Yesterday, we looked at I Corinthians 12 and 13, focusing on spiritual gifts and what Paul called the most excellent way–the way of love. Paul described love in meaningful detail. His description of love should cause us to sit up and take note every time we read it in I Corinthians 13:1-13.
Because this passage is so familiar, it’s almost easy to overlook anything else Paul said about love in I Corinthians. But we shouldn’t overlook what Paul said in I Corinthians 16 as part of his personal requests to the church at Corinth. In I Corinthians 16:13, Paul asked that the church be on guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Then in verse 14, he made a remarkable request: “Let all that you do be done in love.”
ALL that you do! All? Really? Who does that? It’s likely that no human can do everything in love. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
Yet in Christianity, there is a strong tradition of condemnation. There’s plenty of scripture to support such a tradition. But how does that square with doing everything you do “in love?” How do you tell someone that he’s going to hell “in love?” One answer is, of course: Hating the sin but loving the sinner. That saying may make us feel better about condemning someone, but I doubt that it gives much comfort to the sinner–or causes him to change his ways.
Mark Lowry, who bills himself as a Christian singer, comedian and songwriter, puts it this way: “How about love the sinner, hate your own sin! I don’t have time to hate your sin. There are too many of you! Hating my sin is a full-time job. How about you hate your sin, I’ll hate my sin and let’s just love each other!”
I mean no disrespect to those who have adopted the hate the sin–love the sinner dichotomy. I’m simply unable to parse the difference between sin and sinner. When it comes to choosing between hate and love, choosing love would seem to be the way to follow Paul’s admonition in I Corinthians 16.
In trying to think all this through, I am influenced by what Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-5: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
It takes time and effort to remove a plank from one’s eye. I know. I’m still trying to remove a few from both eyes.