Tough Love and Biblical Compassion


A friend’s twenty-year-old daughter has made a series of terrible choices. Always headstrong, she began sneaking out of their Christian home in her early teens. First pregnant at fifteen, she’s now carrying her third child. All three children share the same father, but she divorced from, was jailed because of, and now lives with this absentee father. While in jail she swore she’d change her ways, but now it’s back to business as usual, depending on extended family to support her ex-husband, herself, and their children. Should the family temporarily cut her off and force real-world consequences for her actions, or allow her to keep using them? I have a forty-year old cousin who still depends on family for money, when he’s not in jail. I wish someone had shown him “tough-love”. How does one Biblically define “compassion” for souls so thirsty that they simply drink from anyone nearby?


A Concerned Friend

Dear Friend,

I have a relative I wish had been shown tough love, too. Maybe she wouldn’t be pregnant out of wedlock and living with her boyfriend’s family if someone had taught her early on she can’t go through life screaming and manipulating people until she gets her own way.

You hit on part of the problem, in our culture, love has gotten misunderstood. People define love as a biological process, physical attraction, and a blind acceptance that denies the reality of sin, offering a compassion that tends to a person’s physical needs, completely indifferent to their spiritual condition, or worse, patting them on the head and telling them it’s okay, come as you are–and stay as you are. But Christ didn’t die so we could stay enslaved to sin and go to Heaven anyway. He didn’t die to merely wipe out the law so we could do whatever the heck we want. He died so we could be forgiven for our sins–and set free from sin.

Many today don’t want to deal with this, but the fact is, something is required of us–repentance. That simply means we have to decide we don’t like sin and we want to be free from it, rather than we like sin and we want someone to pay the penalty of it so we can go on sinning and not suffer the consequences. Persons who teach the latter heap damnation to themselves and all who follow them, as you cannot have Christ as Savior without Christ as Lord. Without Christ, it is impossible for man not to sin, apart from him, we can do nothing, but we can do all things in Christ, who strengthens us, and He who began this good work in us, shall carry it on to completion, in the very day of His return, amen. So let us eagerly run the race, not as one who has already apprehended, but trusting Him to do in us what we could do alone.

To put it another way, Christ died to set us free from sin, not to free us to sin.

With that established, the first job of a parent, then, is to bring their child to the place where they decide, not that they want someone to take the dive for them so they can keep on as they are without consequence, but that they want someone to pay the price for their freedom. The compassion we show them should reflect the later reality. If we show them a compassion that implies they can walk all over Jesus the same way they do us, we are doing them a disservice that will leave them to an eternity in Hell, as whether you will let yourself be mocked or not, God made clear in His word He most certainly will not.

So what is compassion? Love. I’m sure you know the list, “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it is not rude, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It rejoices not in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

A hard list, indeed. Love them no matter what they do, but love, true love, does not lie. It does not offer the false hope of rejoicing in–or accepting–the evil in their lives. And it certainly does not enable them to continue sinning. That is the first question to ask yourself before reaching out to tend a physical need. Will your action draw this person closer to the Lord and bring them to repentance, or will they take your gift and use it to keep on rebelling against the Lord? If you know the later to be the case with any reasonable certitude, the only truly compassionate thing to do is to not reach out and relieve their physical pain–lest you interfere with God’s efforts to draw them back to Him and by your actions end up leaving them to the pain of eternity separated from God.

In this case in particular, you need to consider the welfare of her children, their grandchildren. This does not sound like a particularly healthy environment for them. No doubt she would hate them all the more, but they should pray about whether they should intervene in those children’s lives and take steps to take them out of a bad situation. In short, I’d recommend, if at all feasible, the daughter and hubby leave–the children stay. Those babies should not have to suffer for their mother’s sins–yet in this world, as scripture observes, so many do suffer, until even the fourth generation. Love them, and their mother–but don’t enable her to keep on sinning and inevitably hurting her children in the process. Our relatives certainly won’t feel loved when we stop enabling them, but love is far more than a warm fuzzy feeling. Our Lord Jesus Christ didn’t submit to the cross just so we could continue in sin, and neither should we place temporary comfort over eternity.

Love in Christ,