Fighting the Works of the Flesh: Hatred
In the seventh post in this series covering the works of the flesh, we look at several strategies we can use to combat the temptation to hate.
Hate speech. Hate crimes. Hate mongering. These are terms we commonly hear in association with hatred. These phrases certainly describe actions motivated by hatred. But is there more to hatred than just hateful actions?
The Bible condemns hatred going all the way back to the Old Testament: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17).
This verse shows that God wants His people to hate sinful behavior, but not to hate people. Hatred can come from all angles: from self-righteous condemnation to racial or cultural prejudice, from grudges and revenge to irrational animosity.
Lies about hatred
Lie No. 1: “Some people deserve to be bullied, harassed and mistreated due to their choices or behavior. Perhaps mistreatment will convince them to change.”
If God shows no partiality, we should not either. Just as God hates sin, we should hate sin (Psalm 101:3). But Christians are expected to show love and respect to all people—not abuse them because of what they may do (Romans 12:17-18; Titus 3:2).
Christ makes plain that hatred is the complete antithesis of God’s perfect character—which is defined as love.Lie No. 2: “Hate your enemies. Curse louder those who curse you. Hate those who hate you. Gain vengeance on those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
This lie may sound familiar—it almost perfectly describes human nature. Human reason convinces us that hating and mistreating someone who already hates us is just and right.
But it is the exact opposite of what Jesus Christ said in Matthew 5:43-48: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
“For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
Christ makes plain that hatred is the complete antithesis of God’s perfect character—which is defined as love (1 John 4:8).
Strategies to overcome hatred
1. Don’t get lured into hatred of others by association.
It is very easy to get stuck in conversations or even relationships with people who spew hatred. Hatred can show up in many forms: constant negative gossip about a coworker, bullying or insulting a fellow student every day, attacking others on social media or even blatantly making racially prejudiced remarks.
It is often easy to practice “conversational agreement” (where by nodding and staying silent we lead someone to think we agree with them, when we actually may not). Consider whether just being in the same conversation, and perhaps nodding and smiling, is enabling the person to feel validated in his or her hatred. When you sense that someone is showing clear hatred toward someone else, that is the time to quickly excuse yourself from the conversation (1 Corinthians 15:33).
2. Examine your life for hatred and prejudice.
Many times what we can easily see in others is much harder to see in ourselves. Jesus Christ even said that it is common for people to “not see the plank [fault] that is in your own eye [life]” (Luke 6:42). What if you are the one spewing hatred? Maybe you are demonstrating anger—but are reasoning it away as somehow acceptable anger.
Are we holding in continual rage or constantly railing against those we feel are leading sinful lives—or simply those we don’t like or disagree with? If so, we should consider the example of Jesus Christ, who showed love and respect to all kinds of people who lived lifestyles that He taught against (Mark 2:16). These people weren’t His closest friends—but He could still respectfully associate with them. Christ even showed love for the people who were murdering Him (Luke 23:34).
The kind of love demonstrated by Jesus Christ is the goal—and it takes the fruit of the Spirit and God’s help to achieve that goal!
3. Learn to despise hatred when you see it in yourself.
It’s important to remember that God hates sin. Hatred of others is a sin—therefore God hates hatred! That is why He lists it as a work of the flesh—because hatred toward people does not come from God’s Spirit.
Partiality, prejudice, self-righteous condemnation, evil speaking, hypocritically attacking others and physical abuse are many examples of hatred. All of these go directly against God’s character of love, mercy and forgiveness. Hatred in its most severe form leads to acts of genocide, like the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide. But on a smaller scale, hatred can also destroy relationships, peace and our inner character.
That is why Jesus Christ taught that we should stop hatred at its source—in our mind (Matthew 5:21-22)!