When I was a child, trouble found me with overwhelming frequency. I wouldn’t say I was mischievous but mischief found me. Nor would I suggest that I was, as my mother would say, “hardheaded”, but my curiosity and inquisitiveness often led to disobedience and disruption. The result… typically a good “whooping” from my parents. My father, without fail, would say, “I’m only doing this because I love you.” For a good portion of my childhood, I often wondered how so much pain could equate to love! Nonetheless, I was given a first-hand lesson (literally) in tough love. To make matters worse, my brother seemed to take great joy when he knew my mother was about to bring forth great wrath. Instead of comfort, I got laughs. Now to my parents defense, they were only operating according to their belief system, rooted in their understanding of a particular bible passage: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him (Prov.13:24).” And my parents spared no rods!
Then as I got older, when I developed a closer relationship with the trouble that would often find me, and I engaged in activities my father despised, his tough rods turned into harsh words. He would warn me of the destruction that lay ahead if my actions did not change. Often, however, because of the tone of his voice, and the viciousness of his words, I rejected his warnings. He would tell me, “You may not want to hear what I’m saying, but its the truth. Like it or not!” This was my first-hand lesson in hard truth.
Now as an adult, some will say my parents’ tough love and hard truths made me the man that I am. Sometimes, when I’m dealing with my children, I even give my parents’ actions some credit (typically when I’m telling them why I’m about to bring out some tough love and harsh truth, and how it has made me who I am). And again, much of my disciplinary actions, like my parents’ before me, is rooted in a certain understanding of a biblical principle of parental discipline.
As a pastor and aspiring scholar, I’ve wrestled thoroughly with some of the principles for living that are found in the Bible, and the ways to which we use them in our relationship with others. For centuries, Christians have discussed, debated, and discovered the differences we have in our understanding of these sacred, antiquated writings. We have also declared, with much conviction, how our varied understandings should be applied to others, adamant that God also feels the way we do. It is this conviction that prompts us to often apply tough love and hard truths to others. Have we taken the position of parent in our relationship with others when when we decide to share our tough love and hard truths to others? Quite possibly. We often give rebuke to one another as if we are without similar faults in need of rebuke. Our vehemency when addressing the morality, or lack thereof, of others is more parental in nature and less brotherly/sisterly. How much more will our brothers and sisters receive from us when we extend grace and gentleness? (Galatians 6:1)
One of the most disturbing things about our discourse toward one another is our proclivity to insist on “telling it like it is” regarding how we feel others should or should not live. We often engage others with little to no disregard for their feelings, beliefs, or psychological fortitude. Did Jesus often use tough language in his dealings with the religious leaders of his time? Absolutely. Did he have some harsh truths for individuals he encountered? Certainly. Does that give us rights to do so as well? I don’t think so. Jesus as our model means we should be gracious enough to know all of the details about each other when we feel its necessary to speak and act when dealing with one another. Do we know others thoughts? Beliefs? More than likely, the answer is no. This suggests our dealings with one another should model Jesus instructions in Mark 12:30-31, “…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The prophet Micah asks the question, “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) The question suggests a human responsibility in eliminating unjust treatment and actions, a loving attitude toward one another through kindness, and an intentional walk with God for personal edification. Of these three actions, doing justice may create some discussion to how this should be carried out. What is apparent, however, regardless to how we decide to do justice, our love for kindness and our humble walk with God should accompany this action.
The Bible is sprinkled with different approaches to engaging each other regarding our disagreements on our moral responsibility. It is often easier to recognize the sins of others and deliver hard truth to correct them. Hebrews 12:5-6, building on Proverbs 3:11-12, suggests it is the LORD who disciplines or gives correction, as a father, like mine, disciplines his son. God doesn’t need our help in that area. Its not our job to highlight who needs discipline or to retrieve the proverbial rod for God in order to expedite God’s discipline of one another. We are to offer correction and rebuke where needed, but graciously. Our job is simple: Make sure we have a hug and teddy bear available to comfort little brother or big sister when the discipline is over.