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Love and Hate, Biblically Speaking

May 26, 2010

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.

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20 Responses to Love and Hate, Biblically Speaking

  • I think “love” gets used by the theological left ad nauseum as a bludgeon. They think “love” trumps everything else, including calling sin what it is. If you actually dare call sin by its proper name and call for repentance, you’re being “unloving.” That is not biblical love at all.
    Joel Griffith, USA

  • Thanks Joel

    Yes quite right. The religious left, along with the emerging church, make much of God’s love, but usually at the expense of his holiness and judgment. But we will never really appreciate God’s love and mercy for us, unless we first recognise and appreciate his wrath and hatred of sin. That is why P.T. Forsyth could quite wisely and correctly say 100 years ago, “If we spoke less about God’s love and spoke more about His holiness, more about His judgment, we should say much more when we speak of His love.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks for this Bill. A sober reminder to be vigilant, faithful, watchful, helpful, careful and prayerful. I think the comment about modern Christians who have wedded the world preach a Modern Smooth cross, when we should be living the Old Rugged Cross like He who was once on that Cross.
    Wayne Pelling

  • Hi Bill, I find it interesting that the apostle who spoke most about love, John was the one who also spoke most about truth.
    Rob Withall

  • Thanks Rob

    Not only that, but the person in the New Testament who talks the most about the wrath of God, judgment and hell is Jesus! Yet we just want to ignore all those hard words, and pretend he never said them.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill.
    You mention opponents whose complaint is about “proof texting” and “literalism”. I have found this too over the years. And usually those very people are loath to appeal to Scripture at all. They will make great play about “being Biblical” in broad generalities, but forbid anyone from citing a specific text. The whole plea is nothing more than a smokescreen, a stratagem, a device to steer the debate away from Scripture. I say to them, “You can complain all you like about alleged literalism etc., but I much prefer – MUCH PREFER – my way of quoting Scripture to your way of not quoting it.”
    Murray R. Adamthwaite

  • Thank you. You have given me much to think about. Not that I don’t agree, but I now understand better some of my own attitudes and heartaches.
    I have been reading your blog off and on for a few months now, and would love to have the time to read more often; for I find your writing very thought-provoking — iron sharpening iron. Thank you.
    Laurel Pinske, Canada

  • Thanks Bill for another hard-hiting, insightful article.

    The bottom line is that many are worshipping a false God who hates nothing, loves everything and inspires nothing of the awe or dread that the living God does.Idolatry in other words.

    Glenn Christopherson

  • Just awesome…Thanks Bill!
    Jane Petridge

  • Bill and Murray,
    thank you for the insight into the “proof texting” and “literalism” problem.

    As I read I realized “oh, yes, of course!” – it is so hard to get these sentimentalists to actually quote specific Scripture in support of their case.

    John Angelico

  • Thanks again Bill.
    Everything has balance and opposites in Creation for us to learn from. Nothing is ever all one sided.
    But knowing how to respond in the right way when confronted with shades of ungodliness can be a challenge. If we become “holier then thou” in our attitude we alienate the person yet the Christian is told to shun, resist, turn away and run from evil. Jesus had a way of engaging the person who subsequently turn from their sin such as the woman at the well.
    P.S Just an interesting observation if I may. It is interesting to see in the devout Muslim countries their hatred for sin and how many are punished harshly for immoral behaviour in the name of Allah.
    Keith Lewis

  • We live in extraordinary times indeed. Who would have guessed the most virulent attacks against Christians who call for repentance would come from the evangelical church itself, a church that for decades has prided itself on being evangelical. The fault lines are opening up. The lines are being drawn. Only this week I have had the phone slammed down on me from two former Christian brothers who accused me of being unloving. But Jesus said to Peter “ Get behind me Satan.” How do they interpret that? Where is the love?

    C..S Lewis in Mere Christianity, chapter 5, says: “…you know at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests that sort of behaviour, then He cannot be good. On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. This is the terrible fix we are in. If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we must need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger -according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.”

    David Skinner, UK

  • I am now of the firm conviction that if Jesus ever wanted a speech writer, he would be calling on you Bill. It is not enough to simply collect the information but also to know how to present it so it informs its readers and spurs them into examining themselves. When I think of God hating something I imagine that his punishment of the source of his hate must be pretty terrifying.
    Steve Davis

  • Thanks for the thought Steve, but I suspect Jesus does not really need any speechwriters! He just needs faithful followers who will proclaim his word boldly even when it is not a popular word. We all must do our part in this task.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I know, I was just paying you a nice compliment that’s all. Your exhortation is correct – the true Gospel is not exactly popular!
    Steve Davis

  • This is a great word that very few believe today. Thanks for standing for the truth without compromise. I pray that it convicts people.
    Nathan Keen.

  • love and hate, brilliant work that what we need. Bless you Bill.
    Adelaide Ntim-Duodu

  • Scripture is always our teacher, and it clearly directs us to hate and shun evil in all its forms as your article points out so well Bill. At the same time we are required to love as Jesus loves. Sloppy thinking on the nature of love is the cause of much confusion on this issue I’d say. A wise and loving parent always directs a child away from evil; denounces it and explains the awful consequences of it. The parent hates that evil for the terrible harm it causes, for the way it ruins and displaces the good in the child but the parent doesn’t stop loving the child! Far from it! the parent anguishes over that child, reaches out to them, seeks to correct and guide them back to their proper place in the family and to the values that bring lasting happiness. Our loving Heavenly father treats us in just that way. He hates evil and so should we. It seeks to destroy God’s children and cut them off from the rest of us. How could we ever justify any failure to hate and denounce evil? Keep up the great work Bill. It is plain to see The Holy Spirit inspiring your evangelism and I thank God for you.
    Anna Cook

  • One of the silliest things I have come across is Christians who rebuke me every time I use the word “hate”, because they somehow think the word is actually evil. I have tried in vain to help people to see it as a word which denotes a valid attitude to something, and ask what word they think they can replace it, with but to no avail. Just wondering if anyone else has come across such a ridiculous notion. I try to explain by saying that I hate eating some particular food, explaining that no other word comes really close to describing the emotion (perhaps “detest”) but get rebuked even for that. Thanks for another great article Bill.
    Kerry Letheby

  • God is love
    God is correction
    God is seeking perfection.

    God Jesus and the holy spirit
    Before Now and For ever.

    Fear of the lord may cause you pain
    Fear of pain and the kingdom
    Fear of the lord the beginning of wisdom.

    Daniel Kempton

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