Many believers know the truth of Scripture which tells us, “God is love”. But many people – believer and non-believer alike – seem to think this is all there is to say about God. Moreover, their understanding of divine love is often woefully inadequate and profoundly unbiblical.
This is not surprising since we live in a relativistic age in which truth is denied, morality is ignored, and common sense is in short supply. This mindset, so very characteristic of the world, has inundated the church big time. Thus many believers know very little at all about what is in their own Bibles, or they simply choose to dismiss much of it, preferring instead the spirit of the age.
Of course the world has absolutely mangled the concept of love, turning it into wishy-washy, sentimental slop, where we are expected to tolerate and accept everything, and judge and reject nothing. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the biblical understanding of love, which is far tougher, far nobler, and far more holy than this.
And in what might come as a revelation to many, to talk about God and love without talking about hate is to emasculate the biblical portrayal of who God is and what God means. As has been said many times before, the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.
Yet, to even dare to suggest in today’s climate that love and hate may in fact go together will simply sound shocking to many – even to many believers who should know better. The Bible of course is full of teaching on the interrelatedness of the two, and shortly I will offer some representative passages.
Thus I want to look at just one small aspect of this whole discussion of love and hate. We are to be like our Lord. If he loves, then we should love. And we should love the way that he loves. If his love entails a hatred of that which is evil, then his followers should likewise have the same revulsion and disdain for sin and unrighteousness.
The truth is, God’s love always means a hatred for that which is sinful. As God is, so should we be. A.W. Tozer once put it this way, “To love is also to hate. The heart that is drawn to righteousness will be repulsed by iniquity in the same degree. The holiest man is the one who loves righteousness most and hates evil with the most perfect hatred.”
D.A. Carson explains, “Just as we are called to imitate God’s love in various ways, so are we called to imitate God’s wrath and hatred in various ways. . . . If contemporary Christians ask themselves how much of their love reflects the love of God in its various dimensions, they should also ask themselves how much of their hatred reflects the hatred of God. Just as we can prostitute love, so we can prostitute hatred.”
Therefore, as Tony Lane notes, “failure to hate evil implies a deficiency in love”. C.E.B. Cranfield, commenting on Romans 1:18, spells this out clearly: “For indignation against wickedness is surely an essential element of human goodness in a world in which moral evil is always present. A man who knows, for example, about the far-reaching injustice and cruelty of apartheid and is not angry at such wickedness cannot be a thoroughly good man, for his lack of wrath means a failure to care for his fellow man, a failure to love.”
Still I have believers scoff and mock me when I dare to suggest that the Bible is full of such thoughts. Let me simply offer a small sampling of the many passages which speak to these truths:
Psalm 97:10 Let those who love the LORD hate evil
Psalm 101:3 I will set before my eyes no vile thing. The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me.
Psalm 119:104 I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.
Psalm 119:113 I hate vain thoughts: but your law do I love
Psalm 119:128 and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.
Psalm 119:163 I hate and abhor falsehood but I love your law.
Prov 8:13 To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.
Amos 5:15 Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.
Rom 12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Rev 2:6, 15-16 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate…Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
When I recently listed some of these verses in an online debate with another believer, I was told – rather indignantly – that I was just “proof-texting” and being “a biblical literalist”! But if I cannot appeal to Scripture to make a theological case, just what am I supposed to appeal to?
However, I can still hear critics complaining, ‘But that is not my Jesus. He does not hate’. In another article I will look at the many passages which speak about God hating evil as well. And of course, since Jesus is God, this applies equally to him as well. Let me mention just one passage in this regard.
Hebrews 1:9, quoting Psalm 45:6-7, says this about Jesus: “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” Here we have the same combination of love and hate, this time applied to Jesus. But I will deal with this more fully in another piece on this topic.
Here let me just focus on the Romans 12:9 passage in a bit more detail. Here we again see the complete connection between love and hate. They inseparably go together. The word used for hate is quite a strong one, denoting utter abhorrence. As Thomas Schreiner comments, “True virtue is not passive about evil but has an intense revulsion of it. Evil is not tolerated but despised as that which is injurious and wicked.”
As is so often the case, John Stott gets to the heart of the matter: “It may seem strange that the exhortation to love is followed immediately by a command to hate. But we should not be surprised. For love is not the blind sentiment it is traditionally said to be. On the contrary, it is discerning. It is so passionately devoted to the beloved object that it hates every evil which is incompatible with his or her highest welfare.”
We are called to imitate our Lord. He loved with a perfect love, but had a perfect hatred toward sin. We are called to do the same. The saints of God throughout church history have always known and expressed these truths. Sure, modern believers, who have dined with the devil and wedded the world, will not like it.
They will complain about being old-fashioned, judgmental and legalistic. But as Leonard Ravenhill once remarked, “When there’s something in the Bible that churches don’t like, they call it ‘legalism’.” So forget the critics, and go back to the Bible. We have soaked up far too much of the world and its notions of love. It is time to again draw upon God’s thoughts on the matter instead.