The Silent Sin That Kills Christian Love

The Silent Sin That Kills Christian Love

Perhaps the test of faithfulness in a day of moral degradation will be our love for people across chasms of difference. The way of the cross rejects the path of sneers and jeers, whether in the form of elite condescension or populist passion.

One of my biggest tasks as a pastor right now is to challenge my people and keep them from contempt.

That’s what a pastor told me earlier this year, a man serving his church faithfully in the Deep South. He loves Jesus and he loves his congregation, and that’s why he’s on guard these days against something he called the “silent spiritual killer”—a sin that hinders Christian witness and destroys Christian love.

It’s the sin of contempt, of looking at the person across the aisle from you and thinking, The world would be better without you in it. It’s more than disagreement; it’s disgust, rooted in the inability to see the image of God in your opponent. It’s the attitude Jesus warned about in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21–22).

Power of Contempt

Why is contempt a big deal right now? Because it’s lucrative. It works.

In politics, being united by disdain and contempt for the other side is what mobilizes your own. An inspiring vision is one way of rallying a base, yes, but a much faster and easier approach is to unite around a common despising of the other side. And culturally these days, with tribal forces at work, going public with contemptuous words toward the opposition is how you prove your purity and loyalty.

John Newton warned about this attitude hundreds of years ago: “Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.”

Everywhere we turn we find avenues for inflaming that self-righteous spirit. Contempt for MAGA or for the woke, the “forty-nine percent” or the “basket of deplorables”—politicians frequently resort to sneering disdain as a sign of their ideological purity. Cable news channels feed the beast with segments designed to attract eyeballs and lead to outrage.

The Church in an Age of Contempt

The church isn’t immune to these cultural forces. Like it or not, we live in a world where contempt is excused or sometimes expected. Even worse, sometimes church leaders are tempted to justify or further inflame feelings of contempt as a strategy for showing the congregation they’re on the right side. As long as it’s clear who you’re supposed to love and who you’re supposed to hate, everything goes smoothly.

But contempt is the silent killer of Christian charity. It has no place in the heart of a follower of Jesus. It kills the passion of seeing others converted and replaces evangelistic zeal with the quest for zero-sum victories, smackdowns, and “destroying”—such that the zealousness to win over someone becomes the zealousness to win.

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