True Love is Sometimes Tough Love

Based on: Matthew 18:15-20

When you think about love and what the Bible says about love, what parts of God’s Word come to mind?  For most people 1 Corinthians chapter 13 is the first thing they think of – “love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does no boast.”  After all, Paul, in very elegant and sublime prose, defines love.

But what about Matthew chapter 18?  It is also a chapter about love.  Read Matthew chapter 18 for yourself and tell me if you don’t think it is true.  In verses 15 to 20 of Matthew 18 Jesus tells us that sometimes true love is tough love.  But more about that later, first, a story!

I will share with you a story about Anastasia.  It is not a true story and I tried to pick a name that didn’t belong to anyone I knew.  So if you know anyone named Anastasia, I am not intentionally talking about her.  (That’s my disclaimer for today.)

Now, about Anastasia, she was born very healthy and without complications.  Her parents were happy to have this little girl and they gave her the name Anastasia because they thought it was a pretty name.  (I must admit that I think so too.)  They soon had her baptized and Anastasia was then a member of God’s family.  The members of the church her parents attended were happy to see her on a regular basis.

Her parents were excited to watch their little girl grow up.  They wanted only the best for her so they fed Anastasia food that was good for her to keep her body healthy, and they made sure she did her homework to keep her mind sharp.  As she continued to grow her parents watched her become more and more independent and when Anastasia said she was getting too old for Sunday School her parents reluctantly said, “OK.”

In high school Anastasia made many friends and enjoyed playing basketball and softball.  She made good grades and looked forward to attending an excellent college where she could study child psychology.  Her goal was to help children who didn’t have the opportunities she had. Near the end of her time at college Anastasia found Robert.  She fell in love with Robert and decided to move into the apartment he was renting.

At first she was uneasy about this.  She remembered her catechism class from several years ago where they learned that God says this is wrong.  A few friends from her past, one in particular, also told Anastasia that this wasn’t what God wanted for her life, but she wouldn’t listen; she was in love.  Besides most of her current friends – friends she made in college – seemed perfectly fine with her new living arrangement.  A few of her friends were doing the same thing.

Even though her church attendance had been declining ever since high school she still attended church a few times after moving in with Robert.  Eventually church seemed to lose all its importance to her and she stopped going.  Elders from the church came to talk to her and warn her that her soul was in danger, that by separating herself from God’s Word she was separating herself from God and His blessings.  Heaven and Hell were at stake.  She didn’t think things were that bad.  One day she received a letter stating that by her unrepentance she had removed herself from God’s kingdom and the church was trying to communicate the seriousness of her condition by removing her from membership in the church.

Anastasia soon started her career and was able to help kids in the school district where she worked.  It made her happy to help others and she received public recognition for the wonderful work she was doing.  Even as her career was starting successfully, her relationship with Robert was breaking up.  It seemed that he didn’t really love her the way she thought he did.

It took some time but then she found Barrett, and after a few years they were married. Anastasia’s career was doing well and Anastasia and Barrett began a family of their own.  Like most people Anastasia’s adult life had its ups and downs, but for the most part it was pretty good. 

Anastasia’s broken relationship with God, however, never seemed to be a priority.  She had friends who invited her to church, but she always politely declined. 

Her life went on and she continued to grow older.  Her father passed away and then her mother.  Eventually her husband also died.  She became unable to take care of herself and moved to a nursing home.  She had more time to think about her life and about the fact that death would one day take her also. 

One day she was sharing her concern about death to a friend she made in the nursing home.  This friend was named Grace.  Grace said, “You know, Anastasia, it sounds like you have ignored God for much of your life.  You have been concerned about your own desires instead of what God wants.  So, what do you expect God to do with you when you die?”

Those seemed like harsh words to Anastasia and she almost told Grace to go away, but she didn’t.  Anastasia realized the truth in these words.  All she could say was “you’re right” before the tears started to flow.

Grace could not watch a hurting soul without providing comfort.  Grace reminded Anastasia of her baptism and reminded her that Jesus suffered her punishment for her.  That day God worked in Anastasia a spiritual resurrection.  She was spiritually alive again.  Now Anastasia’s name was not only a pretty name, but a fitting name for her because it means “resurrection”.

Not long after that, Anastasia died and God took her to heaven.  She now enjoys a greater happiness than she ever knew on this earth.

As we look at Anastasia’s life we know that God loved her.    Not only did God bless her in her earthly life, but God died for her, taking on himself her sins just as he did for us.  But who else in Anastasia’s life showed her great love?  Certainly her family loved her, but even more than they, it was those people who wanted to see Anastasia in heaven – the friend who told her it was wrong to live with her boyfriend, the church who wanted her to be connected to God’s Word, and her nursing home friend Grace, whose name means “undeserved love”.  In their love for Anastasia, they were willing to say difficult things and even risk Anastasia’s rejection.  True love is sometimes tough love.

That is the love Jesus was talking about in Matthew 18 verses 15 to 20.  Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”  He wants Christians to watch out for each other.  If a fellow Christian is caught in a sin and is unwilling to ask forgiveness and turn from that sin then he has broken the fellowship that exists between believers and he has “sinned against you”.  Jesus says go and tell him.  If he will not listen to you bring one or two others and warn him again.  If he still will not turn back to God, tell the church.  If he rejects even the church then you tell him that he is no longer part of the church.  You are simply recognizing that he has already separated himself from the church.

The goal of all these steps is not to get rid of him.  He is  already doing that on his own.  Even though his name may be on the record books if he continues to resist God’s Word, he removes himself from God’s kingdom.  No, the goal of these steps is to bring him back into the church.  You want him to recognize that God is right, and he is wrong.

When that happens you have the wonderful privilege of saying those words that we all need to hear often, “Because Jesus died for your sins, you are forgiven.”

Right before this passage Jesus told about a shepherd with 100 sheep and one of them wanders off.  He loves each one of his sheep so much that he will go and look for the one lost sheep.

God also loves each one of his children and will go looking for them when they wander.  This is how he does it.  He surrounds us with Christian brothers and sisters who are willing to show their love for us by coming to us when we wander.  If I get caught in some sin, and I am unwilling to repent, I want you to come and confront me about it.  I may not be happy about it at the time.  I may argue and get upset and say some nasty things, and you may not know in this life the results of your actions, but when we are in heaven together I will come to you and say “thank you”.

This is all about love.  We love our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we don’t want them to be lost.  God loves us by surrounding us with loving Christians.  And when you read 1 Corinthians 13 or Matthew 18 or any other chapter of the Bible, you will see God’s love.  You will see that Jesus made all this possible for us on the cross where God carried out his perfect love for us.

Amen.

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