnostician of debilitating devilishness in the lives of carnal Christians is informing them of the awful condition they are in. It does no one any good if we diagnose their difficulty and never tell them exactly what is wrong. Those who claim to be "loving" keep this news to themselves and abandon the spiritually ill to whatever fate awaits them. This is far more cruel and inhumane than telling them the honest, sometimes brutal truth they need to hear so they can seek treatment.
Or if they fail to heed the warnings, they find themselves so uncomfortable that they leave. My critics point this out as a bad thing when in reality the departure of the spiritually ailing protects the rest of us from getting infected.
Like any good clinician, I think it is important to warn people of the early onset of spiritual disease. Does the good doctor wait until a person is dying of cancer to warn them of the hazards of smoking? Certainly not. So why should I wait until a person is in terminal spiritual decline before warning them of the ultimate consequences of their actions? They should know that that "innocent" sip of beer is only the first step that will end up with them strung out on heroin. They should be warned that a Victoria's Secret catalog is merely the tiniest inch down a long road leading inevitably through pornography addiction, sexual temptation, and a life of debauchery and wantonness. My patients may consider me extreme but I think it is the only truly loving thing I can do.
"Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."
1 John 3:18 (NIV)
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