When hatred is in fashion

J esus gave us four commands to love. The first two are from the Old Testament, the second two are uniquely His own. We are to love the Lord our God (Mark 12:30; Deuteronomy 6:5), our neighbours (Mark 12:31; Leviticus 19:18), our fellow-Christians (John 13:34-35) and our enemies (Matthew 5:44). It is easy to write, in one short sentence, but very hard to do in our own strength. We do have, however, the Holy Spirit at work in us (Galatians 5:22) and the example of our Lord Jesus Himself.

What does this love look like? Our love for God is to be a passionate, all-consuming love. We must love Him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. Our love for others must be as great as our love for ourselves. Our love for those in the family of Christian believers must match Jesus’ love for us, a love that is willing to lay down one’s life for the other (John 13:1,34b; 15:12-13,17). Our love for our enemies must be a love that is shown in actions – doing good to them, praying for them, blessing them even if they curse us. In Jesus’ words:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

This strong and active love can be shown in anger. There is only one place in the New Testament where we are told that Jesus felt anger (Mark 3:5). It was anger created by His love for an unnamed man with a withered hand in a synagogue on a Sabbath. Jesus was both angered and grieved by the hard-heartedness of the Pharisees who did not want the man to be healed, because they saw this as working on the Sabbath. No doubt Jesus was also angry when He threw out the merchants and moneychangers in the Temple, this time an anger created by His love for God the Father (John 2:13-16). Anger can be wrong and it can lead to sin (Ephesians 4:26) but it can also be the right and loving reaction to injustice or cruelty. How much more loving to react with anger than with apathy in such situations.

Love must also show itself in tenderness and empathy. Empathy feels the pain of the other, enters into their emotions and experiences their feelings. This is the love that weeps with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Jesus Himself wept with Mary and Martha as they mourned the death of Lazarus, their brother and Jesus’ friend (John 11:35). His heart was broken. He felt the pain of their loss and bereavement. He was just about to raise Lazarus from the dead, but nevertheless He wept.

Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of loving one’s neighbour (Luke 10:29-30), a love born out of empathy. But it is also an example of loving one’s enemy, for Jews had nothing but contempt for Samaritans. The Samaritan who showed practical love to the wounded Jewish stranger, a love that cost him both time and money, was loving someone who hated and despised him.

But where is love like this to be found today? Hatred is being stirred up in headlines, social media, by politicians and by religious leaders. Peacemaking is despised, warmongering admired. Whole nations are hated for the actions of a handful of their leaders. Refusing to forgive the murderers of a loved one is now seen as the praiseworthy last great service which the bereaved can do for the one they have lost.

As Christians, disciples of our Master, Jesus, we must always seek to emulate His life, His empathy, His righteous anger when necessary, and above all else His supreme self-sacrificial and self-giving love.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo
International Director, Barnabas Aid

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