Q: Some teach that love requires that we consistently affirm and support (enable?) those who are living sinful lives. Where does one draw the line between enabling or disciplining the wayward person?
We would do well to begin with a few definitions. The first definition is that of a fool:
The wise of heart will receive commands, But a babbling fool will be ruined. 9 He who walks in integrity walks securely, But he who perverts his ways will be found out. 10 He who winks the eye causes trouble, And a babbling fool will be ruined. 11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. 12 Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions. 13 On the lips of the discerning, wisdom is found, But a rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding. 14 Wise men store up knowledge, But with the mouth of the foolish, ruin is at hand. (Prov. 10:8-14 NAU)
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, But he who hates reproof is stupid. (Prov. 12:1 NAU)
Leave the presence of a fool, Or you will not discern words of knowledge. 8 The wisdom of the sensible is to understand his way, But the foolishness of fools is deceit. 9 Fools mock at sin, But among the upright there is good will. (Prov. 14:7-9 NAU)
Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, Rather than a fool in his folly. 13 He who returns evil for good, Evil will not depart from his house. (Prov. 17:12-13 NAU)
Like snow in summer and like rain in harvest, So honor is not fitting for a fool. (Prov. 26:1 NAU)
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him. 5 Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes. 6 He cuts off his own feet and drinks violence Who sends a message by the hand of a fool. 7 Like the legs which are useless to the lame, So is a proverb in the mouth of fools. 8 Like one who binds a stone in a sling, So is he who gives honor to a fool. 9 Like a thorn which falls into the hand of a drunkard, So is a proverb in the mouth of fools. 10 Like an archer who wounds everyone, So is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by. 11 Like a dog that returns to its vomit Is a fool who repeats his folly. 12 Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Prov. 26:4-12 NAU)
Though you pound a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, Yet his foolishness will not depart from him. (Prov. 27:22 NAU)
A fool is one who takes pleasure in folly and sin. The fool hates wisdom. The fool is set in his (or her) ways and will not be corrected. The fool thinks himself to be wiser than others.
The first step in dealing with a wayward person is discerning their character. That’s one of the reasons the Book of Proverbs was written – to define character types such as the simple, the fool, the scoffer, the sluggard, and the wise. Each character type is to be dealt with in the light of their character. The fool (above) is not to be enabled, but rather is to be faced with the consequences of his (or her) folly. The one who fails to deal wisely with a fool actually shares in the outcome of the fool’s unbridled foolishness.
In my experience, the slothful and foolish person is often cunning and clever, and will take advantage of the fact that others (a wife, a child) may very well be impacted by their folly. And so, because of this, some are tempted to give the wayward sinner a pass, and even to “enable” them for the apparent good of the more vulnerable person in their care. (If I don’t give the fool the money they ask for, their children may go hungry.) A call to child protective services might be necessary in such cases, which would likely separate the vulnerable person(s) from the wayward one. Now the fool suffers the consequences of their sin without harming those who depend on them.
Let us now seek to discover a biblical definition of love:
Let love be without hypocrisy.
Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. (Rom. 12:9 NAU)
A righteous man hates falsehood,
But a wicked man acts disgustingly and shamefully. (Prov. 13:5 NAU)
He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. (Prov. 13:24 NAU)
Grievous punishment is for him who forsakes the way;
He who hates reproof will die. (Prov. 15:10 NAU)
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. 12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. (Heb. 12:7-13 NAU)
There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, 19 A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers. (Prov. 6:16-19 NAU)
Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (Prov. 27:6 NAU)
Biblical love will imitate God’s love (John 3:16-18). God’s love prompted Him to reach out to sinful men by the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those who acknowledge their sin and need of salvation, and who trust in the saving work of Jesus will be spared from judgment. It is also assumed that if one has died to sin and risen to new life in Christ their lives will no longer be lived in willful sin (Romans chapter 6).
The New Testament spells out how sin should be dealt with in the church, and with those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus:
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. 17 “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matt. 18:15-20 NAU)
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. (Gal. 6:1 NAU)
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. 2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. 3 For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:1-8 NAU)
Biblical love distinguishes between that which is good and that which is evil. Biblical love confronts evil, and does not endorse or enable it. Biblical love disciplines evil, rather than to reward it. Biblical love proclaims the gospel which liberates men from sin’s grip by pointing them to the freedom God offers us in Christ. The same Paul who penned 1 Corinthians 13 is the Paul who took on error in Galatians 1 and 2. Love abhors sin, and does not facilitate it.