The Bible is full of commands to love.
In Matthew 22, Jesus, when questioned about the greatest commandment, replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (verses 37-40)
In John 13, Jesus again emphasizes his call to love by saying “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (verses 34-35). He reiterates this again just a few chapters later in John 15, saying: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (verse 12)
Paul continued this theme of love in several of his letters to first century churches. In Galatians 5:14, he reminds readers that “the entire law is summed upon a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” In Colossians, he expands on this idea, telling us to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive what grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14) And, perhaps the most famous passage on love, 1 Corinthians 13, Paul outlines why we should love, what it means to love, and also what it looks like to love.
But did you know the Bible also gives a directive to hate?
In Romans 12, Paul talks about living a Christian life and using our spiritual gifts as a means to serve both God and others. He talks about offering ourselves as living sacrifices, “holy and pleasing to God.” (verse 1). He then goes on in the second half of the chapter to discuss what this looks like. Right off the bat, he says “love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (verse 9).
At first glance, this verse seems pretty innocuous. Absolutely love should be sincere. Yep, hating what is evil is pretty standard. Clinging to the good? Gotcha.
But…can I really honestly say I hate what is evil?
The Greek term here is apostygountes, which implies a dislike or revulsion towards something. We are to be revulsed by evil or, more specifically, the things God sees as evil. In other words, sin. And I think, at a superficial level, most of us who identify as Christians can claim to be revulsed by sin: murder, abuse, theft–anything that does visible harm to another person–as well as things like blasphemy or idol worship–things that directly dishonor God.
But what about other sins?
Proverbs 6: 16-19 gives us a list of things the Lord hates, which we in turn should hate, too. But you might be surprised to learn that the things of this list aren’t the things to which our mind usually turn.
The first thing listed is “haughty eyes.” If the eyes are the window to the soul, then haughty eyes reveal the arrogant pride lying just below the surface.
The Lord hates pride. Not only does it make the list here, but it’s also a sentiment reiterated throughout Scripture (see the book of James for an example). But do I?
On the contrary, I would say pride is the sin with which I struggle the most. Some of my most shameful moments came as a result of pride. And though I may repent time and time again, if I’m being honest, pride is something I just can’t seem to let go.
Though frustrated by my sin, can I honestly say I’m revulsed by pride?
(Here’s a hint–my pride won’t let me answer that).
What about a lying tongue? I don’t like being lied to, of course; no one does. But does that stop me from telling lies when I’m trying to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or offering an excuse for ducking out on a social event? Again, yes, I may feel guilty about it, but am I revulsed enough by lies to keep my mouth from permanently speaking them?
But it’s not just this list. Our culture is full of “socially acceptable sins” that, according to most, don’t even really count as sins anymore. Turn on any television show or movie and you’ll be bombarded with words, images, and situations that should cause our skin to crawl and stomaches to turn. Things such as drunkenness and lust are no longer taboo–they’re used as storylines in popular media or even to sell products on commercials! Sins such as these–and many others–have become so commonplace, many–including some Christians–don’t even bat an eye. In fact, many sins have gone from not only being tolerated but celebrated by our culture.
But just because our culture has changed, it doesn’t mean God has. His standards are still the same; a sin is a sin is a sin….and we are still called to “hate what is evil,” whether that be in our society at large or in our own lives. We aren’t just supposed to look the other way; we are to be “revulsed” by it.
For me, it’s easy to follow the command to love God. It’s also easy to love people (within reason–I’m not perfect at this part!). But it’s not always easy for me to hate what God hates. From the beginning of time, humans have tried to cover the shame of their sin by tapping into our common sin nature and pulling others into it with them, until the sin becomes so prevalent, it no longer even seems like a sin. What was true in the Garden of Eden, with Eve sharing the apple, is multiplied 1000-fold in 2021. Being a part of this world, it’s almost impossible not to be influenced by it; in my attempt to live in harmony, I’ve allowed sin to become commonplace and benign, forgetting that any and all sin–in me or the world around me–is in direct contrast to the holy nature of God. I’m not to accept it. I’m not to coddle it. I’m to recognize it and call it what it is. Sin. And I’m hate it. To reject it. To be revulsed by it.
This can feel so out of sync with the love of Jesus. But I think sometimes we focus so much on the love of Jesus that we gloss over the HOLINESS of Jesus. Sin and holiness cannot coexist in peace. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and God hated sin so much, He was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to save His people from it.
God hates sin. So why don’t we?
We have been saved by grace, set free from from the slavery of sin, but that doesn’t mean sin cannot still ensnare us by making us numb to its presence. I don’t believe it’s any coincidence that Paul’s directive to “hate what is evil” comes in the same chapter as his charge to “not [be] conform[ed] any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (Romans 12: 2)
Only by making a conscious effort not to be conformed to the pattern of world–our culture’s way of thinking–and to actively seek out a renewal of our mind’s into God’s way of thinking, can we truly hope to test and approve what God’s will is–to see things as He does and to make decisions based on obedience and love for Him. Guided by the Holy Spirit, we can break free from our tolerance of sin and truly begin to view it as our Savior does: something hated but also defeated. In our attempt to “hate what is evil,” let us not forget the second half of the sentiment: “cling to what is good.”
And what is good is God. Always and forever. All of the time. Let us follow hard after Him, making it our life goal to become more and more like Him each day, as He fills us with His spirit and transforms us into Christ’s ambassadors here on earth.
***One last note here, as stated in Proverbs 6, these are “things” the Lord hates, not people. God never commands us to hate our fellow man, regardless of sin. Many balk at the saying but it still remains true: we are to hate the sin–in our own lives and in others–but never the sinner (and that includes ourselves).***