It Is Right To Hate The Wicked And Good To Love Our Enemies
Paul is saying that God has been very patient with the wicked, specifically to make the riches of his glory known to the saints when he pours out his full wrath upon his enemies. We absolutely do not deserve the mercy of God, as we also “were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col 1:21). We have obtained it by grace alone, through the free gift of faith in Christ, who came to save sinners. As a result, we will not boast, but we will be awestruck at the depth of his love toward us when we see the glory of God specifically in the destruction of the wicked.
The goal of every Christian is to love what God loves, and hate what God hates. Most often, this means to love doing good and to hate when we do evil. This is as it should be. However, Christians are often unprepared to know how to think about others.
We know that we are supposed to love all people in some way, as it says in Lev 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself!” Jesus says this the second great commandment, and the corollary to the greatest commandment to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and might.” He also says to, “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you” (Lk 6:27).
However, this is only one side of the way we are taught to think about enemies. The other side can be seen in Luke 10:13–15:
13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.”
Here Jesus is speaking words that do not fit our normal definition of love. Surely, he has loved the people in these cities, because he preached and did mighty works there. In fact, most of the twelve disciples were from these cities. But what he says to them here is better captured by the word “hate.” He hates that they have not repented. He hates them for rejecting him. He says the evil Gentile cities on the Mediterranean coast will be better off in the judgment than Chorazin and Bethsaida. Then he taunts Capernaum, which was his home base for ministry, and says they will be brought down to Hades.
To Hate The Wicked
What we are looking at is the other side of the way we are supposed to think about enemies. The Bible is very clear on this point: we are supposed to hate the enemies of God.
I first noticed this when I memorized Psalm 139 in a Bible memorization program with my church. We went through a couple of verses each week, and after a few months we had memorized the whole thing. Well, almost the whole thing. We memorized Psalm 139:1–18, and 23–24, but we skipped four verses. I wondered about it at the time, but it wasn’t until later that I realized what a mistake it was.
Psalm 139 is a glorious prayer to God about how intimately involved he is in our lives. In it, we confess with David that God knows us in every last detail (vv. 1–4). Even if we were to run to the opposite end of the earth, he would be there (vv. 9–10). In fact, he even knew every one of our days before we were born, because he authored them all (v. 16). Then we contemplate how great God’s thoughts are (vv. 17–18), and finally we ask him to search us out and see if there is anything evil in us, so that he can lead us in the way everlasting (vv. 23–24).
But there’s a glaring omission in that overview, because right before we ask God to examine us the Psalm says this:
19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! 20 They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain. 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? 22 I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.
These are the words we did not memorize in our memorization program. They seem completely out of step with the rest of the Psalm. They’re like a mysterious pothole on an otherwise pristine road. But whenever the Bible says something that seems wrong, the proper thing to for us to do is figure out why it seems wrong and correct our own thinking.
In this case, the whole force of the Psalm depends upon it. Immediately after David confesses his vitriolic hatred of the wicked (vv. 19–22) he asks God to make sure he’s on the right path. Sure enough, he didn’t go back and scratch out those vicious verses. They are right there in the Bible, as the Holy Word of God.
Whatever you may feel about these sentiments, the Bible is very clear at this point: We are right to hate the wicked. In fact, we are supposed to hate the wicked. If we do not hate the wicked with a complete hatred, and long for them to be slain by God, then we do not love what God loves and hate what God hates.
Another example comes from the great Psalm 104, which is primarily about God’s amazing care for his creation. After marveling for 34 verses about God’s majesty and love, it ends with v. 35: “Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more! Bless the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord!” Again, the thirst for God’s destruction of the wicked is injected into a Psalm where we would think it has no place.
This happens over and over again in the Bible.
Hatred In the New Testament
Consider Romans 12, where Paul reminds us to love our enemies:
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
We love these verses. They fit perfectly with our understanding of the first side of the Christian attitude toward others: that we are to love all people. But then Paul reminds us why we must never repay evil for evil:
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
He is saying, “You must not take vengeance, because God will avenge on your behalf.” For Paul, the ability to bless and love our enemies is a direct outgrowth of the fact that God will repay them in full with wrath.
20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
It is specifically because of the wrath of God that we can and must show love to people.
This doctrine is not limited to Romans 12. Paul comforts the Thessalonian church by reminding them, in 2 Thessalonians 1:6–9:
…God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…
He goes into such detail that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that he intends the church to derive some amount of comfort from imagining the future punishment of their persecutors.
Revelation depicts exactly this principle in 6:9–10:
…I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
We often think that the saints in Heaven have given up caring about the problems of the earth, or at least thinking about their own suffering. But here we see the opposite. Of course, they are worshiping God, and giving him the glory, but their prayer to him is that he would avenge their blood.
In the end, when Babylon the great is destroyed in a sea of blood, it says (Rev 18:19–20):
“Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste. 20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!”
The message is clear: The citizens of heaven will be radiant with joy when the wicked of the earth receive their just desserts. In fact, God will command them to rejoice over the destruction of Babylon.
What It Means Today
This realization changes everything about the way we think about life. When we see the tyrants of our day cravenly consolidating power and spurning every form of decency, we are right to hate them. We must also pray for them (1 Tim 2:1–2), and do good to them (Lk 6:27), but we can and should look forward to the day when they will receive the just reward for their evil.
If we do evil, we must hate that as well. We cannot for a moment imagine that we are constitutionally incapable of committing the same evil as our enemies. But that fact does not permit us to overlook their evil, or to hate it any less.
It strikes me that a great part of the schism of the church today has to do with the loss of this core doctrine of Christian love and hate. I have not seen an argument for hating God’s enemies in recent literature, which is why I am taking it upon myself to write it. However, there are many arguments from Christians scolding other Christians for rejoicing over the downfall of the wicked.
It also seems to me that much of the argument about how to treat sexual deviance in the church would be far simpler if we understood that we are to hate the wicked and all their ways and do good to our enemies. I cannot imagine that the Apostle Paul would be interested in adding some lines in 1 Tim 3 about how it’s okay for a church officer to identify as a homosexual as long as he doesn’t act on it. More likely, he would say, “repent and never speak of those vile desires again” (cf. Eph 5:3).
I furthermore suspect, that Paul’s warning in 1 Tim 4:1–2 about “liars whose consciences are seared” applies to a growing number of pastors in the American church who have learned that as long as they express the requirement of Christian love in terms of what the world calls “tolerance” and “niceness” they can be praised by the world, and simultaneously trump any Christian who is attempting to “strengthen what remains” (Rev 3:2).
The Glory of God
I conclude with a reminder that if we have no appetite to hate the wicked, then we will never appreciate the riches of God’s glory that he has prepared for us:
22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory… (Rom 9:22–23)
Here we see the principle in its fullest expression. Paul is saying that God has been very patient with the wicked, specifically to make the riches of his glory known to the saints when he pours out his full wrath upon his enemies.
We absolutely do not deserve the mercy of God, as we also “were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col 1:21). We have obtained it by grace alone, through the free gift of faith in Christ, who came to save sinners. As a result, we will not boast, but we will be awestruck at the depth of his love toward us when we see the glory of God specifically in the destruction of the wicked.
If we do not desire their destruction, then we will be completely lost in that moment. We will think it’s time to weep for their poor souls, when in fact it is time to rejoice and glorify God.
Therefore, it is right to hate the wicked, and good to love our enemies.
Mike Littell is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of South Dayton PCA in Centerville, Ohio.