In his epic ode to love, Paul the apostle declared, "Love is patient, love is kind" (1 Cor. 13:4). Good words for today, when gentleness is such a rare quality in relationships. Unfortunately, our desire to be patient and kind can also lead to passivity when a loved one begins to fall into sin. While it might seem loving to step lightly and speak softly when a loved one begins a pattern of wrongdoing, nothing could be more dangerous to a relationship. Here's why:
Passivity Camouflages a Trap
Passivity allows a wayward loved one to gradually and comfortably enter Satan’s trap. An old folk legend claims that a frog dropped into a kettle of boiling water will immediately recognize the danger to his life and waste no time leaping out. However, a frog placed in a kettle at room temperature will happily continue to bask as the water is slowly heated, even to the point of boiling. The legend has become a standard illustration for the mortal danger of gradual change.
Sin is a trap that hypnotizes its victim into thinking that all is well. Convinced that the first transgression caused no harm, the wayward one rationalizes his or her decision. Meanwhile, Satan works overtime to insulate his prey from reality and to provide an opportunity to take sin a step further. Gradually, “bad” behavior seems less and less bad until the person becomes capable of astounding evil with little or no feelings of remorse. It’s not uncommon for a deluded sinner to become convinced that others are ultimately responsible for his or her sin and, in many cases, that the destructive behavior is actually good!
A wayward loved one needs, more than anything, a shocking dose of reality.
Whereas truth frustrates this gradual twisting of the mind, passivity allows Satan greater opportunity to isolate and deceive his prey. A wayward loved one needs, more than anything, a shocking dose of reality. The most loving response is to turn up the heat so that he or she will sense the danger and escape Satan's trap.
Passivity Reinforces Sinful Behavior
Passivity reinforces the false promise of sin that we can do whatever we want without suffering negative consequences.
As Eve gazed at the forbidden fruit hanging within easy reach, she saw that it was “good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes” (Gen. 3:6). A serpent saw her longing gaze and moved a little closer. “You surely will not die!” (v. 4). His words contradicted her Creator’s stern warning; nevertheless, she and her husband swallowed Satan’s poisonous lie. And from that moment on, nothing would ever be the same. Within hours, the couple stood trembling as God explained how they would experience the consequences of disobedience. “Death” would not come immediately. Worse, death would painfully distort all of creation; death would come with sudden, unexpected certainty; and death would carry the soul to yet another kind of death, an eternal death too horrific to describe.
Imagine if, instead, God had remained passive and silent. At lunchtime the following day, Adam and Eve return to the forbidden tree to find the serpent lounging in its branches, wearing a contented smile. “See? What did I tell you? There you stand, quite alive! Take off that silly fig leaf underwear and have another delicious meal—on me.”
Fortunately, the Lord didn’t remain passive. Moved by love, He confronted Adam and Eve, opened their eyes to the consequences of their disobedience, and then cast them out of the Garden to make repeated sin more difficult (Gen. 3:22–24). His righteous anger reaffirmed His earlier warning that eternal life and disobedience cannot coexist. Sin leads to death. It’s a fundamental law of the universe that’s as predictable and as certain as gravity.
Remaining passive while someone balances precariously on the edge of skyscraper is not love. A wayward loved one needs intervention, not the casual affirmation of a passive response to sin.
Passivity Allows Sin to Harm Others
Passivity allows the destructive consequences of sin to devastate the innocent. Sin is a fire that destroys everything it touches. Substance abuse, rage, violence, sexual immorality, abandonment, neglect—any sin that burns out of control affects everyone, especially children. And a passive response to unrepentant sin is like standing idle while an arson sets fire to the people we love.
Passivity Undermines Respect
Passivity undermines a crucial element of any healthy relationship: respect. In his book Love Must Be Tough, Dr. James Dobson warns that nothing destroys a romantic relationship quicker than passivity and appeasement. On the other hand,
"Successful marriages usually rest on a foundation of accountability between husbands and wives. They reinforce responsible behavior in one another by a divinely inspired system of checks and balances. In its absence, one party may gravitate toward abuse, insult, accusation, and ridicule of the other, while his or her victim placidly wipes away the tears and mutters with a smile, 'Thanks, I needed that!'"1
Love That Is Tough
Unlike passivity, a proactive response to unrepentant sin reflects the character of God. He is relentlessly loving yet utterly uncompromising when it comes to behavior that undermines our relationship. Similarly, our loving response to sin must come from a place of strength, and sometimes, love must take strong, decisive, even aggressive action.
Tough love need not be harsh or mean-spirited. It can be gentle in tone or sharp with anger, whichever is needed to break through the hypnotic self-delusion that usually accompanies habitual sin. Regardless, tough love requires courage.
We may have to endure a period of time when our loved one doesn't like us very much.
Paul's ode to love declares that our selfless care for another "does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor. 13:6). That means we may have to endure a period of time when our loved one doesn't like us very much. But if we cling to the truth of God's Word, and steadfastly reject destructive behavior, and with unwavering devotion call our wayward loved one to turn from wrongdoing, we offer our loved one a compelling reason to escape the trap of sin, and a chance to experience love as God intended it: love that "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:7).
Click here to learn why a passive response to a "walkaway spouse" does more harm than good.
1 James Dobson, Love Must Be Tough: New Hope for Families in Crisis (Dallas: Word, 1996), 19.