In these sermons on matched pairs of biblical truth, we have been exploring how certain biblical teachings require their counterpart to maintain their biblical integrity. Whether we are talking about law and grace, or justification and sanctification, or judgment and salvation, we cannot truly understand the one without the other and whenever one truth is diminished or lost altogether, the other will suffer a similar fate. It is a fixed law. This morning our matched pair is love and hate and among a great many I might have chosen, I am reading three representative texts, the more useful because so well known.
v.47 A self-interested concern is the world’s principle. The love of the enemy, the unlovable and unattractive, the positively unworthy, is the gospel’s principle and should be the principle of the life of all who were loved by God when they were utterly unworthy of that love.
v.48 Jesus’ followers should aspire to nothing short of all that Christ commands them to be in thought, word and deed. We must not content ourselves with matching the standards of our day or even with exceeding them. We will serve the Lord faithfully if we require ourselves to serve him perfectly and content ourselves with nothing less.
v.2 The first reason for refraining from a judgmental attitude toward others is that it invites a similar judgment in return – from men, but especially from God. I remember that Francis Schaeffer used to say that to condemn us all a thousand times over God would need to do nothing more than simply hang a tape recorder around our necks, play back the tape at the Last Judgment, and then hold us to the same standard we used in condemning others.
v.3 The reference to “brother” indicates that this teaching has to do with relationships between Christians; but the principle extends to our attitudes toward all people as the Lord had already indicated earlier in the sermon in the passage we just read. Even pagans can treat generously those who are generous to them. A Christian’s behavior is to be marked by the generous judgment they extend to all men. The point is that, if Christians are to treat non-Christians so well, how much more should they pass a generous judgment on their own brothers and sisters.
v.5 The second reason why we should refrain from a judgmental attitude is that our own faults make it hard for us to exercise this judgment without pride. The Lord’s illustration, drawn from the carpenter’s workshop, illustrates the hypocrisy always involved in the kind of personal criticism condemned in vv. 1-2. The existence of the speck implies that there probably is a fault in the life of the other person. “The error is not in the diagnosis, but in the failure to apply to himself the criticism he so meticulously applies to his brother.” [France, 143] The Lord is calling attention to a curious feature of human sinfulness: that it makes us supersensitive to the faults of others and insensitive to our own. We characteristically exaggerate the faults of others and minimize our own. This is our pride, nothing more. It is also hypocrisy because our censoriousness usually masquerades itself either as kindness toward the person whose faults we are pointing out – for his own good! – or as our own passion for truth or righteousness. “How difficult it is,” C.S. Lewis wrote to a friend, “to avoid having a special standard for oneself.” [Letters to an American Lady, 58]
v.6 “Swine” and “Dogs” as metaphors for human beings are some of the most derogatory terms in the Jewish vocabulary. [Hagner, I, 171] They suggest men who are wild and have dirty habits. Pigs were, of course, unclean to the Jews. Clearly this statement, standing alone as it does in the context, is intended to qualify the absolute prohibition against judgment in v. 1. God’s gifts, especially the truth of the gospel, are not to be laid open to unnecessary abuse or mockery nor are Christians to court persecution unnecessarily. Later in the Gospel of Matthew the gospel is described as a pearl of great price, a pearl to be shared with the world (13:45-46), but the preachers of the gospel are also instructed to shake the dust of their feet off against a town or house which would not receive their message (10:14). In other words, there is a proper kind of discrimination that Christians should practice that is very different from the censorious and proud spirit that is condemned in vv. 1-5.
v.6 The Nicolaitans are also mentioned in the letter to Pergamum. Taking all the evidence together, and there is not very much evidence, it appears most likely that their teaching amounted to an encouragement to compromise with the surrounding culture. Their interest was making it easier to be a Christian in a pagan world. It is likely they taught that Christians could, in good conscience, participate in the imperial worship or the worship of their grand temples of which the Ephesians were so proud. It was their separation from such worship that marked the Christians out as an alien element in the society and created the offense among the unbelievers.
Any careful reader of the Bible knows full well that there is both love and hate in Holy Scripture, a proper love and a proper hatred. To begin with, and fundamental to our own perspective on life, God himself is frequently said to love some people and things and to hate others. Text after text throughout the Bible bears witness to God’s mighty love for his people, but not only did God say that he loved Jacob and hated Esau – a statement Paul repeats from Malachi in Romans – he says such things as this, speaking of unfaithful Israel in Hosea 9:15:
“Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more…”
Texts like those remind us that when we read, for example, that God is angry with the wicked every day or that he cannot bear the hypocritical worship of those who only pretend to honor him, a similar thing is being said: God has an active dislike for certain persons and things.
In a similar way the Bible lays bare the fact that while believers love God, unbelievers hate him. They may not admit this, even to themselves, but, as we say, actions speak louder than words. The Bible says this repeatedly and in many different ways. A typical statement of that type is found in Deuteronomy 7:10:
“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments…and repays to their face those who hate him…”
Paul and John say similar things. There is no middle alternative, no middle ground between love and hate in the Bible. It is always and only one or the other. But there is also love and hatred between people, I mean a proper love and hatred. In the Law of Moses God’s people are required to love their neighbors as themselves, a radical ethic unparalleled elsewhere in the ethics of the ancient world and, in fact, unparalleled anywhere else in the ethics of the world throughout its history and up to our time. And in the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, from which we read two short paragraphs this morning, that radical ethic of neighbor love is explained as requiring even the love of enemies. That love may rightly be understood as the most distinctive ethic of the Christian faith: the love of one’s enemies. Indeed, as I was reminded this week as I worked my way through the concordance, most of the biblical statements about Christian love and hatred either demand love or forbid hatred. Indeed, the general impression left everywhere is what John says in his first letter:
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar…” [1 John 4:20]
But then the Psalmist famously says in Psalm 139:21, “Do not I hate those who hate you, O Lord?” You know well enough by now that I am never going to say the foolish thing that far too many Christians say about a text like that: that it reflects the inferior, less demanding ethic of the Old Testament and that now in the New we know better than to say such a thing. When the author of Psalm 5 says to God in v. 5,
“The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers…”
he is reminding us that in hating those who do evil we are taking our cue from God himself. And so, when we read that the Lord hates wickedness (Ps. 45:7) or that he hates hypocritical worship (Isa. 1:14) we cannot say what is so commonly said, namely that that the Lord hates the sin but loves the sinner. The Bible says that he hates the evildoer! And so, when we read in Rev. 2:6, as we did this morning, that the Lord hates the works of the Nicolaitans, the solution cannot be to divorce the sinner from his sin, as if that were even morally or psychologically possible. When Job, after the Lord had corrected him, said that he hated himself for his stupidity and when Paul said that he was disgusted with himself on account of the fact that even now as a Christian he so often did the very thing he hated, the last thing we can say is that these men did not loathe themselves for their moral weakness and failure. This is a proper hatred.
But, then, what are we to do with this. We are commanded to love our enemies; we are commanded to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves; we are commanded to love others – no matter how unlovely in themselves – in the way God loved us, overlooking and bearing with our faults. And the Bible again and again and in the most memorable ways describes how such love behaves. True love makes sacrifices for another, it is patient with the failings of another – it turns the other cheek –, it forgives the other – seventy times seven – it even lays down its life for the other! Think of Paul’s attitude toward the Jews who had, upon his becoming a follower of Christ, ostracized him, publicly condemned him, conspired to arrest him and then kill him, on several occasions beat him to within an inch of his life, and in general made his life as difficult as they could for years on end. What does Paul say about those Jews?
“…I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
There, brothers and sisters, there is the Christian heart, there is true Christian love, Christ-like in its indifference to all that otherwise kills love, affection, and respect between people. That is how you and I are to think and feel and behave toward others. Paul himself in a famous statement in 1 Cor. 13 reminds us that such love is the greatest virtue, the supreme ethic, what the philosophers called the summum bonum, the greatest good. Accordingly, the Bible is rightly called the Book of Love.
On the other hand, more than once Paul and his entourage shook the dust of their feet off against the Jews of one town or another because of their refusal to give a hearing to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, lest we think Paul in error for doing so, we have the Lord’s own words we read this morning: “Don’t cast your pearls before pigs.” The pig was despised in Israel as it is still to a great extent in the Middle East today. To call a person a pig was harsh; a low blow! Then the Lord says to the Ephesians, “[Yet I can say this to your credit]: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
Once again, brothers and sisters, what are we to do with these distinct, if not virtually contradictory emphases: love and hate, kindness and scorn, ready acceptance and defiant rejection? We cannot choose one or the other, for both are the plain and repeated teaching of the Word of God. We do have a responsibility to cultivate a hatred of evil, the evil that is found in the thoughts, words, and deeds of human beings, ourselves and everyone else. In a world that often smiles on the vilest forms of human behavior, and often takes the most outrageous wrongs for granted, we have been called to hate what God hates even as we are called to love what God loves. If we love God, we will join him in his holy hatred as we join him in his holy love. [Cf. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 342-343]
Essential to any true understanding of the interaction between love and hatred in the Christian heart and life is the accurate definition of the terms. In the Bible, for example, love is both feeling and action, emotion and behavior, but it is virtually always defined as action. A tender feeling that produces no appropriate action is not love according to the Bible; it is hypocrisy, it is self-delusion. Amnon is said to have loved Tamar, but when she was unwilling to sleep with him, he raped her and humiliated her and destroyed her life. What he thought was love was nothing but a feeling, a desire, and as it turned out, an entirely selfish desire. Love is more than that! Every thoughtful Christian is only too well aware that whether or not he or she feels like it, as a Christian he or she is required to act in love. Whether he feels like it he is to forgive the sins of others, seventy time seven (and I mean really forgive, not just say he or she forgives, but forgive like God forgives: who remembers sin no more, who casts it behind his back, who separates it from us as far as the east is from the west). And we are not only to forgive, but to help, to help as we would want to be helped were we in a similar situation. Love actually cares for the other person, defends that person, stands by that person, provides for that person, and remains faithful to that person through thick and thin and in defiance of his or her moral failures.
And, in a similar way, hatred, the proper kind of hatred, godly hatred, is not in the Bible a mere fit of a pique or temper or angry passion. So much of human hatred, so much of our hatred is proud, selfish, angry, and hypocritical. Do you, can you deny this in your own case? I can’t. But the godly hatred described in the Bible is not like that. It is a revulsion against what is evil, what is harmful to human beings, what is offensive to God. The fact of the matter is that every human being has, at one time or another, this proper revulsion. We are all repelled by what some people do or say. And, the fact is, in some cases almost all of us – whatever our religion, whatever our philosophy of life – are repelled by the same things: the abuser of children, the kidnapper who sells young girls into sexual slavery, the Klan member who lynches an innocent man, the serial killer, the mass murderer, the rapacious man who destroys the livelihood of others in his own mad dash for financial gain, even the vain person who cannot see his or her vanity for what it is. We have a nose for the moral stench of human life! Why are we revolted by the evil that people do? Why are we revolted by evil people? There is really no other convincing explanation of this universal experience of human life than that we have been made in the image of God who is holy and who is himself revolted by evil. We are, in modern-speak, “hard-wired” to hate evil and the evil person. In fact, we all accept that in the face of real evil, the worst possible response is to feel nothing. What must be felt is grief, rage, a sense of deep offense. In the absence of such things evil becomes an acceptable commonplace, as it has become far too often in human life.
We have passed through a paroxysm of moral condemnation these past several weeks in the United States. I’m not interested in the political issue, but we should all be fascinated by the moral outrage everywhere to be seen and heard, on both sides of the debate, as to whether Judge Brett Kavanaugh should have been confirmed as the next associate justice on our Supreme Court. The conversation has been conducted in tones not only of moral condemnation – whether for Judge Kavanaugh or against him – but in tones dripping with hatred. People by the scores have been on television despising one another and justifying their malice, their revulsion because the other side is so evil! And most of this from folk who, in a serious discussion of morality and its foundations, would argue that right and wrong are finally just opinions, not objective realities. But that doesn’t keep them from fury over what they take to be someone else’s evil opinions!
What no one who has witnessed this debate can deny is that moral revulsion is alive and well in our world today. It is not the fact that only some human beings hate evil. We all hate it and we all hate those who do evil willfully, and unrepentantly, and who then justify the evil they have done with some high-sounding rationalization. We cannot help the revulsion. It is the way we have been made. The human problem is not that we do not hate evil but that so often we are revolted by the wrong things, that we mistake good for evil and evil for good, that we are so selective in our moral condemnation, that we are blind to our own moral failures even while carefully and often viciously enumerating the failures of others. That is the human race: inescapably moral, and so inclined like God himself to moral outrage, but so often wrongheaded in our judgments, so often proud and hypocritical in our condemnations, and, supremely, so often giving ourselves to the censure of others without either a corresponding recognition of our own moral failures or any genuine love or regard for others. With us it is all or nothing; one or the other; hardly ever both. And that is our failure! That failure is what you never find and will never find in God. God is love even when he is hating the works of the Nicolaitans. God may hate the wicked, but he wishes for their salvation at the same time! He shows his kindness to them, loves them even as he hates them! And we Christians are to take our cue from God himself. And is it not the case that we Christians are willing to do so. We are revolted by many things we see others do. But that revulsion, that hatred, is tempered by two powerful considerations.
First, we know only too well how revolting our own thoughts, our own words, and our own deeds – both our commissions and our omissions – have been. We can hardly play the judge in condemning the life or behavior of others without at the same time acknowledging to ourselves and others that we not only are likewise guilty of deplorable behavior, but we have, as Christians, still less excuse. We know better, we have greater motivation to do better, and we have been given the ability to do so much better than we have done. Revulsion and malice are expressed very differently by people who are alert to their own moral failings and feel the weight of them. For example, no one will hate the prideful words of others in the same way others hate them who remembers with self-loathing his own prideful words. It is precisely this humility, this sense of shared failure that has been completely missing in the disgusting and utterly useless rantings of the past weeks.
But in the second place, take the worst that people say and do. Any Christian knows that however revolted he or she might be by such behavior, one’s view of that person would change dramatically in an instant if that same person were only to repent, really repent, and to ask forgiveness of God and man. For that person, who may be a boar or a sow before whom we would not cast our pearls, we Christians must wish faith and repentance, a new life and an eternal life in Christ. We must wish them to be with us in the City of God. Christ’s love for us compels us to love them in that way; to hope for them the same grace that was given to us. We must wish for him or her the same moral transformation which God has begun in us and the completion of which in our own case we long for so much. It is precisely this hope and the very real possibility of such a radical reassessment of the person that distinguishes a godly hatred from its selfish, hurtful, proud, and hypocritical imitation.
Think of Ananias, who knew only too well of Saul’s hatred toward all Christians, of his persecution of them, of his blood-lust for the destruction of the Christian community; of the danger he posed to Ananias and to the Christian brotherhood in Damascus; surely there was a godly revulsion in his heart toward that man. But once he was told that God’s grace had been given to Saul, of Saul’s new calling as a servant of the gospel that he once tried to destroy, Ananias went to that house in Damascus where Saul was staying and the first words out of his mouth were, “Brother Saul…” No animosity now; no revulsion, no godly malice; but brotherhood, fellow-feeling, a sense of common interest, and love.
When love and hate dwell in the same heart hate can become love in an instant! But if hatred can turn into love in an instant; if revulsion can so quickly become affection and brotherhood, then this is a hatred very different from the hatred we find ordinarily in the world. It cannot be that hatred that is so often the lowest form of human pride, spite, and malicious hypocrisy.
We know only too well how proud we are, how hypocritical we so often are, so it goes without saying that we must be very careful here. We must never allow ourselves to give way to hatred without taking care that it is a godly hatred. We must never pass judgment on others without the active recognition of our own ill-desert and without remembering for how many things we have reason to loathe ourselves or how many others would loathe us if only they knew us as well as we know ourselves. When we are offended at a person’s pride, we must say in our hearts if not out loud in the hearing of others, “He should not be so proud. I know that because I know how utterly dishonest is my own pride. I hate it in him nearly as much as I hate it in myself!” And when practicing judgment, when censuring another, whether in thought or in word, when giving way to that proper hatred, love must never be far away. There must be at the same time goodwill and a genuine hope for better things on that person’s behalf. If we cannot manage that, then we must leave judgment and censure to better Christians than ourselves!
So, you see once again how necessary it is that we keep these two things, these two moral behaviors – love and hate – tightly bound to one another. Love without hate is not serious; it is mere sentiment. It does not take human evil seriously; it does not reckon with the wrong that people do and the harm and the loss and the broken hearts and lives that are the result of evil. On the other hand, hate without love is just selfishness masquerading as righteousness, pride posing as the love of truth, and pettiness posing as righteous indignation. But selfishness and pride without love are the ugliest features of human sin. Hatred without love is always, always nothing other than hypocrisy.
Put love and hatred together, however, and you have both righteousness and humility, truth and genuine concern, both an honest reckoning with life under God’s judgment and a spirit profoundly motivated and animated by God’s grace and love. Tell me if you can if there is anything this sad world needs more than that combination of hatred and love!