The Grace of Tough Love


Love has many facets, and even more definitions – depending on who you are listening to. And these perceptions can mean the difference between life and death to a person that you are dealing with.

God is love, and all His actions express His love, as He cannot deny Himself. Whatever God does, is done in love.

As we follow Jesus through the gospels, we see Him expressing the Father’s heart in what He does and says. It wasn’t always pleasant, but it was always inspired by love.

Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. John 5:19

Jesus turning over the tables of the merchants in the temple might be hard to interpret as love, but He drew their attention to a forgotten truth. It is also hard to see God’s love when Jesus called the Pharisees a brood of vipers and children of the devil, but considering how their teachings lured people away from the truth, His love can be seen shining through His anger.

Jesus knew something about hell that most modern Christians don’t even like to think about, and that helps to understand some of His interactions with the people of His day. After almost thirty years in ministry that brought me to many countries and cultures, I have found that love is severely misunderstood by modern Christians. Political correctness found its way into the church and now there is an established belief that love avoids confrontation, approves of risky behaviour and is never angry. It is especially so with parents dealing with their children.

The question we need to ask ourselves, is “How will my interactions influence this person to receive the truth that sets them free?” You don’t want to see your worst enemy go to hell; the horror and hopelessness of eternity without God is not something to be pushed aside.

The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 4:15, encourages us to speak the truth in love, and this is where many misconceptions begin. We always consider the impact of our words with eternity in mind. True love always keeps the end of your words and actions in mind: if you really care about that person, you will want to see them discover the truth that sets them free, and find eternal life in the end. True love looks beyond the discomfort of the present moment to see the bigger picture.

James, the pastor of the first church in Jerusalem, said this:

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20

This is the God-kind of love in action!

Consider also how Paul taught Timothy and Titus, young ministers that he mentored:

Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. 1 Timothy 5:20

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:2

One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith… Titus 1:12-13

Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you. Titus 2:15

The above verses sound cold and sharp, yet these verses come from the heart of the man who also wrote the love chapter – 1 Corinthians 13.

While love softens the heart, it is truth that sets man free:

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:31-32

Jesus once walked into the synagogue on a sabbath day, and found a man with a withered hand there. Since it was the sabbath, and there were Pharisees present, He would not be allowed to heal him as it was considered work. Look at how Jesus’ love – while He was angry – responded to this tense situation:

And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Mark 3:3-5

The affirmation of bad behaviour is not love

Avoiding confrontation is not necessarily love

Anger does not cancel love

Love does not always agree with everything

It is not love to look the other way

Tough love is not unfriendly, or angry, but it may be stern at times. A judgmental attitude does more harm than good, and legalism is unattractive.

True love is not for the weak; it takes strength and conviction to look past present comforts and work towards a glorious end.

There is no doubt that we live in the last days. This is not the time to comfort the feelings of people that are heading towards eternal destruction, but to reach out in love to rescue them. Nobody likes to be corrected, or to hear that they are wrong, but the Holy Spirit, also known as the Spirit of truth, knows how to open eyes and convict hearts.

Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. John 16:7-13

The disciples of old, even Jesus Himself, were hated for the truth that they spoke, and were put to death. There is an inborn hatred for the truth in the world, and the closer we get to the end, the more vicious it becomes. The temptation to colour the truth, or back away from it, can be very real. That is why we die to ourselves when we submit our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tough love is motivated by the grace of God, because it is not the will of God that any should perish. To save them comes at a price.

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