How many times have you heard that and about how many different sins? Hate the Sin and Love the Sinner. It’s like a mantra for some Christians, isn’t it? And it doesn’t matter what sin it is… or does it? How many times have you heard “That man cheats people in his business, but we must hate the sin and love the sinner!” Or, “she plain old admitted to me that she finds every way she can to not pay the taxes she owes, but hate the sin and love the sinner!” Or, “Yep – that man can’t enter a room without starting an argument with everybody, just to prove he’s right, but hate the sin and love the sinner.”
No, we usually reserve hating sin and loving the sinner for the sins that we, ourselves, aren’t really threatened by. So if we see someone who is drunk, dirty and disorderly, their sins get hated, or people whose sexual preferences aren’t ours and their sins get hated or people who do something really bad and land in jail, and we hate their sin too (along with all the other decent people).
But, we usually don’t stop there, and that’s the problem. It is so much easier for us human beings to get up a head of steam about stuff we hate, or disagree with or just plain old can’t stand (even if there is nothing wrong with it besides us not liking it) so that sin and sinner get welded together in our heads. It’s only a small step for the hate the sin part to take over and for the love the sinner part to just slink away.
I was listening to a snippet of a sermon by Mark Lowery, whom you probably know from writing the Christmas song “Mary, Did You Know”. The title is “Recovering Fundamentalist” (you can watch it on YouTube). In it, one of the points he makes is that hating the sin and loving the sinner is nonsense. Instead, he suggests, how about we hate OUR sin and just love the sinners (which would be… everyone). It sounds glib, but I ask you to think for a moment about the interactions Jesus had with the worst sinners in the Bible and think about how they came out.
Jesus had plenty of opportunity to guilt the Samaritan woman straight down the well on that hot afternoon, but instead of a lecture on the evils of divorce and shacking up and hating her sin in general, he offers her eternal life. The woman who blew a year’s pay on primo foot balm was instantly tagged as a “sinner” (some think she was a prostitute) at a fancy dinner the Pharisees threw for Jesus, but it was the Pharisees’ haughty attitude that got the stink eye and not the woman who perfumed and kissed Jesus’ feet. Given his choice of people to eat dinner with one evening in Jericho, Jesus chose, not the rabbis and scholars, but the town tax collector, whom everyone else hated, but Jesus drew to himself.
Goodness – even when Jesus looked for disciples, he did not go to the synagogues and torah schools, he went to waterfronts and roadsides to find disciples.
Mark Lowery says, at another point in the sermon – “Look, I am too busy hating my OWN sin! I don’t have time to hate anyone else’s.”
Teach us this lesson.
Help us to love people and leave the sin part to you,
because you are the only one who can do anything to forgive sin,
but it is in all our power to love one another through the power of the Holy Spirit.