Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. – Leviticus 19:17
Chapter 19 of Leviticus is a hodgepodge of laws covering things from treatment of the poor to marking your body with tattoos and the mating of animals. But verse 17 jumped off the page at me as I read this chapter. In this short verse are some important truths, truths that are among the most counter-cultural of any in the scriptures.
The first part of the verse is a command – do not hate your brother. So far so good. We’d probably get an “amen” across the board on that one. However, in the second part of the verse we’re told what it looks like not to harbor hate. It’s here that scripture and our culture part ways.
Bottom line is, you hate your brother when you fail to tell him the truth. We live in a culture that says love is always agreeing with someone and affirming everything they do, but this is nowhere taught in scripture. Scripture says we love people by telling them the truth.
But the verse goes a step further, it says we should not just tell him the truth but “rebuke” him. This means moving from “this is wrong” to “you are wrong.” People may put up with a passive voice declaration that something is wrong, but make it personal and you’ve crossed an unacceptable line. Nothing is anyone’s fault today. The only thing more distasteful than claiming something is wrong is claiming it is someone’s fault as opposed to being the result of an “unjust system” or some other impersonal force.
The third thing this verse teaches is that if we fail to be truthful with someone and issue a rebuke, we share in his guilt. This could be because our failure to be truthful downplays the importance of truth in our own lives making us more susceptible to temptation (II Peter 3:17). However, I believe the main point is that when we refuse to confront sin in others we are, by that act, becoming party to the sin and incurring part of the guilt (Ezekiel 3:18).
Loving our neighbor necessarily involves warning them when they transgress God’s law for to do so puts them in danger. Just as we would stop someone from stepping in front of an oncoming bus, we must warn them of the peril approaching for those who ignore God’s commands.
Failing to do that is not love.