Hatred’s a work of the flesh.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 September 2021
Galatians 5.19-21 KJV
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Hatred gets listed in verse 20 as one of the works of the flesh. The original-language word is ἔχθραι/ékhthre, “hostility” or “opposition” or “enmity”: Someone who’s decided in advance they’re not gonna be friendly. In fact, they’re looking for enemies.

In his first letter, John pointed out how those who hate their sisters or brothers are murderers. In their hearts, such people are dead to them. And those who “murder” in this way have nothing to do with eternal life. 1Jn 3.15 They won’t inherit God’s kingdom—same as those who exhibit the fleshly works which Paul listed.

Yeah, you know we’ve got a lot of such people all over Christianity. I follow a few of their blogs. They claim they’re all about Christian holiness and sanctification; about Christians following Jesus instead of the rest of the world, and becoming a pure, sinless, spotless church, ready and eager to greet Jesus at his second coming. But the way they go about doing it is to bring up the latest popular sin (typically one committed by members of the opposition party), then pound away at it like a carpenter trying to put thin nails into thick wood.

Yes, Christians oughta resist temptation and stop sinning. Of course. Duh. But these guys’ fixation on dirty, dirty sins? It’s not healthy. Much as these guys love to quote this memory verse—

Philippians 4.8 KJV
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

—the amount of time they spend digging through the news to find new things to be horrified by, the length of time they spend denouncing these travesties, and the angst and tears and hand-wringing and stress they suffer just thinking about how these evils damage our good Christian nation…

Yep, these guys aren’t actually avoiding sin. They may not be committing it, nor even be tempted to try it, but their minds are nonetheless stewing in it like shrimp in a gumbo. Because what they’re doing instead is hating it. Hating it with every fiber of their being. In so doing their minds are wholly fixated on whatsoever things are false, dishonest, unfair, impure, ugly, disturbing, useless, and wrong.

Hopefully they’re not doing this 24 hours a day, like pundits who are desperately looking for new content with which they can outrage their TV audience. But y’know, some of them are. You can tell whenever you talk with them: The first thing they want to talk about is the latest outrage. And they’re hoping it’ll outrage you too. Bad fruit likes to spread its seeds widely.

Levels of hatred.

Hatred is one of the most common fleshly works I’ve seen among Christians. Most of us find it very easy to get away with. After all, we’re hating sin, right? We’re hating the devil and all its works. We’re hating wickedness. Shouldn’t we hate wickedness?

So we start off with a little “righteous hatred.” But notice how quickly it devolves into the far-less-righteous kind.

In English and most languages, “hate” means more than one thing. The definition we’re most familiar with is “feel passionate dislike.” Fr’instance, I hate cilantro. (Love Mexican food; hate cilantro. Go figure.) Apparently there’s a gene some humans have which makes cilantro taste bad to us. “Like soap,” is the way it’s described, but it reminds me of no soap I’ve ever used. I can tolerate small amounts, but for whatever reason, too much of it makes me gag. So I hate it. But it’s a passive hate: I don’t bear cilantro itself any ill will. You love it and want to put it in everything? Go right ahead.

Then there’s the active sort of hatred; the definition “wish to fight and destroy.” Fr’instance I hate spousal abuse. I don’t merely feel a passionate dislike: “I would never abuse a wife, but if you wanna smack your husband around, you do you.” No; I want it eliminated. It should be illegal. Others should want it eliminated as well. Abusers should be prosecuted. And they are, largely—though too much abuse goes unreported.

Now, some will take this hatred further. They want to see the elimination of abuse… and the abusers. Not necessarily through rehabilitation: They want abusers to suffer. They want abusers in jail, with the key thrown away, and maybe getting abused themselves by fellow prisoners. (Of course, a lot of people became abusers because they were already abused themselves. But since when is revenge rational?)

Right there we have three definitions of “hate.” Three levels, if you will. Yep, these levels are in the bible too: Passive, active, and vengeful.

The bible also has a level that’s even more passive than the “I just don’t like it” level. We call it contrasting hate. It’s the sort of “hate” we see when the LORD told Malachi,

Malachi 1.2-3 KJV
2 I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, 3 and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.

God hated Esau? Wait, doesn’t God love everybody?

Yes he does. But this is contrasting hate: God doesn’t do what we would call hate; he simply has a favorite. Jacob’s his favorite. Esau isn’t. Now if you’re not somebody’s favorite person, the different treatment you get from them might kinda feel like hatred. Jacob’s descendants got some nice land; Esau’s descendants got land too, but it wasn’t so nice. But our culture wouldn’t call this “hatred,” which is why certain translations don’t render Malachi like the KJV does.

“Yet I chose Jacob and rejected Esau,” is the way the NET puts it.

It’s the same kind of contrasting hate we see when Jesus taught his students,

Luke 14.26 KJV
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

It’s not that you literally hate your family members. You shouldn’t! But Jesus has to be your favorite. We’re meant to love Jesus so much more, we may as well, by comparison, hate everything else. It’s like how $1,000 is a lot of money… but not when we compare it with $1 billion.

How do we know which kind of “hate” the bible means? Same as we do whenever anybody talks about hating something: Context. How do they demonstrate their hatred? Do they simply not like coffee, or do they want to burn down every Starbucks in the world, then hunt down and kill all the baristas too?

And y’know, there are a lot of sick and twisted people out there who don’t really care which one happens. They don’t make fine distinctions in their own dislikes. They passively hate when people don’t cover their mouths when they sneeze… and if the state passed a law tomorrow giving such people the death penalty, they actually wouldn’t mind. They wouldn’t rightly say, “Okay, you’ve gone too far”—they’d allow the state to be evil. Might even turn in a few of their sneezier neighbors.

Those who practice the fleshly work of hatred, have little problem with escalating their personal dislikes into full-on political warfare. Hence there are such things as hate groups which consider themselves Christian—and consider themselves righteous because they hate “evil.” But they produce none of the fruit of love, so they’re far from righteous.

The opposite of love?

Properly, the logical opposite of love is apathy. Which isn’t much different from passive hatred… which is why hatred is regularly held up as the opposite of love instead. Even in the scriptures.

Ecclesiastes 3.8 KJV
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

And we’re to hate evil and love good, Am 5.15 same as God loves justice and hates evil. Ps 45.7, He 1.9 Jesus also points out if we have two masters we’ll likely grow to love one and hate the other, Lk 16.13 and since he was talking about God and Mammon, y’might recall what this looks like among money-worshiping Christians.

But back to logic. The opposite of something is not-something. Therefore the opposite of love is not-love: It’s apathy. If we don’t love something, we don’t automatically hate it; we feel nothing for it, do nothing for it, and don’t care. Hatred, even passive hatred, is a bit more than apathy; it does care. It seeks the riddance, or even destruction, of the things it hates. The opposite of hatred would be not-hatred… and once again, that’s apathy. So while hatred isn’t the opposite of love, it certainly is contrary to love: There’s a spectrum with apathy in the middle, and love goes in one direction, and hatred the other.

This is why we so often see people flip a switch in their minds from love to hatred, or hatred to love. There’s not a great deal of difference between hatred and the many things our culture calls love. Let’s say, instead of proper charitable love, we feel sexual excitement, or self-love projected onto others, or favoritism, infatuation, fondness, or friendship. Then say we discover these emotions were invested in the wrong person. The visceral reaction we have in pushing them away is, indeed, a form of hatred. It’s why we see some pretty savage behavior between ex-friends, ex-lovers, or ex-spouses: They feel terrible about wasting “love” on such people. They no longer can see—or care to look for—any good in them.

Now, actual love—the benevolent, unconditional love which God is 1Jn 4.16 —can’t so easily flip over into malevolent, unsteady feelings. Not unless we were faking it all along, and claimed we felt love when really it was one of the other “loves.” When we discover our emotion or action was wasted on the wrong person, actual love leads us to recognizes that no, our emotion and action actually wasn’t wasted. It benefits us to express love to someone who isn’t deserving. Benefits them too. We’re loving an enemy instead of a friend, but we’re still displaying the Spirit’s fruit of love. As we should.

Hating the sin and loving the sinner.

More than likely you’ve heard the common Christian cliché, “Hate the sin; love the sinner.” It’s certainly not from the bible.

Yet Christians say it all the time. We wanna make a distinction between the sin, which we feel needs to be passively (or actively) hated; and the human being, friend or foe, whom Jesus orders us to love.

But here’s the problem: We suck at putting this saying into practice. Ninety percent of Christians’ efforts go into hating the sin. Sometimes more.

Very little effort goes into loving the sinner. Even then, it’s the sort of apathetic, passive “love” which leaves them be. Libertarian love. Which looks nothing like Jesus intends.

So perhaps, till we learn how to love sinners properly, we oughta dump the first part of this cliché. Love the sinner.

After all, we hardly need to remind people to hate sin. Most already do—unless it’s a sin they themselves practice all the time. So ditch the “hate the sin” part, and just focus on loving sinners. Love your enemies. Love your friends, who are also sinners. Love your fellow Christians, who are also sinners. Love everybody. Hate no one.

What do we see in Jesus’s example? The Pharisees’ regular complaint was he hung out with sinners and ate with them. Jesus’s comeback was simple:

Mark 2.17 KJV
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

There’s no question in our minds that Jesus hates sin. It’s so contrary to his character, of course he has nothing to do with it. But you might notice how little he actually rails against it: “Do you realize what those people up in Rome are doing? The corruption, the abortions, the orgies, the vices? Oh how I weep for them!” Yeah he did rail against the Pharisees’ hypocrisy the one time, Mt 23 but the rest of the time his messages were for us to not be hypocrites, and be proper children of our Father. He didn’t spend his nights fretting and wailing over all the sins which were gonna cause the Roman Empire to collapse, or get Jerusalem destroyed. He shared good news, not bad.

And he had no qualms about interacting with “enemies,” with sinners, and sharing the gospel with them too. As we likewise should do. If we fixate on sin and sinners, instead of resisting temptation, and concentrate on hate instead of love, it’s gonna corrupt us to our core, and turn us into the same joyless dark Christians who drive people, including fellow Christians, away from Jesus.

We gotta love sinners, and become known for how we love, not for which behaviors we object to.