[Guest Post by Steve Kline]
“I love them enough to tell them the truth.”
I put these words in quotes because they were spoken by Anita Bryant in a television interview in the 1970s. I had never heard of Ms. Bryant until I saw a clip of her interview in a movie. Ms. Bryant was a Christian political activist known for opposing gay rights.
The “them” that Ms. Bryant loved enough to tell the truth to were homosexuals. The truth she was willing to tell them was that Jesus loved homosexuals, but if they did not repent from sinning, from being homosexual, they were going to hell. Presumably, Ms. Bryant found it tough to say these words, but she loved homosexuals enough to tell homosexuals this truth.
However, I have learned that this statement – “I love them enough to tell them the truth” – is, in reality, the whitewashing of an inner hatred by the one who says them. These words reveal the inner hatred of the speaker because the speaker is willing to cast the hearer into hell if the hearer does not obey whatever law, rule, principle, or moral standard the speaker believes the hearer is violating. The speaker couches these words in love, but in reality the words are accusatory and designed to cast out from the speaker’s presence or community the individual they deem offensive, abominable, repulsive, or reprehensible.
So, after hearing Ms. Bryant say these words, I was not surprised to learn that she also loved homosexuals enough to tell them they were “human garbage.”
But, Anita Bryant is not the only, and likely not the first, Christian to use these words. I have heard quite a few Christians say, “I love them enough to tell them the truth.” And, I have heard these words applied to all sorts of people, not just homosexuals. I have even seen these words directed at people that someone has never met but simply disagreed with in an online discussion. And, while most Christians may not be so bold as tell others they are “human garbage,” the message is received nonetheless.
After hearing Ms. Bryant say these words, I asked myself if they were true.
As a Christian, am I supposed to love someone enough to tell them the truth?
Having thought about it, my answer is no.
A resounding no, actually.
As a Christian, I am not supposed to love someone enough to tell them the truth.
I am not supposed to love someone to tell them the supposedly difficult words that if they do not stop sinning then they are going to die and spend eternity in hell.
First, that is not the truth that Christians are to preach. Christians preach the gospel, which is Jesus, the word of God, was born a man, suffered, was crucified, died, and rose from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Repentance is about changing our minds about who God is not who we are. When our mind is changed about who God is, then we know and receive his complete and total forgiveness for being God’s enemy even though God did nothing but love us. That’s good news, gospel.
Second, scripture shows that Jesus placed far more emphasis on loving someone enough to show them the truth. Jesus spent three and a half years telling people the truth about what God is like. But, Jesus showed them the truth on the cross in a far greater way than the truth could ever be told. In fact, Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross was so powerful that “when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15.39) Do not gloss over what Mark is telling us. A Roman centurion, the enemy of the Jews, who Jesus never told the truth to, saw this innocent man unjustly suffering and dying and was recorded as the first to say that Jesus was the son of God.
Luke 24.44-47 says, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’”
The Christ should suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. That is the truth.
The scripture told the truth. And, the truth was missed.
Jesus showed the truth. And, the truth was received.
So, as a Christian, if I am not supposed to love someone enough to tell them the truth, then what I am supposed to do?
I am to love someone, anyone, everyone, enough to show them the truth.
How do I show someone the truth?
The same way Jesus did.
“God is love.” (1 John 4.8)
Love is not just merely an action God does. God is love. God’s very being, his very essence, is love.
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4.9-10)
The love of God was manifest. God’s love was made to appear. It was shown.
Because Jesus was sent so that we might live through him. This is the repentance spoken of in Luke 24.47. Seeing Jesus’ suffering and death changes our minds about God so that we can truly live in him. We repent so that we can live through Jesus.
This is the love that Jesus showed, not told, us on the cross. Therefore, Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12.32)
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4.11-12)
If you know that God showed you his love in Christ’s suffering and death, then you should show that love in the same way.
Because no one has ever seen God. But, if you show love, by suffering and dying as Christ did, then God will abide in you. If God abides in you, then others will see God in you through your love.
Therefore Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” (John 13.34-35)
You show God’s love not tell it.
You show God’s love by suffering and dying.
This is why Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”(Luke 9.23)
Contemplate 1 Corinthians 13, which is considered by some the greatest statement about love. Notice how the chapter starts.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13.1)
You can speak in any and every earthly and heavenly language, but if there is not love, if there is not suffering and dying with and for another, then you are just noise, an irritating, grating, annoying, ear-piercing noise.
In reality, this is the very definition of “I love them enough to tell them the truth.” When you say those words, you are heard as a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Paul continued, “And If I have prophetic powers…but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13.2)
Prophetic power is a God-given ability to reveal the will of God in heaven by speaking so that things on the earth are changed and conformed to the will of God. But, if that prophetic power, that speaking, is without love, you are nothing.
Then Paul defined love.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13.4-8)
It does not come across well in English, but, in the Greek, all the things that love “is” are actually verbs. Paul is not describing what love is but what love does.
Love doesn’t tell.
And, love shows by suffering and dying with and for another.
Paul stated this clearly in Philippians 2.1-11. We are to be “of the same mind, having the same love” as Jesus. We are to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” This same mind, this same love is “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
As Christians, the love of Christ controls us. Christ’s love controls us when we suffer and die for others just as he did. We show the truth – that God is love – when we enter into another’s suffering. We suffer with them. We bear their burden with them. This is the message and ministry of reconciliation that Christians have been given. But, we don’t count their trespasses against them. In other words, we don’t “love them enough to tell them the truth.” (2 Corinthians 5.11-21)
In Romans 12.9-21, Paul paraphrased the sermon on the mount. “Let love be genuine.” Love should be sincere, without hypocrisy. You can’t tell someone you love them but threaten them with eternal torment in hell if they don’t stop sinning. That type of telling is not love-based but fear-based. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4.18) Paul then wrote that genuine love is shown by living out all that Jesus said in the sermon on the mount. He concluded with “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Enemies are not converted by loving them enough to tell them the truth.
Enemies are converted by showing them love, entering their suffering, meeting their needs. If they are thirsty, then give them a drink. If they are hungry, then feed them. If they are homeless, then house them. If they are broken, then comfort them.
Therefore, the real question, the real test, for a Christian is this – do I love you enough to show you, through my own suffering and death, literal death if necessary, the truth that God loves you?
By Steve Kline
Steve Kline blogs at Living Room Theology. Follow him online at http://livingroomtheology.com/