Is it ever appropriate for Christians to be angry or to hate? Are Christians ever commanded to hate? How could such an idea be reconciled with the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:19 to “love your neighbor as yourself”? Before we jump to conclusions, we need to take into account all of the biblical data. There are, in fact, several places in Scripture where we are commanded to hate that which is evil and even David expressed his hatred for the enemies of God:
Psalm 31:6: “I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the LORD.”
Psalm 119:113: “I hate the double-minded, but I love your law.”
Psalm 119:128: “Therefore I consider all your precepts to be right; I hate every false way.”
Psalm 139:21-22: “Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”
John 2:15: “And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.”
Jude 1:23: “Save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”
Revelation 2:6: “Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
Hatred of that which is sinful and love for God and neighbor are not mutually exclusive. As our love for God grows, our hatred of sin grows. Do you love children? Then you must hate abortion and the abuse of children. If you do not hate abortion, I question your love for children. We can both love abortionists and pray for their salvation and be righteously angry at them and pray that God’s justice would be accomplished in condemning them for their sin and avenging the blood of the innocent if they die without Christ (Rev 6:10). As Russell Moore has said, we believe in a God of justice and justification.
In fact, Jesus would have sinned if he had not driven the money-changers out of the temple. His zeal for God drove him to get angry when he saw the place God had designed for him to be worshiped overrun with the idolatrous representations of Caesar in the many coins the tax collectors had defrauded through unjust exchange rates. Righteous anger is being angry about that which makes God angry. And God is eternally and infinitely opposed to all that is contrary to his holy and righteous nature. Anger over sin should drive us to action rather than passivity. We are called to be angry about the right things and not angry when we don’t get our own way. Sinful anger is rooted in pride and the attempt to build our own little kingdoms in the here and now rather than working for the purposes of God’s bigger kingdom.
But how do we reconcile David’s hatred of God’s enemies in Psalm 31:6 and 139:21-22 with the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'”? Jesus is refuting the Pharisee’s misunderstanding of the relationship between love and hatred which denied the truth of Leviticus 19:18 which commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The Pharisees defined “your neighbor” as only those who love us (Matt 5:46). They had so emphasized passages like Psalm 31:6 that there was no room left for loving our enemies. They had chosen hatred over love rather than allowing both love and hatred to have a role to play in the life of a follower of God. Today the error lies in only focusing on love and neglecting righteous anger.
Applying these passages today means that our anger at those who do evil is with respect to their rebellion against God, but our love toward them is with respect to their being created in God’s image. We need to factor in God’s hatred of both sinners and their sin (Pss 5:5; 11:5). They are “an abomination to the Lord,” but God nevertheless loves them as his creatures (Deut 18:12; Rom 2:4). It is the sinner who is thrown into hell, not their sin. Our hatred of their sin should drive us to love them and see their rebellion cease through the gospel. The most loving thing we can do to those who are evil is to preach Christ to them. We should be so disgusted by their sin that we cannot help but lovingly share with them the good news we have received (Eph 4:15). If I was lost, I would want someone to rebuke me for my sins and share the gospel with me. That is how we love our neighbors as ourselves.