(Jude 1: 22-23, The Message) Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith. Go after those who take the wrong way. Be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin. The sin itself stinks to high heaven.
I have found that we like to put sin in boxes. We categorize it all from what we deem understandable or acceptable, to what is most unforgivable and horrendous, and then all of the stuff between. I’ve done it, and I know you have as well. But really, isn’t it all just sin? It’s all bad, it all separates us from God, and it all “stinks to high heaven.”
Not many people who know me would consider me an optimist. I tend to be more of a realist than anything. However, I have a deeply compassionate heart, and I always seem to find a way to see the good in others. In this way, I am hopeful. I see the beauty that is the human soul, made and formed in the image of God, and I am often able to look past what people are doing or have done and love them anyway.
I wasn’t always so loving. For many years of my life, I had a very distrustful, resentful and hard heart. I had to ask the Lord to help me open my heart to others, and He has. In my walk with Christ, I have learned that compassion and love are simply not optional…they are requirements! We are not asked to love others…it is a commandment…in fact, it is the greatest of all commandments…that which must govern and influence every aspect of our lives, and will ultimately keep us from many of the sins that may tempt us. Love and compassion must be evident and ever growing in our lives…
The most difficult part of love is extending that grace and compassion toward those who are the most difficult to understand and forgive. Because of our “sin boxes” that we have created, there are just some things that we can’t seem to get past — the big, bad sins — the things that our worst fears and nightmares are made of — the things on the news that make our stomachs turn and boil our blood with anger and outrage. But where does love fit into it? We must remember that it has to…we have to make it fit. If we are to “go after those who take the wrong way,” then we have an obligation to stretch ourselves — to love the unlovable, right?
So what do we do? How are we to be tender with the sinner, yet hard on the sin? The answer will always be the same: just love. Open your eyes and see a person, a soul created by God, imperfect, yet never too far gone for God to reach. When you pray, ask the Lord to restore that person, and instead of rebuking them, rebuke the powers of hell that have been allowed to take hold of that life. You see, we can hate sin all day long, but we have been commanded to love others.
A few years ago, my husband and I were at big youth conference in Knoxville, TN. We take teens from our church every spring. That particular year, a singer named Matthew West was there. He sang a song called “Forgiveness,” but before he sang it, he told a story that has stuck with me. I want to share what he said about why he wrote that song:
“The song is about Renee, who lost her daughter Megan in a car accident at the hands of a drunk driver, a 24-year-old named Eric who was by all accounts a great young man, but made a tragic mistake. Renee’s been on a journey of hatred, and bitterness, and she’s learned how to forgive the young man who took her beloved daughter’s life.
In a miraculous way, after Megan’s death in 2001, Renee began giving presentations, and in time, God put it on her heart to forgive this man and reach out to him in prison. She learned that until she was set free of the anger and bitterness she held towards Eric, she was going to be the prisoner even though he was the one behind bars.
As a result, Eric found his own personal faith in Christ and they developed a unique friendship to the point where she feels like she gained a son, and she even went to the courts to cut Eric’s sentence in half. He made a terrible mistake taking the life of two young girls, and yet he’s been forgiven. Renee told him that she serves a God who commands her to forgive and she needed to be set free as much for herself as for him.”
It took a lot of love, that could only come from God, for this mother to not only forgive the young man who caused her daughter’s death, but also for her to reach out to him and show him compassion. Because she was obedient to God in her own life, she was able to be used of God to change his life forever, bringing healing to both lives in a remarkable and miraculous way — God’s way — the only way that it could ever take place. That’s what I call a beautiful exchange. And this, friends, is the perfect example of being tender toward sinners — of going easy on those who waver in the faith. It may seem impossible, but we are called to go beyond what we think we are capable of, and we are commanded to love.
Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
-“Forgiveness” by Matthew West
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to see others through Your eyes. Give me Your heart, and help me to be brave enough to love those whom everyone else seems to reject. Soften my heart, Lord, and help me to always let love win. Amen.