Christians Have No License to Hate

Minna Antrim once said, “To be loved is to be fortunate, but to be hated is to achieve distinction.”

I think on these words sometimes.

In one sense, her words are offered as a warning to those pursuing notoriety, reminding them they won’t be loved by everyone when they arrive at fame’s station. In another sense, she sets the words before her readers as a reminder, a prodding emblem for those laboring to achieve for the sake of a common betterment. We are to know that as we wrestle toward good, we’ll accumulate along the way some who despise us.

Why is this?

Because hate is natural to Man’s fallen fabric. It’s the oily-black blood flowing in the sin-nature’s veins, bringing malevolent nutrition to all parts of its body.

I think this proves Lord Byron’s words true when he wrote that “hatred is by far the longest pleasure; men love in haste, but they detest at leisure.”

Hatred is easy for us, and we can do it for a long time.

I remember a few months back I was listening to a fellow clergyman and friend (well, now I’d call him a former friend) making the point before a group of listeners that the Bible gives license to hate as God hates. He didn’t speak to anything specifically, and yet because I know the texts, I suppose I was assuming he was thinking on the passages that say God hates things like divorce (Malachi 2:16) and idolatry (Hosea 9:15) and other such resulting weeds that grew from the soil of man’s sinful heart. Paul says in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” And for the record, in the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” In context, the Nicolaitans were a group that more than proffered sexual immorality. And please take note that Jesus said He hated the works of the Nicolaitans, not the Nicolaitans themselves.

Having said all of this, what I remember most about my former friend’s overall words was the sense of defending a Christian’s right to hate in an emotional sense. I remember walking away with a sinking feeling of disconnect with his words. It seemed as though he was trying to cram the broader theology of God’s righteous anger against Sin into the lesser box of simple human passion and its fleshly responses. He seemed to be working to stir the already sin-capable hearts of his listeners to take up a cause, one that involved wielding the sword of God’s vengeance in hand under the guise of a righteous vigor against evil.

Friends, if this was the goal, it was wrong, and it just won’t do among us.

There’s an interesting passage in the Book of Hebrews which reads, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

The word “therefore” is pivotal here. What comes after it is to be understood as the result of what preceded it.

Contextually, the writer of the book sets the stage as having an inspired knowledge of God the Father having said the words to His Son, Jesus. And surrounding the short accolade of this particular verse, all of the Father’s verbiage points to His divine hatred and righteous judgment for evil, and how ultimately, it has been heaped upon Christ in His death on the cross. Christ was the propitiation of God’s righteous wrath against wrongdoing. From this, and finally, the anointing of Christ’s efforts for the extension of His kingdom—which is our anointing as well by virtue of having been baptized into the death of Christ—becomes one of joy.

That’s the word the writer uses to describe what’s driving our efforts for the extension of the Kingdom in this world. Joy.

By faith, we can hate evil in the purest sense of its ancient definition—meaning we despise it as the opposite of what God, who in perfect love, intended for His creation. But how do we wage war against others being consumed by this evil. The Book of Hebrews points its inspired finger at joy.

So be honest. Can the word “joy” at all—or could it ever be—an emotionally hate-filled word? Is it possible to ever say that you joyfully hate someone? If you can, you’ve got serious problems. If you try to defend it as such, you are a liar and unable to see that Godly joy is incapable of producing hatred, but rather it is unbreakably intertwined with the other eight fruits of the Spirit, which are love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23).

In short, Christians do not hate anyone. We are to love others. We are to seek peace with others. We are to be patient and kind. We are to exercise and amplify goodness. We are to seek faithfulness to Christ and thereby be found faithful to our neighbors. We are to engage with others gently, employing the carefulness that comes only by way of self-control.

And should any of us ever give the impression that we hate anyone while claiming the Bible as our justifier, I’m willing to say such a person will have stepped beyond the truest borders of the Word of God, and frankly, is no longer holding valid citizenship in the Kingdom of Christ until repentant faith is restored.

I suppose if you disagree, you could take it up with the Apostle John—the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 13:23)—who wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:21); and “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15); and “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness… But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9,11).

If you need more help with this, knock on King Solomon’s door. He’ll be sure to remind you that “hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Proverbs 10:12). And I suppose if you need a final lesson, sit at the feet of Jesus and hear Him say so gently and plainly, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).

I suppose my point in sharing this is, first, because I sat down to type something—anything—and this is what came out. But second, because we are dwelling in some rather confusing times, ones that call for us to be vigilant and steadfast in the face of some pretty unsettling efforts against us. Still, our Lord’s superior Word doesn’t change. It is immutable. And so we trust Him. He knows far better than we do what will win the hearts of others, even those who’d rather see us fed to the lions.

And so, Christians, do not hate. Love as Christ loved you and gave His own life for yours. Only the love of Christ—lived out through us—can meet with courage the opponents of the Church and expect to be blessed. Such love is truly a fearless love, for “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Repentant Joy

In preparation for yesterday’s sermon, at one point along the way I found myself pondering the following sentence offered during the Eucharistic Prayer in the midst of the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper:

“With repentant joy we receive the salvation accomplished for us by the all-availing sacrifice of His body and His blood on the cross.”

That’s a strange sentence. It’s peculiar because within it, the petitioners fashion the words “repentant” and “joy” into a singular, personal descriptor.

At first thought, repentance would seem to bear an edge, to be the cutting result of receiving the harder news about oneself, a response acted out in humility, a response borne from a penetrating sorrow for Sin, a full-throated acknowledgement of who we are and what we’ve done. Joy, on the other hand, paints a portrait of one who bounds along without burden, happily unconcerned with the sorrowful things and smiling as though gravity is imaginary and the sun will never set.

In the swiftness of a prayerful moment, these two words seem to be the blending of passionate opposites—like the mixing of oil and water, darkness and light, pessimism and optimism.

To really get what’s behind their comradery, I suppose it’s imperative for us to first realize these words are aimed straight into our guts. In other words, as Christians, we own them in faith. But equally, as they burrow into us, they reach our center, grab hold, and then begin steering us intently toward the end of the sentence in which they dwell—to the sacrifice of Jesus for our Sin.

Both have their eyes set upon the crucified Savior.

The “repentant” half of the phrase reminds us the words aren’t careless. Life is not a bopping along with unconcerned steps. With the cross as the heading, we keep our footing and know our location. We’re bound to humility. We know that even as we live in the sunshine of God’s forgiveness of sins each and every day—that His love is given to us freely and fully—the work to accomplish our redemption wasn’t cheap. It was quite costly. The cross of Jesus Christ stands as the receipt for the dreadful expense. The image itself prompts the recognition that we are in daily need of what Christ won on that cross. Each day we fall short. Each day is encumbered by monsters—Sin, Death, the devil—all maneuvering to eat away at our inheritance as God’s children, and we should never take this lightly.

But deeper still, even as we live in this fallen world well aware of our jagged surroundings, the “joy” half of the phrase is an expression of Christian hope, a truth that knows the death of Jesus for our salvation as it meets with the “right now” but also the “not yet.” We are free to live in Christ right now knowing that our heavenly future is secure. By faith, as God’s beloved children, we are heirs of eternal life.

Repentant joy. Sounds good.

In my opinion, these words together are incredibly thick and immensely real, and even if they were spoken alone, they’d announce far more than the most eloquent and heartfelt pleas. In two words, we learn our identity as ones who live and breathe and move in this world with a joyful confidence located in the forgiveness won by Jesus for the world to come. Or perhaps another way—we live at the ready. We live knowing that in Christ we have the best of all things while remaining honest with ourselves, acknowledging that our Sin-nature knows this, too, and would see to it being snatched away.

I like the phrase “repentant joy,” and I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be more intentional about using it in my daily prayers. I’m going to be a bit more concerted about asking that the Holy Spirit continue to work this in me.

The Connection of Joy to Suffering

How’s that song go? School’s out for summer…

Well, it’s almost out. My kids have already said three or four times this morning, “Two and a half more days.”

“Yes,” I say in return. “You’ve already said that.”

As much as I love education—in fact, just ask Jen and she’d tell you I could sit in a classroom pretty much all day long—still, I’m glad the school year is coming to a close. It means time is a little more flexible for rest from busy schedules where every minute is accounted for, people’s spirits seem much calmer, and perhaps the doors and windows of opportunities for more fellowship with one another begin to open. In all, the sky’s deep blue feels just a little kindlier and the sun’s rays seem somewhat more caressing.

You can’t beat the feeling of summer. It can be very joyful.

In my morning reading from Luther, the good Reverend wrote the following regarding faith in Christ resulting in the joy of life and life’s deeds: “…the better you know it, the more does it make your heart joyful, for where there is such knowledge the Holy Ghost cannot remain outside. And when He comes He makes the heart joyful, willing, and happy, so that it freely goes and gladly with good heart does all that is well-pleasing to God, and suffers what has to be suffered, and would gladly die. And the purer and greater the knowledge, the deeper grows the bliss and joy” (Sermons from the year 1523).

Do you know how Luther claims this joy is planted specifically; that is, the springtime sowing that produces the summertime image he just described? If you guessed Word and Sacrament—the holy Word, Holy Baptism, absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, the Lord’s Supper—if you guess these things, then you’re right. It’s through the reception of these Gospel means that the perpetual summertime heart of the Christian is strengthened for real joy—come what may.

How’s that song go? More than a feeling…

Faith in Christ results in so much more than a feeling. It results in life—life lived together as a community of believers here in this place—caring for one another, opportunities to serve the needs of a suffering world, prayer, study of the Word, reception of the gifts of grace, and so many other things I could add.

Notice Luther connected joy to suffering and death.

Summer ends. Fall comes. A new school year begins, and with that, the schedules increase and the days seem to get shorter. But the Christian heart fed by Christ’s perpetual springtime love for a truly endless summer of joy knows this and is well stocked against anything that would try to steal it away.

Don’t lose Word and Sacrament this summer. Don’t stay away. Keep in holy worship. Be strengthened by the means of grace. This is your lifeline for joy—real joy—into and beyond the summer of 2017.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Some of you probably already knew this, but Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite poets. She had an incredible grasp of language; and not only that, but she could string together a necklace of words with such uncommon precision, and pair nearly every phrase with incredible rhyme schemes, that it’s hard not to appreciate her skill. I have her entire collection of works, and I must say, I visit with it often. And even as I read her poetry knowing that she wasn’t necessarily a Christian—although she grew up in a Christian home and was influenced by Christian tradition—her words ring true in many ways, whether she realized it or not. For example, a personal favorite of her lyrics goes something like this:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

I like that. Hope perches in the soul and never stops singing its song. Sounds like the hope we have in Jesus, if you ask me. By the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, hope lives and breathes and moves within us even as we face days of both sunshine and rain, of blue skies and clouds. Or as Saint Paul says in Romans 5:1-5: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

One more time: “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God” (v. 2).

I like that. It speaks of hope as it flows from God’s glory. You and I know by the Holy Word that the truest form of God’s glory is seen on the cross in the death Jesus Christ for our forgiveness—at least that’s the way Jesus talked about it (John 12:23-33; Mark 10:36-38, and others).

And I like this, too: “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Here Paul makes sure we understand that our hope in the suffering, crucified, and risen Savior is never to our shame, but rather it is the wellspring of God’s love that actually pours into our hearts to steady our resolve and sturdy our grasp of the only One who can save us—Christ, the Son of God!

May this hope continue to be yours as the summer days roll in. Remember to hold fast to the means by which God feeds and sustains this hope—Word and Sacrament ministry. You need this stuff. I need this stuff. The whole world needs this stuff. Why? Because it has what sets hope in the soul where it can sing and sing and sing, never growing tired of its joyful song of salvation.