All the Ten Commandments hang on just two commands given by Jesus – love God and love people. No doubt you’ve heard countless sermons, participated in numerous Bible studies, and attended conferences centered on the theme of loving others. We’ve all ruminated on verses like 1 John 4:7, “Love one another, for love comes from God”. We’ve studied the entire 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians. We know we are to be patient, kind, protective, trustworthy, and hopeful. We are not to be easily angered, proud, boastful, disrespectful, or self-seeking. But, what about the times we must show our love by withholding our blessings? Some people call this tough love.
Many parents in Scripture failed to show tough love to their children and paid for it later. Eli ignored the evil behavior of his two sons Hophni and Phinehas. David did not discipline Amnon when he raped his sister, nor did he speak up when Adonijah usurped the throne from his brother. Though the term “enabling” hadn’t become a buzzword yet, the epidemic of overlooking the sins of one’s own children generated a lot of noise.
Naturally, parents don’t want to believe their children are capable of lying, cheating, stealing, being sexually active, or purposely misleading authorities. As any schoolteacher will tell you, there are some parents who want to shoot the messenger bearing such information.
I’ve sat across the table from ladies in orange jumpsuits and in drug rehab who’ve told me how their parents followed a pattern of baling them out of tough situations. We would all much rather show the warm, fuzzy kind of love that offers smiles, hugs, attention, and baked cookies.
So, where did the tough love concept originate? Glad you asked. Hosea 2 paints a portrait displaying how God, the loving husband, dealt with his wayward wife Israel and her children. God had lavishly poured blessing on top of blessing over Israel only to have them thrown back in His face. She received warning after warning, year after year, yet refused to admit she was wrong and ask for forgiveness. God provided her with food, water, wool, linen, olive oil, grain, and wine. Not only did she vainly go looking elsewhere for these things, but she also gave her lovers credit for all God had given her. As a result of her stubborn, selfish ways, God stopped the blessings. He didn’t stop loving her. He just loved her too much to let her remain in a relationship that poorly mimicked the one she was supposed to have with Him.
If you’ve ever walked away from God for a time you might identify with His words to Hosea about Israel:
“Therefore, I [God] am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor (Trouble) a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth as in the day she came up out of Egypt. In that day,” declared the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’” (Hosea 2:14-16, NIV, emphasis mine)
The purpose of withholding the blessings was to let her feel what being out of relationship felt like. Sometimes it takes God placing us in our own self-made wilderness before we begin to long for His presence and blessings. It’s the trouble and loneliness that leads us back through the door of hope. I’ve walked through that door. What about you? God loves us both too much to let us go our own way.
So, when it comes to loving that precious child in your life who’s counterfeited God’s blessings with substance abuse, sexual misconduct, or dishonesty, perhaps it’s time for some tough love. If you have developed a real, loving relationship with them then you’ve no doubt lavished them with your blessings. Mom, Dad, maybe it’s time to cut off the funds, take the keys, pocket the cell phone, confiscate the computer, and pray for wisdom. Facing the consequences of pride and self-centeredness in the wilderness may give your child the quiet they need to hear the tenderness of God.
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastens everyone He accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:5–6, NIV)