A friend of mine criticizes people, a lot like Jesus did. He tells people that they’re sinning bad and tells them to shape up. Like Jesus told that lady getting water, the dudes stealing people’s tax money, and the self-righteous pastors.
But some people won’t talk to my friend any more. They call him judgmental. I tried to reason with him to be more compassionate, but I had to admit that even Jesus gave a lot of tough love.
A couple nights later a different friend of mine called me up, ashamed of himself, and told me he had really messed up. We had been friends for a while and I said I’d be over as soon as he had time the next day. I texted him that night as well as the next day trying to encourage him. I drove half an hour to his house, brought him dinner and hugged him at the door.
As we ate at his table and talked about our struggles, I realized this, here, now, is a warranted time for tough love. He knew I loved him. I had earned it. So I told him, “Man, you know that type of girl is not good for you. I think you need to tell her you can’t talk to her anymore. Do it quickly and make it final.”
Jesus did call a lot of people bad sinners, and in isolation that sounds really mean. But often he showed them that he really loved them in the same interaction. Basically he earned the right to speak hard truth to them. He healed a man with leprosy, rescued a woman from being killed by angry pastors, rescued a tax agent out of a rancid reputation, and gave living water to the woman who was thirsty. He showed them he loved them and maybe that’s why he could tell them to go and sin no more.
So if we plan on dishing out some tough love, and help a brother defeat a sin, we had better earn it first. Give to them, cry with them, feed them, love them. And when they are certain that we love them even at their worst, they will know it’s not out of judgment when we say, “to be honest man, I think you messed up. If I could say so, here’s what I think we need to do. . .”