“I love you, just not your choices”
“Hate the sin, love the sinner”
“I’m just rebuking you in love”
The amount of times I’ve heard these phrases being thrown around the Church is unreal. It’s the go-to explanation for how the Church can be loving like Christ and still form opinions opposite that of the world. And on the surface, there’s not much wrong with them. Any reasonable person should be able to agree that you can love someone without agreeing with them on everything. The problem is the people we are saying this to often don’t feel loved. And yes, that is our problem. Because we, Church, share in a history of not always being loving.
Now before you get angry reading that (It may already be too late for some of you) let me clarify. The Church has done a lot of incredible, loving things. Without the Church medical care would not be what it is. Without the Church many widows, orphans, and less-thans would be uncared for. Without the Church many immigrants would not find asylum, many outcasts would not find a home, and many hopeless people would not know hope. That is something to look at and be in awe of. God has certainly worked through His Church in many and mysterious ways and He continues to do so. But if we only look at the good things Christ has done through His Church, and never reflect on how we can continue to grow in our mission as His people, then we are going to become the Pharisees. So impressed with ourselves, we forget why God created us in the first place.
So back to the “our problem” part. It is our problem that the Church has left some unloved. That our history has not always been in accord with His Story. That is our problem. I’m not suggesting that we all walk around with a guilt complex. I’m suggesting that we acknowledge our mistakes, flaws, and sinfulness (isn’t this what we confess every Sunday?) and strive everyday to minister like Christ does.
Christ ministered through relationships. Every. Single. Time. He didn’t go around saying catchy things like, “hate the sin, not the sinner”. He formed relationships with sinners. Real relationships. Relationships where people trusted Him and understood that He was comfort, love, and hope. Then He talked with them about their sin. Let’s look at an example together:
The story of the Woman at the Well is a pretty common one, but even if you’ve heard it before, join me in thinking through it again. I’m going to give you the Hannah Hayden Paraphrase here, but for the full story check out John 4:1-26 (written by people a lot smarter than me and inspired by God, so you know….much better).
Scene: Samaritan Woman (enemy of Jews) is drawing water from a well. She’s a rough-around-the-edges kind of woman. The kind of woman your grandma would say ‘was very popular with the fellas’ if you get my drift.
Enter Stage Right: Jesus, looking pretty tired. Give Him a break, He had to walk everywhere for pete’s sake (or should I say Simon Peter’s sake? Haha, no?).
Jesus: To Himself and the nonexistent audience Man am I tired. I can’t wait till someone invents the car. Seriously He sends me to the desert before air conditioning was invented?
Jesus: To the woman Hey, would you mind getting me a drink while you’re drawing that water? Not that I couldn’t make this rock give me wat……well, we’ll get to that later.
Woman: Oh shoot….listen pal, you may not have noticed but I’m a Samaritan woman. You know, enemy of the Jews? And you sure look Jewish. Listen, I would but that would make you unclean which would probably be like a huge hassle for you at the temple, right? So, it’s probably better if you don’t.
Jesus: LOL, if you knew who I was you’d be asking me for a drink of living water, am I right?
Woman: What the he…
Jesus: interrupts Seriously, you don’t want to go there. Trust me it’s okay, I’m just super thirsty. Whoever drinks from this well is always going to be thirsty again, but if you ask me for living water, you’ll never thirst. Metaphorically speaking of course. I’m talking about eternal life. I just enjoy a good metaphor.
Woman: Holy cow (or whatever Samaritans find holy). You’re the Messiah? Why didn’t you just say so! I’ve never been good at the whole metaphor thing. School was rough. Well come on! Give me some of this eternal water! See what I did there? I’m continuing your metaphor!
Jesus: Listen woman, you can’t out word smith the original Word smith. But sure, I’ll give you eternal life. Hey, why don’t you go get your husband and we’ll take care of him too. Looks to the imaginary audience with a mischievous, albeit loving, all-knowing look.
Woman: Oh…..um…..I wouldn’t say that I really have a husband. Kind of living and loving that single life you know?
Jesus: Yeah, I know you’ve been loving it. You’ve gotten far too friendly with a lot of men in the way you’re only called to do with your husband. My grandma would say you’re ‘popular with the fellas’.
Woman: You have a grandma?
Jesus: Not important. The point is I’m the Messiah. You need me, and I came down for you. But if you really love me and want me to be a part of your life, you’re going to have to acknowledge that you’re a sinner in need of forgiveness. I can help you with that. In fact, I’ll inspire that. You don’t really have to understand the details right now, we’ll hook you up with the next New Member class.
And that’s mostly what happened. Now let’s look at the order of events. Jesus met the woman, He showed the woman that He was willing to have a relationship with her regardless of who she was (He wasn’t just talking the talk, He was drinking the water), He shared the Gospel, and then He rebuked her. Did you catch that? That was the last thing He did. Yes, He still did it, but He loved her through His actions first.
Yeah, it’s a short interaction. And most of the time things don’t move that quickly. Most of the time we spend weeks, months, or years building relationships (not just in words, but through actions) and slowly sharing the Gospel before we even get to the point where we can rebuke in love. Because once we have those relationships built, it truly is in love.
We live in an instantaneous society and so we’ve become instantaneous Christians. We believe we can get you to confess and turn from sin by sharing this Facebook post, or by standing outside this clinic, or by saying that I love you, just not your choices. But we have been called to relationships. To community. To the kind of love that takes some time to build. Sure, maybe God will let you see a quick conversion at some point in your life. But mostly He calls us to be a piece in the puzzle of a much longer term plan. So, stop telling people you love them but hate their sin. Just start with I love you. Build a relationship. Take your time. God will show you when the right time comes for the hard discussions. But it can only truly be in love if you take the time to love them in the first place.
And remember Church: Everyday you and I are the woman at the well. Let us not glorify ourselves to the place of Jesus, but thank Him for working through us in His own timing.
Loved Woman at the Well
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church