Matthew 7:1-5 NRSV
[Jesus said to them] “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgment you give will be the judgment you get, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye
Our last half-truth is so common that I have said it myself before, and I would not be surprised if most of us have said it at some point or another. After all, “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” sounds like it should be genuine and Biblical, so what could possibly be false about it? Like pretty much all of our half-truths, this one is not said with ill intent, instead, we often say it to try to express care for our fellow human beings. However, like all of the others, it is not exactly found in scripture. We are told to love, but it is not the sinner that we are to love but our neighbor. When we say love the sinner, where is the focus? Is it our commonality with the other person or on finding out what they’ve done wrong, what makes them a sinner? In other words, does this half-truth have us all wandering around meticulously searching another’s eye for the smallest possible splinter rather than seeing if we can catch a glimpse of that seal, the one that is on all of our persons, the one that reads, “Child of God”? It is hard to hate another’s sin without harming the sinner, our neighbor.
We’ve talked about this before, but I think it bears repeating: what is the scriptural definition of sin? Both the Hebrew and Greek languages have a word that is translated as sin, in the former it is chata, and in the latter hamartia. Both have the same essential meaning: “‘to stray from the path’ or ‘to miss the mark.’” In each case, the path or the mark is God’s intention or will for us, and our sin is either intentionally or unintentionally straying from God in what we think, say, and do or do not think, say, or do. As Christians, we acknowledge “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NRSV). We all have deviated from this path, this mark, in our lives as none of us are perfect, and if we were, well, we wouldn’t be in church because God’s grace would not be necessary for us. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we have all done what we shouldn’t and failed to do what we should.
Yes, we’ve all sinned, so why doesn’t the Bible simply say to us, “Love the Sinner”? After all, the scripture does say that God certainly loves sinners, as Paul states in Romans, “But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 CEB). First, though, let’s bring up what the Bible does say, and that is we are to “love our neighbor.” This is straight from Jesus, so why did Christ tell us to love our neighbor even though God acknowledges us all as sinners and loves us anyway? I think it all comes down to those verses from Matthew today. You’ll notice that it starts off talking about judgment and measures, and how we are not to apply them casually, and yet, what is the impact of calling another person a sinner? Let me put it another way. What if I told you that one of the announcement slides this morning had a mistake on it and that this same slide would be there next week too? Tell me, how many of you would start scrutinizing those slides just a bit harder to spot the error? The same is true of calling someone a sinner. Like spotting the error or rubbernecking at the site of a car accident, we want the scoop, the details - no matter how gory - to satisfy our curiosity. We want to know what makes our neighbor a sinner.
What happens once we know? We start to judge. Like the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:10-14, we stand back like the Pharisee and say, “‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector’” (CEB). We start to apply that measure and that judgment while standing back in our self-righteousness. Jesus’ response to our tendency is to say, “Watch out! How you judge others is how you will be judged!” Looking for sins in others keeps us from looking at our own selves and lives for the sin that lurks there. That’s our responsibility after all, not to point out all the splinters in everyone else’s eyes, but instead, this mention of sin is for us to examine our own lives and find those intentional and unintentional ways we have missed the mark, strayed from the path. We find those places where we could use a bit more love and a lot more grace to bring us back.
Our relationships with others are defined by the fact that they are our neighbors. They are the people we meet every day, the ones we will never meet, and even our enemies. What is our obligation to them? Is it to find their splinters, name their sins? Not at all! Instead, Jesus defines our obligation, our duty in that relationship, and that is to love them. This is not about warm feelings or liking our enemies or other people, it is about seeking their good and blessing them. Paul in Romans states it this way, “Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them.” (Romans 12:13-14 CEB). Nowhere does it say that it is our responsibility to point out another’s sins, instead, worry about your own log and get to blessing others. That’s the struggle in a nutshell, we are not called to “Love the Sinner” by Christ, we are called to “‘Love your neighbor despite the fact that you are a sinner.’” We are not called to judgment but to love because that is what God showed us, love instead of judgment.
“Love the Sinner” presents many difficulties, but I think it is the second part, “Hate the Sin” that causes the most problems for us today. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard Christians say, “I cannot associate with those sinners.” I have heard Christians say this about specific cities, certain schools, parts of town, or even certain people. I am mystified by this because Jesus, who we claim to follow, walked and talked and spent time with sinners. He hung out with “drunkards, prostitutes, thieves, the occasional adulterer, traitors to their own people, and countless others who undoubtedly had impure thoughts, cheated on their taxes, and committed a variety of crimes.” He did all this without ever saying, “I hate your sin.” In fact, when he was confronted by these people, he ate with them, blessed them, healed them, and even made some of them his followers. When he spoke to them, he didn’t list out their sins and judge them, instead, he offered them forgiveness and grace. He restored them to the community when the religious people he was with would have preferred the riff-raff to stay out on the margins.
In fact, if Jesus ever gets judgmental, it's of the religious folks who would rather focus on the other’s sin than their shared humanity. Look again at Matthew 7, what word does he use to describe those who judge and apply measures to others? Jesus calls them “hypocrites.” This remains one of the top reasons that people cite for not going to church today, our hypocrisy. I have never heard someone say, “Well, I don’t go to church because the church isn’t doing enough about all these sinners.” It is instead that we give a good speech about love and grace and then end up being the most judgmental people when we should be the most gracious. We get hot and bothered by everyone else’s perceived sin rather than being a source of goodness and blessing. After all, that’s the thing. If you think a particular place is filled with sin, should we stay away or should we be the first ones diving in to deliver goodness and blessings to all we encounter? If you think someone is sinful, should you drive them away from the church or should they be the first ones you invite to sit next to you in the pew, the first ones you visit in the hospital, and the first ones you think of when the church considers how they can do good?
If the Bible says anything about hating sin, it is probably in Romans 12:9 where Paul says, “Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good” (CEB). Notice though, that Paul is not talking about your neighbor but about you. He is reminding all of us, to pursue good in our lives and run from the evil that lurks in our own hearts, in our very selves. Pastor Adam Hamilton, in his chapter on this half-truth, shares a story once told by Billy Graham’s eldest daughter, Gigi. She related how she and her father went to “Time magazine’s seventy-fifth anniversary party” in Washington, DC. There President Bill Clinton spoke at the event, just after he had been impeached for “perjury and obstruction of justice.” At that party, Billy Graham sat and spoke with Bill and Hillary, warmly and graciously, not bothering to mention Bill’s sins. Afterward, as Gigi and her father headed home, they spoke about the two, and Gigi said her father’s comment was, “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict; it’s God’s job to judge; and it’s our job to love.”
Should we care about sin? Of course, we should. We have a duty to denounce the “sins that harm, oppress, or do evil to others.” Indifference, abuse, injustice, sexual slavery, and starvation (to name a few) all remain alive and well if we do not resist them. However, our call is clear. How do we resist evil? How do we resist sin? Paul gives a clue in that same letter to the Romans in chapter 12, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. [...] Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.” Our job is not to convict others of their sin, that’s God’s job, ours is to love and to love well. After all, that’s where today’s half-truth should have ended, “Love.” Amen.
 Adam Hamilton, Half-Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016),143.
 Sandra Chambers, “Billy Graham: A Faithful Witness,” CharismaNews, November 7, 2013. http://www.charismanews.com.us/41684-billy-graham-a-faithful-witness?showall=1.
 Hamilton 2016, 159.
Pastor Paul Grossman