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.