Love and hate have a closer relationship than many of us may realize. Because I love my wife and daughter, I hate anything that threatens to harm them. Because I love the truth, I hate error. Hate is never far from love since it’s the opposite side of the same coin. The more you love one thing, the more you hate another.
With this line of reasoning in mind, John can implore Christians, who are to be known by their love, to hate. He writes, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1Jn 2:15). Literally, he says, “Stop loving the world!” An accurate paraphrase could read, “Hate the world and the things in the world.”
Of course, John would never teach us to violate the second great commandment which says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39). Loving people is one of three tests he proposes in this epistle to validate our eternal life. “Anyone who does not love does not know God,” he later states, “because God is love” (1Jn 4:8).
Similarly, Jesus taught us to love even our enemies (Mt 5:44). By doing so, we imitate our heavenly Father who is the embodiment of love (Mt 5:48; 1Jn 4:8).
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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 do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48)
As his children, God commands us to love everyone without exception because he loves everyone, though it may be to various degrees. Clearly, he doesn’t love reprobates as he does his covenant people, but his sun still rises on them, and he sends them rain despite being his eternal enemies (Mt 5:45).
At this point, the overly zealous Calvinist will argue, “That can’t be true. God loves or hates. There can be no in between. Scripture says, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated‘” (Ro 9:13).
Allow me to reply before I go any further.
Hate is a strong word, but it doesn’t necessarily imply a complete absence of love. For example, Jesus tells his disciples, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26). I don’t know of anyone who assumes Christ means anything other than we are to love our family and life less than we do him. This hate is not absolute. It is hate by comparison to our love for the Savior.
When Paul quotes Malachi in his letter to the Romans—Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated (Ro 9:13)—he was not arguing against Christ’s teaching to love our enemies or that God tells us to do as he says, not as he does. God’s righteous nature dictates that he must abhor sinners, yet he also shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Ro 5:8). God can love and hate a people simultaneously, even though his love for some far surpasses his love for others.
Plus, Paul’s emphasis in Romans 9 is not God’s hatred for Esau and his descendants, the Edomites. Instead, he defends God’s sovereign prerogative to have mercy on whom he will have mercy and … compassion on him whom he will have compassion (Ro 9:15). Paul’s emphasis is God’s love for Jacob, not his miseō, that is, ill-will or lesser affection, toward Esau.
This point is necessary to make or else we may misunderstand John. He is not telling us to hate the people of the world. Rather, he instructs us to hate the present order of things. We are to despise the course of this wicked world and the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience (Eph 2:2). Kosmos or world has several meanings in Scripture (1Jn 2:15). In this case, it refers to the way of life of the whole world which currently lies in the power of the evil one (1Jn 5:19). It is everything that is not of God.
Paul describes Christians as waging a spiritual war against the ideologies and practices of the secular world (2Co 10:3). “We destroy arguments,” he says, “and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2Co 10:5). God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col 1:13). It stands to reason that we would detest that corrupt world from which God has saved us, not to be confused with the people of that world.
The god of this world has his kingdom, and Christ has his (2Co 4:4). These distinct realms are mutually exclusive and less compatible than oil and water. The culture of Christ’s kingdom is best known for its love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). Satan’s domain, on the other hand, is terribly marred by sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Gal 5:19-21).
The people of this latter world are lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, and, ultimately, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2Ti 3:2-4). Though they may have the appearance of godliness at times—they even creep into the church (2Ti 3:6)—they deny its power by denying the Spirit’s effective working in a true believer’s life to bring about genuine devotion to Christ (2Ti 3:5). They have their reasons for wanting to be a part of the Christian community, but their motives are less than pure.
John saw these worlds colliding in his day. Proto-Gnostics burdened the church with sins and led people astray by various passions (2Ti 3:6). They manipulated believers into letting down their guard. The churches of Asia Minor and beyond were confusing truth and error, righteousness and sin. Tragically, they learned to love the world and many of its evil things while also claiming to possess the love of the Father (1Jn 2:15). Again, these kingdoms do not mix. We will either … hate the one and love the other, or … be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and any other master simultaneously (Lk 16:13).
I think we can relate.
The influence of contemporary secular society on the church is a perpetual threat. Feminism gives rise to so-called empowered women, distorting the biblical roles of male and female. Haughty intellectualism encourages pastors to become ashamed of God’s word to the point of denying selective parts of it. Pragmatism with a hint of materialism turns Christianity into big business where pastors become CEOs rather than spiritual shepherds of God’s people. The world around us redefines love, tempting us to accept homosexuality as a natural relationship or else be guilty of hate-filled bigotry. And on and on it goes.
On an individual level, we frequently blur the line between godliness and worldliness. Like Paul’s friend, Demas, we mistakenly fall in love with this present world, though our misplaced affection is usually subtle (2Ti 4:10). For example, how many times have we rushed home on a Sunday afternoon, thankful our religious obligation to worship has been met so we can move on to something more enjoyable such as, say, a football game on TV? How many times have we been more than willing to leave our daily devotions and Bible reading behind when on vacation as though spiritual disciplines are an unwanted chore? Perhaps unknowingly, our love of earthly pleasure can exceed our love of God (2Ti 3:4).
In his typically bold fashion, John reminds us of the incompatibility between God’s kingdom and the kingdom of this world. Just as unregenerate people do wicked things and hate the light of truth, Christians do what is true and hate the world as well as the things in the world (Jn 3:20-21; 1Jn 2:15). “If anyone loves the world,” John writes, “the love of the Father is not in him.”
To be clear, your excitement for a football game on Sunday afternoon surpassing your eagerness to worship God with your brothers and sisters in Christ doesn’t automatically mean you’re a child of the devil. Sometimes the flesh is weak (Mt 26:41). Even the most faithful men and women enter into temptation.
Yet every time we succumb to the desires of the flesh and give more of our devotion to the things in this world than the Father, we chip away at the assurance of our salvation (1Jn 2:16; 15). Knock off enough pieces, and we give ourselves every reason to ask, “Am I of the world or of God?” After all, whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil (1Jn 3:8). No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him (1Jn 3:9).
It is troubling to say the least when few distinctions can be made between believers and unbelievers. I’ve wondered how John would respond to hearing modern Christians defend homosexuality as a perfectly moral lifestyle. I’m curious to know what he’d say as we use our leisure time to watch favorite TV shows which make light of sin and even celebrate it. I can only imagine his remarks as he observes the inordinate number of hours we devote to our phones over prayer and the Bible.
I suppose he’d say, “Stop loving the world and the things in the world (1Jn 2:15). You are wasting your life on things that are passing away (1Jn 2:17). Soon enough, each of us will have to give an account of himself to God (Ro 14:12). Are you ready for that?”
In the garden of Eden, the [cunning] serpent was successful at fooling Eve to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree by employing three basic temptations (Ge 3:1).
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5)
While you won’t see a three-point outline in the serpent’s speech, he appealed to Eve’s desires of the flesh and desires of the eyes and pride of life (1Jn 2:16). She immediately noticed that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise (Ge 3:6).
The fruit’s potential nourishment was the first enticement. Its superficial attractiveness was the second. The possibility of gaining God-like wisdom was the third.
The devil also employed the same tactics against Jesus in the wilderness. First, he tempted Christ’s humanity by suggesting the Lord command a stone to become bread since Jesus was severely hungry (Lk 4:3; 2). Second, he dangled the sight of all kingdoms of the world in front of Jesus, saying, If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours” (Lk 4:5; 7). Lastly, he appealed to Christ’s prospective pride by suggesting the Son of God could throw himself down from [the pinnacle of the temple] and not be hurt (Lk 4:10; 9).
John knows the drawing power of sin all too well. He understands the appeal of Satan’s kingdom on earth. All that is in the world poses constant enticements (1Jn 2:16). Seductive solicitations to our flesh, eyes, and pride are everywhere we turn. Frankly, the devil has better marketing than companies like Apple ever will. He knows the human heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, and he doesn’t hesitate to use that to his advantage (Jer 17:9).
Turn on the television long enough to watch a block of commercials. Advertisers will show you products that’ll make you feel good, products that look good, and products that are bound to elevate your status in this world. “Buy this luxury car,” they claim, “and your daily commute to work will be more enjoyable. Notice how sleek it looks. You’ll be the envy of your friends.” The message is clear: “Do your flesh, eyes, and pride a favor; buy this car” (1Jn 2:16).
If the business world knows enough to use this three-fold tactic to sell us stuff, you can probably imagine what the devil is capable of doing with it. The only difference is that Satan doesn’t care whether we buy a new car or the latest iPhone. His purpose is to turn our minds from things that are above to things that are on the earth (Col 3:2). He wants our desires and devotion to be greater for the world than for the will of God (1Jn 2:17).
John, however, cites an obvious problem facing anyone who invests him or herself in the world or the things in the world (1Jn 2:15). The world is passing away along with its desires (1Jn 2:17). If you’ve fallen in love with any part of the devil’s kingdom, you’ve grown smitten with something in a state of transition. John says it’s paragō or disappearing as we speak. The present form of this world is passing away (1Co 7:31). What you love now will soon be something else altogether.
Years and years ago, a former roommate of mine met a woman in a local restaurant. His attraction to her was strong and immediate. I spoke to her briefly and thought she was sweet. Things changed drastically, though, when she visited our apartment for the first time. As soon as she walked through the door, she became strangely hesitant. “There are evil spirits in this room,” she said. “You should have the place cleansed.”
Evil spirits? Cleansed?
As it turned out, she was a practicing witch and recommended a few ceremonial rituals to remove the spirits. I believe the process involved some herbs and a cigar perhaps. To my friend’s credit, he recognized the dangers of his new relationship and promptly ended it. I suppose it helped that she revealed her true self so quickly, not to mention so radically for a couple of small-town boys who had never met a witch before.
This present world is a lot like my roommate’s short-lived girlfriend. As attractive as it seems now, its appeal is fleeting. The end of all things is at hand (1Pe 4:7). What looks so pleasant now will soon prove vain, not to mention destructive. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ecc 12:14). The day is fast approaching when:
the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:10)
The stark contrast between truth and error will be apparent to everyone. No one will confuse good with evil any longer. The line separating Christ’s kingdom from Satan’s domain will be unmistakeable since the earth as we know it will cease to exist, and the devil and his army will be thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:10).
With that end in mind, what sane person would want any part of what the god of this world has to offer? (2Co 4:4). The Christian should happily refuse his temptations, saying, “Everything you have to give is merely temporary. None of the satisfaction it brings can be worth the cost. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mk 8:36).
Whoever does the will of God will find that his or her life and choices have eternal meaning (1Jn 2:17). When we can testify, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” we can live without the things of this world because we know we’ll abide forever while those things we once sacrificed have passed away permanently (Php 3:8; 1Jn 2:15; 17).
Committing ourselves to the will of God is the only sound investment we can make on this earth (1Jn 2:17). Invest in the pleasures of sin, the conveniences of erroneous doctrines, or even the fun of new cars and football games, not that material goods and secular entertainment are inherently evil, and you may as well hold your proverbial money over an open flame.
Perhaps the following anecdote will help.
Charles Dutton, the Broadway star, spent seven years of his youth in prison for manslaughter. When someone asked how he was able to survive his time in prison, he replied, “Unlike the other prisoners, I never decorated my cell.” In other words, he made sure his every action reflected the temporary nature of his situation. He didn’t decorate his cell because he didn’t plan on staying long, and neither should we.