Today we conclude our sermon series based on Adam Hamilton’s book, Half Truths by looking at the half-truth, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Like all the other half-truths we have examined so far, this one appears to be a positive, helpful statement. We have probably said this one ourselves as a message of inclusion. Perhaps we were trying to let someone else know we do not judge him/her. Yet when we take a closer look we realize how far off the mark we can stray by adhering to the philosophy behind this statement.
As with several other half-truths, this one does not exist in scripture – Jesus never said these words. Jesus in fact did enact the first part of this saying, ‘love the sinner.’ We saw it many times when he would routinely eat and fellowship with tax collectors and prostitutes – Biblical terms for sinners. He spoke out against sin yet continued to extend love and acceptance to sinners. Sounds like we could stand behind this statement, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” simply by using the example of Jesus.
But here is where the words of caution come in. Jesus is the son of God. Jesus is the one who knew no sin. Jesus is the word of God made flesh and dwelled among us. Jesus was the perfect lamb, sacrificed for OUR sins. We are all sinners. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned, and fall short of God’s glory.” When WE use the label of ‘sinner’ we have automatically put ourselves in the seat of judgment. Jesus never told us to love the sinner, but instead told us to love our neighbor.
So how is it any different to say, ‘love your neighbor’ instead of ‘love the sinner?’ We are all neighbors – we are all sinners. Yet when we decide to measure someone else by his/her sin, we are basically saying “hey, I know you are doing things that are not pleasing to God, but I will love you anyway.” Is it not better to instead love our neighbor – share a kindness, give of ourselves, reflect the love of Jesus who loves us all? One saying – “love our neighbor” – puts us on an even playing field. The other – “love the sinner” puts us in a seat of judgment.
What is sin? How can we best define it? The Hebrew word from the Old Testament aligns with the Greek word in the New Testament. Both mean “to stray from the path” or “to miss the mark.” This can apply to any thought or action that would be counter to the path God would have us to follow – the path of righteousness = becoming more like Christ. By extension, sin would also mean a failure to act when someone was in need – a lack of action when action was required. It encompasses any time we have “…deviated from the path that God calls us to follow” (Hamilton, 143.) Paul speaks about the struggles we all face when trying to live a holy life. In Romans 7:19 Paul says, “I do not do the good I want to do, but I do the evil that I do not want to do.” We all struggle with sin and overcoming sinful tendencies in order to do good and become more like Christ.
So now that you are lulled into a stupor, here’s a pop quiz! Who can name what our Catholic brothers and sisters refer to as the seven deadly sins? In order, they are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Our Catholic friends call these ‘capital sins’ because they believe all other sins emerge from these seven. And among these, there is the understanding that the greatest sin is pride, as all other sins seem to stem from pride. The reason I bring this up is there is a secondary common understanding that relates to this half-truth; the understanding, “all sins are the same.”
While there is no scriptural basis for this understanding, Jesus spoke and acted routinely concerning his message to us – love your neighbors. We do not need to identify folks as sinners as we are all sinners. We do not have the right to sit in a seat of judgment to single folks out for their sins, all the while adhering to our own. Similar to Jesus’ illustration, it is impossible for us to focus on a dust speck in our neighbor’s eye when there is a plank in our own eye. Jesus wraps it up for us rather nicely. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (in other words get rid of the plank in your own eye,) and love your neighbor as yourself.
So what about the rest of this saying, “hate the sin?”
“Jesus spent time with drunkards, prostitutes, thieves, the occasional adulterer, traitors to their own people, and countless others who undoubtedly had impure thoughts, cheated on their taxes, and committed a variety of crimes. He routinely broke bread with them, healed them, and even called them to be his disciples. Yet we never hear Jesus say to them, ‘I love you but I hate your sin’” (Hamilton, 156.)
The only time Jesus seemed to lash out with hatred against sin was addressed to the religious people of the day who had turned the temple into a Jerusalem Marketplace where the poor were exploited and the moneychangers were the worst kind of thieves.
When someone criticizes the church, what is the number one criticism that you hear all the time? The church is full of hypocrites – those who speak one way and act another way. Those who do not walk the talk often occupy the pews of churches. Perhaps instead of hating the sin in others, we strive to rid ourselves of our own sin – those harmful thoughts and actions that speak volumes about our true calling. When we falter, and we will, let us not hesitate to ask forgiveness from one another and from God. Let’s get the plank out of our own eyes without constantly seeking the dust specs in others.
Last week, I introduced a challenge that I would like you all to consider. Our world is in great need of prayer warriors – those willing to pray in earnest for those in need. We are often starving our souls while feeding our bodies a rich diet. We are waiting for someone else to step forward, content to take in a message of hope but hesitant to share a message of hope. I am challenging each of us to sign a commitment to daily prayer and scripture reading. All I am asking you to do is commit to 1 hour of prayer and scripture reading per week. Some may say that bar is way too low, but for those who have never spent time in prayer, 10 minutes a day may seem like a long time. [Share prayer mate app] I have scriptures concerning prayer written out here as a launching point. If you have never spent time reading scripture I recommend beginning with the gospel of Mark. God wants us to be in relationship with God and with each other. There is no better way to do this than to hold one another in prayer. Visit this table during communion today. Sign your name to the agreement making a commitment to daily prayer and scripture reading. Let’s get serious about being the church beyond the property lines of this building. Amazing things can happen when we truly become a house and a people of prayer. Love God, and love your neighbor. Amen.