Here’s some attractive, fast food spirituality for the masses.
Love—who could argue with it? The Bible tells us that without it, we’re nothing (1 Cor. 13:2). But Paul says, “This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment” (Phil. 1:9). This call to love with knowledge means considering how love ought to look and be expressed in every situation. It doesn’t always mean a simple, sentimental response. In fact, love without discernment is foolish and ultimately becomes destructive to the recipient.
Let’s take a knee and get reflective. What is love? From the sounds of the meme, love is about caring. Since there’s no further qualification offered here, that indicates it should never be tough. Love won’t tell people to be accountable or to accept responsibility. According to the meme, love doesn’t judge people, either. That means no uncomfortable words, no painful honesty, and no hard reality.
Most people won’t go as far as I do with this reasoning, but remember, this meme isn’t built for reflection or deep thoughts about consequences. It’s only supposed to create a knee-jerk reaction. And that’s exactly what we’re left with after this bit of shorthand theology.
Anybody with a modicum of common sense will know that love needs context. Take the time to plug the appeals of care and non-judgment back into their original verses and the original verses back into their chapters and books. What emerges will be a fully-orbed reality, not snappy one-liners.
First, a word of affirmation for the meme: Does love mean taking care of people? Yes. As Christians, we ought to allow our faith to intersect humanitarian concerns. Think of Luke chapter 10 with the Good Samaritan. The story functions as an example for all of us whose hearts are paralyzed by selfishness and misunderstood religion. Then add Matthew 25, where the hungry and persecuted and deprived ought to receive help. Check out “Remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10), which was part of the apostolic injunction Paul was given.
But then take a look at Paul’s command that “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thes. 3:10). Did the apostle run afoul of love? More importantly, did the Holy Spirit who inspired his writing? The answer is no, on both counts. Love doesn’t always rescue people or relieve them of their responsibilities. Many a healthy adult has been hobbled through such good intentions—in essence rendered them incapable of being independent.
Unwise care can become toxic. Parents experience this when in the name of affection they don’t discipline their children. They figure Junior probably just needs a hug. Besides, he’s so cute. Someone needs to make his bed and do his homework for him. Yet without consistent boundaries, restraint, accountability, or discipline, he’ll fail in society.
Things like school, marriage, work, and community will become disasters. That’s a grave disservice. Proverbs says, “He who spares the rod hates his son” (Pr. 13:24). By all means show your love through affection and aid. If you really want to show your love, don’t forget wisdom and discipline.
The meme’s next message tells us not to judge. That’s right. Jesus said, “Do not judge” (Matt. 7:1). This reminds us that we can’t know the in-depth hidden situations of the people we’re around. When we pass judgments on invisible things like motives, we’ll almost always be wrong. The tiny things we presume to detect in others, like a splinter in their eye, are projections of a much larger beam in our own eye.
But the shorthand meme version of “Do not judge” comes with no qualifications whatsoever and forbids any kind of judgment regardless of the circumstances. Sorry, but that’s crazy. Try telling your kids not to exercise any moral judgment in selecting friends or role models. That’s a shortcut to the juvenile home or jail or worse. If Jesus meant no judgment at all, He Himself was in violation of this very command just a few verses later when he said “Do not give what is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn and tear you in pieces” (Matt. 7:6).
This metaphorically refers to not offering precious spiritual things to those who are contrary, combative, and abusive. “Right,” we say back. “But Jesus does that. Not us.” Wrong. In this case He is telling us not to cast our pearls before swine, which means we must exercise some level of judgment too.
Later, we find Paul rebuking the church in Corinth and saying, “Is there not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” (1 Cor. 6:5). The church was falling into the worst sort of relational friction because Christians there had abdicated their responsibility to pronounce certain things right or wrong. In the same church, sexual immorality had also begun to break out. This caused Paul to rally the church in judgment upon the man involved.
Why? —Because the man in question obviously thought his sin was okay, normal. Nobody was brave enough to call him out and so he was headed to destruction. Judgment was to occur so “that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). In both cases too much was at stake to ignore.
The church was in danger of falling apart. A man’s spiritual future was in jeopardy. Only confrontation would remedy either of them. You can talk about not judging all you want, but in these emergency situations, refusal to judge simply sounds like selfish cowardice. Where’s the love in that?
No, Jesus of the meme, you did not stutter.