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Opposing Sin and Religious Error: Judge Not vs. Rebuke Evil

Should We Oppose Sin and Religious Error?
Does "Judge Not" Mean We Should Not Rebuke Evil?

Should we oppose sin and evil, including religious error? Do love and the spirit of Christ mean we should not judge or be narrow-minded or negative but always positive?

Many people think that Christians should not oppose the sins of others, especially the error of religious people. They say we should "judge not," have the "spirit of Christ," and  love but not hate. Should we preach a positive message and not be negative or narrow-minded? What does the gospel really say? Did Jesus and early Christians rebuke evil? Is it possible to "hate the sin but love the sinner"?

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Introduction:

Ecclesiastes 3:8 - There is "a time to love and a time to hate."

Many people in our society speak as though love means we must accept and tolerate all kinds of conduct.

These ideas are a continual theme from many online correspondents.

"God is too loving to send people to hell."

"What you need is more of the love of Christ. If you had more love, you wouldn't speak against the beliefs of other people."

Some refer to teaching that warns about the danger of sin as "hate speech."

But the Bible teaches there is "a time to love and a time to hate."

Not only is hatred not always sinful, but in fact some things are sinful to love!

1 Timothy 6:10 - "Love of money is the root of all evil." Some people seem to think that the root of all evil is hatred, but the Bible says the root of all evil is misplaced love!

There is "a time to love and a time to hate." Whether love is right or hate is right depends on the object of the love/hate. What do we love and what do we hate?

The purpose of this study is to consider the concept of "hating the sin, but loving the sinner."

What would this mean in practice? Is this a Biblically valid distinction that a Christian should accept and practice? Please consider the Bible teaching.

I. We Should Love All People, Including Sinners and Enemies.

"Love" here refers to concern for the well being of others. We should not want to harm or destroy them, but want them to receive what is best for them.

[Cf. Rom. 13:8-10; Psa. 41:7; 1 John 3:15-18; Luke 10:29-37; 1 Cor. 10:24; Phil. 2:1-5]

A. We Should Love Our Families.

Ephesians 5:25-29 - Husbands should love their wives as Jesus loved the church.

Titus 2:4 - Young women should be taught to love their husbands and love their children.

1 John 3:11,12 - Yet in the very first family, between the first brothers, lack of love led Cain to kill his own brother Abel.

We know love should characterize our families, but sometimes this is where the greatest hatred and animosity occur.

[Gen. 27:41; 37:4,5; 2 Sam. 13:22]

B. We Should Love Other Christians.

John 13:34,35 - We should love one another as Jesus loves us. This is how people know we are His disciples.

2 Corinthians 12:20 - But sometimes among God's people there are strifes, jealousy, wrath, factions, etc.

Again, we know Christians should love one another; but as in families, sometimes the greatest hatred occurs where there ought to be the greatest love.

[1 Thessalonians 3:12; Heb. 13:1; 1 John 4:20,21; 1 Pet. 1:22; 4:8; John 15:12,13; 3 John 9,10]

C. We Should Love Our Neighbors, Including Strangers and Needy People.

Matthew 22:36-39 - The second greatest command is to love your neighbor as yourself.

Luke 10:25-37 - When asked who is the neighbor that we should love, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. This man met a stranger in need and helped him. The lesson is that all people are our neighbors; and when we meet someone who needs help, we should love him enough to give what we can.

Love for others requires love for all people, not just friends, family members, and Christians. Especially when people have needs, we should have compassion to help with their needs.

[Heb. 13:2; James 1:27; 1 John 3:16-18; 3 John 5,6; Deut. 10:18,19; Isa. 1:23; Prov. 11:12; 14:21]

D. We Should Love People of Other Races, Nationalities, and Social Classes.

Sometimes we care for people with whom we share much in common, but we are suspicious, indifferent, or even antagonistic to people from different backgrounds.

John 4:9 - The conflict between Jews and Gentiles is a common Bible theme. Jews were racists, nationalistic supremacists. Because they had received national blessings from God, they thought they were more important than other nations. As a result they refused to associate or even show common kindness to others. Gentiles likewise resented Jews.

But Jesus did not share this racial hatred. He taught anyone who was interested in truth, regardless of race or nationality.

Acts 10:28,34,35 - When the New Testament came into effect, Jewish Christians still did not realize God's love for Gentiles. God sent revelations to teach Peter that he should call no man common or unclean. God is no respecter of persons, but people of all nations can be saved if they fear and obey Him. [11:17,18]

Luke 10:25-37 - The Good Samaritan cared for the needy man, presumably a Jew, despite the racial animosity between Jews and Samaritans. This was Jesus' example of loving our neighbor. Many people still today hate Jews. But Jesus Himself was a Jew. Racial bigots today would have hated the Son of God Himself!

Notice: In the story of the Good Samaritan, a member of a minority group went out of his way to help a member of the majority group. Sometimes people in "minority groups" expect other groups to go out of their way to help them, but they make no special effort to help others, and may even show suspicion and even antagonism toward people of majority groups.

Jesus' command to love people, of every race and nationality, applies to all of us. Are you a member of a majority group? Treat people of other races and nationalities with respect and kindness. Are you a member of a minority group? Treat people of other races and nationalities with the same respect and kindness you want them to show to you. The question is: Do you make a diligent effort to show respect and kindness to all people regardless of race and nationality?

[Book of Jonah; James 2:1-13; Gen. 1:26,27; Gal. 2:11-14; 3:28; Rom. 1:16; 2:6-11; Eph. 2:11-18; Tit. 3:8-11; 1 Tim. 1:3-5; Num. 12:1-14]

E. We Should Love Even Sinners and Enemies.

Luke 6:27,28,31-33 - Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who mistreat you. Evil people love only the people who love them. Christians must do better. We must love those who hate us.

Romans 5:6-9 - God's love led Him to send Jesus to die for sinners. Note that God loves sinners so much He sent His Son to die for them. But His love does not mean He approves or overlooks their sins. He still considers them to be ungodly sinners, but He cares for their well being so much that He wants them to be saved. This is Biblical love for sinners.

Luke 23:34 - When Jesus was being killed, He prayed for the forgiveness of the very people killing Him. Acts 2:14-41 shows that these same people, to be forgiven, had to be told about their sin and had to repent and obey Jesus in baptism. So Jesus loved these people so much He prayed and died for them. But He still required them to be plainly told of their sin so they could repent and be forgiven.

So "Love the sinner" is a valid Bible principle, but it does not mean that we must approve their sinful conduct. It means we do not want to do violence to them, but we want them to receive what is best. Especially we want them to repent and be saved.

[John 3:16; Matt. 5:43-47; Ex. 23:5; Rom. 10:1-3; 12:14-21; Job 31:29; Prov. 24:17; Luke 10:25-37; Acts 7:54-60; 1 Tim. 1:12-16]

II. But We Should Also Hate and Oppose All Sin.

We should not seek to destroy the sinner, but we should seek to eliminate all sin.

A. God Hates Evil but Loves Righteousness.

Proverbs 6:16-19 - God hates six things; seven are an abomination (something strongly detested). This is not a complete list. Other passages list many other things God hates.

Proverbs 11:20 - Those who are of a perverse heart are an abomination to the Lord, but the blameless in their ways are His delight.

Proverbs 15:9 - The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but He loves him who follows righteousness.

Hebrews 1:9 - You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. (This was a prophecy of Jesus quoted from Psa 45:7.)

It simply is not true that God loves everything. That idea is dangerous because it leads people to think they can continue to sin without suffering eternal consequences. If this is true, then everyone will be saved, since God loves everyone. But the truth is that most people will be lost eternally (Matt. 7:13,14).

The fundamental error of the doctrine is a failure to distinguish between love for people and acceptance of their conduct. God loves everyone, but He still hates sinful conduct so much that He will punish those who do not repent. Because He loves us, He sent His Son to die so we can be forgiven. But if we refuse to meet the conditions of forgiveness, we will still be lost eternally.

[Lev. 18:22-30; Deut. 12:31; 17:1; 18:9-14; 22:5; 23:18; 24:4; 25:16; 27:15; Psa 5:5,6; 11:5; 14:1; Prov. 3:32; 11:1; 12:22; 15:26; 16:5; 20:10; 21:27; Isa 61:8; Ezek. 8:17; Zech. 8:17; Mal. 2:16; Luke 16:15; Rev. 2:6]

B. Love for God Requires US to Hate Evil.

Psalms 97:10 - You who love the Lord, hate evil!

Proverbs 8:13 - The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate.

Deuteronomy 7:25-27 - Graven images were an abomination to God, therefore His people were to detest and utterly abhor them. What God hates, we should hate because we love Him and fear Him.

1 John 2:15-17 - Do not love the world or the things of the world, including lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life. If we love these things, the love of the Father is not in us! Again, love for God forbids us to love things that oppose Him. It is impossible to love both God and evil.

So, the issue is not whether we love or whether we hate, but what we love and what we hate. Because of the things we love, there are other things we must hate. It is impossible to love everything, because some things are direct opposites. If you love one, you must hate its opposite. The more you love one, the more you hate its opposite.

Specifically, the more you love God, the more you must hate evil because God and evil are opposites. When your opposition to evil grows weak, you need to realize that this means your love for God has grown weak!

[Matt. 6:24; 1 Cor. 13:6; Psa. 31:6; 139:21,22; Zech. 8:17; Jude 20-23; Rev. 2:6]

C. Love for Truth and Righteousness Also Requires Us to Hate Evil.

Psalms 119:104 - Through Your precepts I get understanding; so I hate every false way.

Psalms 119:127,128 - I love Your commandments more than gold, yes, than fine gold! Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way.

Psalms 119:163 - I hate and abhor lying, but I love Your law.

Romans 12:9 - Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Note that proper love requires us to abhor evil. [Amos 5:15]

Psalm 36:1-4 - One reason why God rebukes wicked people is that they fail to abhor evil. Instead, they devise evil and think their evil will not be discovered and hated. It is not wrong for us to oppose evil. The people who are wrong are the ones who do not hate evil and who criticize those who do hate it!

Note further: The people who object to sin being opposed are not the righteous people, but the evil people. The reason people don't want God and His people to oppose evil is that they themselves (or their loved ones) are practicing evil (v2). They don't want their evil to be opposed, so they can be free to continue to practice it without feeling guilty!

Just as God does not love everything, so Christians should not love everything. It is a question of what you love and what you hate. It is impossible to love two things that are complete opposites. The more you love truth and righteousness, the more you will find falsehood and evil to be repulsive. If your opposition to evil is growing weak, it must be because your love for truth is growing weak.

[Heb. 1:9 cf. with 1 Pet. 2:21 and Matt. 10:34ff; Job 42:6; Psa. 26:5; 101:3; 119:113; Prov. 13:5; 8:7; 29:27; Mic. 3:2]

III. Love for Sinners and Hatred for Evil Should Both Cause Us To Rebuke Sin.

Most can see that hating evil would lead to speaking against it. But some think that love for others would lead us to keep quiet about sin. In reality, love is just another reason why we should speak out against sin. Our hatred for sin and our love for sinners should both motivate Christians to speak against sin. Note the Bible teaching:

A. God's People Must Rebuke Sin.

Leviticus 19:17,18 - Love your neighbor as yourself, do not hate him. This love does not mean we should tolerate his sins. It means rebuke him, but don't seek personal vengeance. We are not seeking to hurt the person, we want to help him. Hate the sin, but love the sinner.

Proverbs 17:15 - He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord. People may want us to justify the wicked, but if we do, we are an abomination to the Lord. We must hate what God hates.

Mark 10:21,22 - Jesus told the rich young ruler that he needed to change if he wanted eternal life (v17). This is the very thing that people tell us we should not do, if we have the love of Christ. But Christ Himself often did it, and the reason given is that He loved the man!

Revelation 3:19 -Jesus said, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent."

It is true that we need to love like Jesus loved. But that love will not lead us to keep quiet about sin; it will lead us to rebuke sin in love like He did.

[Ephesians 4:15; 5:11; James 5:19,20; Prov. 27:5,6; 28:23; Jer. 23:16,17,21,22; 44:4; 2 Cor. 2:4; Ezek. 16:2]

B. In Some Cases God's People Must Even Chastise Sinners.

Revelation 3:19 - Jesus not only reproves those whom He loves, He also chastens them. We have seen that Christians too must reprove sin, but often chastening sin is the Lord's responsibility, not ours (Romans 12:17-21; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13). However, depending on our relationship to a person, sometimes it is our responsibility to chasten them.

Hebrews 12:5-11 - God reproves and chastens those whom He loves like a father chastens his son. This is an act of love because it is done for the child's good (v10). So, with our children, we must not just reprove their errors, but we must chastise them. Properly done, this too is an act of love, like the Lord's chastisement.

Proverbs 13:24 - He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly. Discipline of a child is an act of love because it molds a child's character, so when he is older he will live to please God.

2 Thessalonians 3:6,14,15 - Likewise when the church properly withdraws from members who sin and do not repent, we are not treating them like enemies (though some may think we are). We are hoping they will be ashamed, repent, be forgiven, and be saved. So here is another case that requires us to discipline sin, but this too is an act of love when properly done.

Matthew 10:34-37 - We must stand for what the Lord teaches even when the one in error is our dearest loved one. Sometimes in such cases, people think, "I just love him too much to rebuke or chastise him." But Jesus said we must love Him more than we love anyone else. So, love is not a reason to tolerate sin; rather, love for others and love for Jesus are reasons why we must oppose sin. To fail to oppose sin is a failure to love God and a failure to love the sinner! [Luke 14:26]

[Prov. 3:11,12; 2 Cor 7:12; Deut. 17:2-7; Ezekiel 13:22; 1 Samuel 3:13]

C. Often Opposition to Sin Is Not Appreciated and Is Even Mistaken for Hatred.

Our liberal society rebels against all forms of opposition to evil. They try to make godly people appear to be wrong if we speak against sin. They call us "hatemongers" and "homophobes," and now "Islamophobes." But, it has always been so.

1 Kings 22:8 - Ahab hated the prophet Micaiah because he prophesied evil against Ahab. Was the prophet wrong? No, God had sent him. The problem was that the king did not like to be told he was wrong!

Amos 5:15,10 - Again God says to hate evil and love good. If we do we will speak against evil, and sinners will often resent it. The real problem is not that it is wrong to rebuke error. The problem is that people often don't want to admit their error and change, so they try to make it appear that those who are rebuking them are wrong. It is a sophisticated form of "blame-shifting."

John 7:7 - Jesus said that the world cannot hate you (His brothers), but it hated Him because He testified that its works are evil. If, like Jesus' brothers, we don't stand for truth (v5), the world will have no problem with us. But if, like Jesus, we testify against evil, then people will object. That's why they killed Him. But if we are truly like Him, we will oppose sin like He did.

The real issue here is a matter of love. When people say we lack love, don't avoid the issue of love. Show them that the real issue is what should we love and what is a proper love. When sin is rebuked because we love truth and love the souls of those who sin, we have proper love. The person who objects is the one who has misplaced love.

[Galatians 4:16; Proverbs 9:8; 3:11; 1:7,30; 5:12; 12:1; 15:5,10,12; 29:27; Jer. 5:31; 2 Tim. 4:2-4; Matt. 10:22; Luke 16:13,14; John 3:19-21; 15:18,20,25; 17:14; 1 John 3:11-13]

Conclusion

Jude 20-23 - We should always act out of love according to God's word. If we don't, then God is not pleased (1 Cor 13:1-3). But when we love the sinner and we love truth, we will have mercy on the lost and try to snatch them from the fire, hating the stains of the flesh.

This is what it means to "hate the sin, but love the sinner." We love the soul of the one who did wrong so much that we want him to repent and do right, so we must oppose his sin. When we do this, there will always be people who object. But the reason they object is that sinners want to continue their sins without the embarrassment of being reproved. They are the ones who do not have a proper concept of Bible love.

Do you love the Lord and love the truth enough to repent and be forgiven of your sins? Do you love Him enough to help people around you learn the truth and change?

Note: If you would like to study further about related Bible topics, we have a number of other study materials on our web site that should interest you. Please see the links listed below.

(C) Copyright 1998, 2012, David E. Pratte
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Why So Much Religious Confusion and Disagreement?
Hatred, Hate Speech, Hate Crimes
The Importance of Bible Knowledge
How Many True Churches Are There?
What Does God Think about Denominationalism?

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