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  • Adam Schell

The Bible Doesn't Say Love The Sinner Hate The Sin


ver the last few weeks at Melbourne Heights, we have been talking about things the Bible doesn’t say. Now, obviously, there are a lot of things the Bible doesn’t say…so what we’ve really been talking about are things that a lot of Christians seem to believe the Bible says even though it doesn’t. And we’re talking about these things the Bible doesn’t say because these statements can distort our understanding of who God is and who we are. Or, to put it another way, sometimes the things we don’t know about the Bible can hurt us.

Sometimes the things we don’t know about the Bible can hurt us.

So over the last few weeks, we’ve talked about statements like “Everything happens for a reason.” And we’ve seen that when we believe this statement — which isn’t in the Bible — that it portrays God as a monster who is responsible for every murder, every war, and every act of abuse. And it also portrays us as people as being nothing more than robots who have no choice in what we say or do.

We’ve also talked about the statement “God helps those who help themselves” And we saw that this statement — which isn’t in the Bible either — is the complete opposite of the truth. Because the truth is that God helps those who cannot help themselves…and God wants to use us to help them.

And last week, we talked about the statement, “God said, I believe it, that settles it.” And we saw that this statement denies the reality that we all interpret the Bible from our own perspectives and experiences. And when we deny that we all interpret the Bible, it keeps us from making sure we are interpreting the Bible through the right lens…and that lens is Jesus.

Well, today, we’re going to be talking about another statement that a lot of people seem to think is in the Bible even though it isn’t. And that statement is “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Love the sinner, hate the sin.

Now, it isn’t really hard to see why so many people think that this statement is in the Bible. Depending on which translation you’re reading, the word “love” appears somewhere between 500 and 800 times in the Bible. In the Gospels — which are basically biographies of Jesus — the word “love” appears around 70 times.

So, as you’re reading the Bible, you’ll run across passages like 1 John 4:8 which tells us:

God is love.

And you’ll find passages like Matthew 5:44 that says:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

So you can find the word “love” used a lot throughout the Bible. And the word “sinner” isn’t exactly a rare word in the Bible either. The word “sinner” appears over 60 times in the Bible. So you can find the word “sinner” in passages like Mark 2:17, where Jesus says:

I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

Or you’ll find it in passages like Luke 7:34, where Jesus is referred to as:

…a friend of tax collectors and sinners!

You can even find the words “love” and “sinner” found in the same verse, like in Luke 6:32 where we read:

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.

So, since the words “love” and “sinners” are pretty common words in the Bible, it’s not hard to see why so many people think the statement “love the sinner, hate the sin” is in the Bible…but it’s not. The truth is that this phrase seems to have originated more than 300 years after Jesus’ time on this earth. And that’s because the first time that we see anything that even remotely resembles this phrase is in a letter that St. Augustine — who was an early leader in the church and a bishop from North Africa that lived in the late fourth and early fifth century — wrote to a group of nuns asking them to remain chaste.

And in this letter, St. Augustine called these nuns to have a “love for mankind and a hatred of sins.” But when you read this letter, it’s clear that St. Augustine wasn’t using this statement the way that a lot of people use it today. Today, this statement is used when we’re talking about another person’s sin. But when St. Augustine wrote it, he was telling those nuns to love mankind while hating their own sins.

So, if the Bible doesn’t tell us to “love the sinner, hate the sin” then what does the Bible tell us? Well, let’s start by talking about what the Bible tells us about sin. But before we can talk about what the Bible tells us about sin, we need to take a minute and admit that the church doesn’t exactly have a great history when it comes to talking about sin. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about an old school preacher pounding the pulpit while ranting and raving about a particular wrongdoing on public access television, or a certain small church in Kansas that had a habit of picketing and protesting at funerals while professing who God hates; the church has a history of using our conversations about sin to bully other people instead of reflecting on our own shortcomings.

But, whether we want to admit it or not, we all have plenty of our own shortcomings. We all have plenty of flaws and failures. We all have plenty of sin in our own life. The apostle Paul - who was the foremost missionary and theologian of the first century - made this explicitly clear in a letter that he wrote to the churches in Rome. Paul told them:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

All of us have sinned. You've sinned. I've sinned. We've all sinned.

But what exactly does that mean? What does it mean to sin? Well, the word “sin” is one of those words we use a lot in church, and since we all kinda sorta know what it means we never really define it. So some people will say that you sin when you do something wrong. Or other people will tell you that you sin when you break one of the Ten Commandments, and other people will say that you sin when you disobey God.

And all of these answers are on the right track, but they're only partial definitions of what sin is. So what is sin? Well, the Greek word that we translate as sin is the word hamartia. And the word hamartia literally means to miss the mark...which should make you think of archery.

In archery, you’ve got the bullseye that you’re aiming for when you shoot your arrow. But when you miss the bullseye, you hamartia or you sin. And in Matthew 22, Jesus tells us what the bullseye is that we’re supposed to be aiming for when he’s asked what the greatest commandment is. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus tells us:

37b You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 

Matthew 22:37-39 (Common English Bible)

So what Jesus is telling us is that we miss the mark, or that we sin, whenever we do anything in word, thought, or deed that is inconsistent with loving God and loving our neighbors. 

Now let’s take a step back and see if we can put everything together that we’ve been talking about so far today. So, we’ve been talking about sin. And we’ve heard that we are all sinners. And that means that will all miss the mark by saying or doing things that are inconsistent with loving God and loving our neighbors.

So if we sin by doing things inconsistent with loving God and loving our neighbors and we are all sinners, then that means that we need to love the sinner, right? Of course, we do.

We are called to love each other, and since we are all sinners that means that we are called to love sinners. And this is something that Jesus does throughout his time on this earth. Jesus loves sinners. The Apostle Paul goes so far as to say that “Jesus came into the world to save sinners” and he concludes by saying, “And I’m the biggest sinner of all.”

So if Jesus doesn’t love sinners then Jesus can’t love us.

If Jesus doesn’t love sinners then Jesus can’t love us.

But here’s the thing, Jesus never explicitly tells us to love the sinners. So what does Jesus tell us to do? Well, we just read it a minute ago. In Matthew 22:39, Jesus tells us:

39 You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Jesus tells us that we must love our neighbor. Now, it may not seem like a big deal for Jesus to tell us to love our neighbor instead of loving the sinner, after all, we know that we’re all sinners and that everyone is our neighbor. But there is an important distinction between the two. When we see others as sinners we only focus on their behavior, but when we see others as neighbors we focus on the person.

So Jesus knew that if he commanded his followers to “love the sinner,” we would begin looking at other people as what they do instead of who they are. And that makes it really easy to judge them. So if I loved you more as a sinner than as a neighbor, then I am going to look for everything that is wrong with you. And I’m going to start patting myself on the back because I can still graciously love you even though you are a horrible sinner…and all the while I forget that I’m a horrible sinner too.

And that gives me a puffed-up opinion of myself that is completely contrary to what the Bible teaches us. In Luke 18:14, we’re told:

14 All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.

And in Matthew 7:3, we’re told:

3 Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye?

So Jesus commands us to love our neighbors instead of loving sinners to help us keep the right perspective. And that’s because real love isn’t about loving someone in spite of the things they do. Real love is about loving someone for who they are.

Real love isn’t about loving someone in spite of the things they do. Real love is about loving someone for who they are.

Okay, so we’ve talked about why we’re supposed to love our neighbor instead of loving the sinner. But what about hating the sin? I mean the Apostle Paul tells us to, "Hate what is evil, and hold to what is good” in Romans 12:9.

So we should hate the sin, right? Well, the problem with thinking that we should hate the sin is that not how Jesus acted. Throughout his time on this earth, Jesus spent time with all sorts of people that we would commonly label as sinners. He spent time with drunkards, prostitutes, thieves, adulterers, traitors, and more. He regularly ate with them, healed them, and even called them to be his disciples…but you never hear Jesus say, “I love you…but I hate your sin.”

When Jesus speaks to sinful people, he doesn’t talk about their sin very much at all. Instead, he talks about God’s forgiveness.

And that’s what Paul is really telling us when he says, “Hate what is evil, and hold to what is good.” Because right before he says that, he says:

9 Love should be shown without pretending.

And that means that you can’t say that you love someone in one breath and then judge them in the next breath.

This is something that one of the most influential Christians of the last century – Billy Graham – lived out. In an interview with Billy Graham’s oldest daughter, Gigi, she shares a story about attending Time magazine’s seventy-fifth-anniversary party as her father’s date. At the party, which was a banquet held in Washington, DC. President Bill Clinton was one of the featured speakers. Now, this took place right after President Clinton had been impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice because he lied about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky under oath.

As it turned out, Billy Graham and his daughter would be seated right beside the President and the First Lady. So if Billy Graham followed the mantra “love the sinner and hate the sin” this was a perfect time to show. This was the perfect time for Billy Graham to confront Bill Clinton for the way he was living his life.

Instead, Billy Graham was warm and gracious to the Clinton’s throughout the evening. After dinner ended and Billy Graham and Gigi were riding back to their hotel, the two discussed the difficulties President Clinton and his family were going through with so many people talking about them and judging their behavior. But Gigi said her father had one simple comment about it all. Billy Graham said, “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict; it’s God’s job to judge; it’s our job to love.”

Now does this mean that we’re just supposed to be silent about the problem of sin in our world? No. There are sins that we must hate and there are sins that we must denounce. We need to hate and denounce sins that harm others, oppress others, or do evil to others – sins like child abuse, spousal abuse, and racism. We should hate that there are people starving to death in a world with plenty. We should hate that people become victims of human trafficking.

And when these sins are inflicted on others, we need to do what the book of Proverbs tells us when it says:

Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.

But we can’t forget an unmistakable reality when it comes to God. We talked about it at the beginning of this sermon. 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love.

So the truth in the statement “love the sinner, hate the sin” stops with the very first word. Love.

It’s our job to love. So let’s love our neighbor. Let’s love each other. And let’s extend the same grace to each other that God extends to us all.

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