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Can Tough Love Go Too Far?

Bill Milliken wrote a book entitled Tough Love in 1968. Milliken refers to tough love as an expression used when someone treats another person harshly or sternly with the intent to help them in the long run. While modern scholars point to Milliken as the originator of this term, the apostle Paul appears to have used a similar strategy in the first century. When I first read the passage below, my initial thought was that Paul went a little too far by handing a sinner over to Satan. Paul’s explanation for this punishment was to bring about repentance.

So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 5:4-5.

According to 1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth isn’t what we now know as 1 Corinthians. The purpose of this initial letter was to address a spiritual emergency. Based upon the beginning of chapter 5, a sex scandal reared it’s ugly head in the form of incest. Some Bible scholars have suggested that the tone of Paul’s initial letter to Corinth was so harsh and over the top with tough love that it was excluded from consideration from the Bible during the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.

Not [meaning of course that you must] altogether shun the immoral people of this world, or the greedy graspers and cheats and thieves or idolaters, since otherwise you would need to get out of the world and human society altogether! 11 But now I write to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of [Christian] brother if he is known to be guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater [whose soul is devoted to any object that usurps the place of God], or is a person with a foul tongue [railing, abusing, reviling, slandering], or is a drunkard or a swindler or a robber. [No] you must not so much as eat with such a person. 1 Corinthians 5:10-11.

After Paul’s anger cools off, parameters are set to avoid similar incidents from occurring within the church. Paul’s advice is centered around taking careful considerations about who you associate with. To avoid becoming like the Amish, Paul provides a series of guidelines for the friends that you make and keep. The goal isn’t to shun the world. Rather, Paul references Psalm 1:1 to highlight who you walk with, stand with and join. Maybe tough love can go too far, but when used to protect vulnerable souls from walking away from God, it is an effective tool to bring about repentance.

by Jay Mankus

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