by J. Grant Swank, Jr.
Tough love is a popular term these days. Yet few understand it.
It is difficult to understand tough love because we live in a mush love society. This likewise influences the Christian perception of love as presented in the Bible.
Yet tough love is as old as God. It was evident throughout the Old Testament when God tough-loved the Israelis every time they spiritually rebelled. God got angry with them. He threatened them. He scolded them. He called out prophets to scale them down.
Why? How does one reckon all this with a God who is love?
Easy. He used His tough love so not to lose the Israelis to hell. God tough-loved them into shock in hopes of retrieving their eternal souls.
The same is evident in the personality and ministry of Jesus Christ. He told His followers to love their enemies. Then Jesus proceeded to castigate bluntly His own enemies: the religious elite of His day known as the Pharisees.
Jesus told these religious hypocrites that they were a bag of snakes, whitewashed graves, and were of their father the Devil. That is straight talk, not usually used by religionists today. Yet it is the language of Jesus Christ to human beings.
Jesus: the Truth
How then could one reckon Jesus to be the embodiment of divine love when He so pointedly exposed the charades of religious fakes all around Him? It was because Jesus l) knew them to be His enemies, 2) was determined to love His enemies, 3) and so loved them by attempting to shock them out of their spiritual stubbornness. He knew anything less simply would not work.
What kind of reputable divine love would Jesus have shown if He had coddled the Pharisees, played up to them, tried to win them over with political gimmickry or psychological game-playing?
Jesus could have nothing to do with any of that nonsense, for Jesus was Truth. Truth could not compromise itself by playing out anything but sheer honesty.
Today if a spiritual leader were to attempt Jesus’ communication style, he would be voted out of his pulpit and scolded by the hierarchy for not having a pastor’s heart. His emotional state would be questioned. His mental state would be under scrutiny. And his paycheck would be in jeopardy — in short order.
The reason? Today’s mush love psyche has practically wiped out the sensible understanding of biblical tough love. God’s tough love splashed all over the pages of both testaments has been deleted as simply not fitting in with today’s yen for prissy public relations.
Therefore, permitting today’s rascals their turf for acting up is more popular than taking situations by the truth-reigns and dealing honestly with the facts. Sad, isn’t it, that such cowardice should control religion. Yet unfortunately it is often the case — in the name of God’s love, in the name of “being like Jesus,” in the name of “being Christian.”
Paying the price
Biblical tough love, however, is based on eternal truth. It is motivated by attempting to shock the deeply spiritually rebellious out of their stupors into repentance. Anything less than tough love won’t get the job done. If in doubt, check it out with Jesus’ record in the Gospels.
However, caution: The one activating tough love must be willing to pay the awful price of being misunderstood and considered hard-hearted and uncaring. He must go through much of life on a lonely track. There will be very few who will have the courage to acknowledge his position to be scriptural — let alone sane.
Nevertheless, such a person will be in good company, for Jesus was misunderstood. He was considered hard-boiled when it came to His communication style with His own religious elite. Therefore, He was killed because His truth-cutting edge swiped too close to the power structure’s ego.
In other words, He spoke publicly too brashly. He daringly upbraided the counterfeit religionists to right and left. He left no doubt about what He thought of those writing their own religion, especially those in religious power seats.
And all because Jesus loved them so much that He could do nothing else!
Ah, but if Jesus had only coddled and compromised, won over the enemy with sweet daisies. If He had only taken the right courses and been certified by the public relations experts of the temple. In other words, if Jesus had only used His smarts.
But Jesus, of course, would never cotton to that sort of tomfoolery. After all, Jesus was God. And God could do nothing less than love His enemies with a unique expression of tough love still rarely understood today — even after two thousand years.
If you try to live this spirit of Jesus out in real life, beware: You’ll pay a price. If in doubt, check out for starters the ministerial end of Jesus — and of His cousin John the Baptist and of missionary Paul.
Yes, there is a price to pay. But once again, you end up in good company.