“I love you, but…”
How many times have you heard a Christian initiate a hard conversation with this line? How many times have you, with probably awesome intentions, said these words as you nervously began to talk with one of your unbelieving friends about their sin and need for Jesus?
- “I love you, but I can’t support you living this lifestyle.”
- “I love you, but God says what you’re doing is wrong.”
- “I love you, but you’re going to go to hell if you don’t repent and trust in Jesus.”
When you decided to click and read this blog post, you may have suspected I was going to spend the next couple of minutes crucifying those “hypocritical, unloving, religious” Christians. You know, the ones who allegedly contradict their profession of love by following it up with accusations of “sin” or warnings of eternal damnation. You might have thought I was going to harp about how inconsistent and borderline hateful it is to tell someone you love them, and then tell them that if they don’t adhere to your Christian beliefs, they’re going to go to hell.
That’s not what I’m here to do, though.
A lot of people think it’s unloving for Christians to tell people they need to turn away from their sin and to Jesus, but I believe that line of thinking is all kinds of crooked. If I think that the trajectory of my friend’s life is headed toward an eternity of suffering under God’s wrath, the most loving thing I can do is gently warn him of his error. If I truly believe, with all of my heart, that my friend’s unbelief and rebellion is going to utterly destroy him, then it is an act of the highest love to humbly – with tears – expose his sin to him and persuade him to forsake it and cling to Jesus!
“So what’s the problem then, Matt? Why are you writing this blog saying we need to stop saying ‘I love you, but…’ if you think it’s loving to be honest with our convictions?”
I’m writing this blog because I hate that hideous little word “but” that we use as a segue into our presentation of God’s truth and gospel. The word “but” is a conjunction that negates or cancels whatever comes before it. When we say, “I love you, but…”, what we are communicating (whether we intend to or not) is that whatever comes out of our mouth next is in some way going to oppose or diminish our profession of love.
Does sharing God’s truth – even the sharper and more difficult parts of it – with someone we love invalidate our love for that person? Is being honest about our biblical convictions (which apply not only to us, but to everyone) unloving? No, no at all! The entire reason we muster up the emotional strength to have these difficult conversations is because we love our friends. So my recommendation is that we drop the “but” from this sentence and insert an “and because I love you” in its place.
- “I love you, and because I love you I can’t support you living this lifestyle.”
- “I love you, and because I love you I must tell you God says what you’re doing is wrong.”
- “I love you, and because I love you I have to tell you that you will go to hell if you don’t repent and believe in Jesus.”
Wanting to help our friends see their sin and need for Jesus is not an act of hatred or bigotry, but utter selflessness. It would be so much easier to remain silent and avoid a potentially confrontational conversation . . . so much easier. However, because we love God and our lost friends deeply, we speak up about hard things as the Spirit leads us. Gently sharing gospel truth isn’t in opposition to our love for others, but an expression of our love for others. So let’s communicate this in our language when we prayerfully approach our friends about their need for repentance and faith in Jesus. Let’s drop that ugly “but” and make sure we emphasize – both in our own hearts and to our friends – that it is actually our love for them that propels us to speak these hard things.