The Hateful Heart


In reading I John this morning, it’s striking how much the aged apostle warned not only against false doctrine, but against false lifestyle. He defined false lifestyle not only as habitual disobedience but also as persistent and habitual hatred of another believer – another brother or sister – in Christ. See further such passages as I John 2:9-11, 3:11-15, and 4:19-21. Upon reflection, if I were again to be in the position of having to be the pastor of a small, struggling church, I would preach on at least one of these passages at the beginning of my ministry. I think now that one of the reasons that these churches become these small, struggling congregations is that there is at least one person with a persistently hateful heart toward other believers that is poisoning the fellowship.

It’s also striking to me how little preaching and teaching I can remember in the North American church that warns against the hateful heart. Yet there is abundant apostolic warning about it. In fact, the apostle Paul in Titus 3:3 describes the unregenerate life as one of living in “malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” Moreover, he places it among the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:20. Yet, as far as I can tell, the average evangelical believer has probably heard more preaching and teaching that contain warnings about lust (that usually start with David’s midnight glance at Bathsheba) than even one on the terrible danger of the hateful heart. Unfortunately, this is normal when sin is treated as simply a matter of outward conduct, as not doing something which is socially embarrassing in modern evangelical circles. Unfortunately, the hateful heart is not something that can be overcome with the usual prescriptions of the modern evangelical self help tendencies. And I think that the abuse of others which has often gone unrecognized and unrebuked in the modern church may well be because of a failure to recognize this reality: the hateful heart is the malicious heart which is the abusive personality.

There’s a question that I have from all of this: Who left hatred off our list of sins?

For myself, I would say that the most serious and striking warning apart from the clear teaching of scripture to avoid hate another came from the account of Betsie ten Boom’s warning to her sister Corrie not to let her heart given in to hate, even as they lived through the horrors of Ravensbruck. It’s worthwhile to continue to read the book and show the movie of the Hiding Place even if only for that one warning. Warnings about letting hatred infect the heart also have come from Dr. Martin Luther King and John Perkins. Dale Galloway’s 1970’s book, Dream a New Dream, also contained a tremendous warning against hatred. And these warnings highlight one of the ways that hatred is spread, as a reaction to the hatred and abuse of another person.

I think that one big reason why there is so little warning about the hateful heart given in current preaching and teaching is that there is simply too much credit given to ‘good intentions’ among modern evangelicals. Yet this is the camouflage of choice for someone who is acting in persistent hatred: the claim to have ‘good intentions.’ So, here is what Solomon had to say about ‘good intentions’:

“He who conceals his hatred has lying lips,
and whoever spreads slander is a fool”

(Proverbs 10:18).

“A malicious man disguises himself with his lips,
but in his heart he harbors deceit.
Though his speech is charming, do not believe him,
for seven abominations fill his heart.
His malice may be concealed by deception,
but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly

(Proverbs 26:24-26).

So, in other words, scripture does not command believers to take someone at his or her word whose conduct demonstrates malice, envy and hatred, even if that person sometimes acts cuddly and charming, and claims to have ‘good intentions’ for the target of this kind of conduct. Rather, scripture here explicitly says not to believe the claim of good intentions. Rather, it’s reasonable to observe that genuinely good intentions most often result in  mistakes that can easily be repaired with a simple apology and clarification of a misunderstanding, not in long term, habitual malicious and slanderous conduct.

One of the reasons why hatred can infect a church is simply a failure and often a refusal to recognize the symptoms of the hateful heart. These are simply the persistent habits of hateful treatment of other people. Recognition of these patterns of conduct isn’t acting as the final judge on what is in someone’s heart, but rather recognizing what Jesus said about, “Out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). How can anyone make a credible claim to ‘good intentions’ for another person when they persistently subject that person to and instigate others to subject that person to:

  • Constant ridicule and mockery (what does scripture say about ridicule and mockery?)
  • Constant deceitful and malicious contradiction (what does scripture say about deceit, subterfuge, dissembling and lying?)
  • Constant spitefulness (what does scripture say about malicious conduct?)
  • Consistent display of disdain and contempt toward the target
  • Malicious stalking of the target to gather information, disrupt life and legitimate pleasures, and recruiting of other people to monitor the target and report on his or her contacts with other people and activities (this kind of stalking and spying is evident throughout the Psalms, and was characteristic of Saul’s hateful treatment of David and Tobiah’s attempts to outmaneuver Nehemiah)
  • Constant demeaning of the actual character and achievements of that person
  • Exploitation of life tragedies and known disappointments for further sadistic abuse (how often does this happen throughout the Psalms, that someone gloats over and attempts to exploit the afflictions of the Psalmist – to deliver cowardly kicks to a person when he is down?)
  • Slander of the person’s character and personality – (in this day and age, this may include slanderous attribution of mental illness or trumped up difficulties – malicious embellishment, exaggeration and fabrication — to give a false justification that the target deserves the hateful treatment – or it may include blaming the target – projection — for the actual sins of the person with the hateful heart).

Moreover, genuine Christlike love does not consist in words but in deeds (I John 3:18). In these cases of claims of ‘good intentions,’ the words are camouflage. The other words and deeds demonstrate the presence of a hateful heart, for “Love does no harm to its neighbor” (Romans 13:10).

It’s been my observation that churches which have a long term, stable ministry develop a way of dealing with people who demonstrate hateful conduct over a period of time. Hateful conduct has a way of spreading among naive and immature believers and hateful people tend to try to recruit others to their wicked schemes. Simple rebuke and correction, though, can often bring a genuine believer to his or her senses – something like, “I’ve been hearing a tone of contempt and disdain for this brother or sister in Christ when you talk about his or her ‘problems,’ and it seems like you are trying to darken his or her reputation more than be of genuine help. I think that you should spend some time praying for this person, and apologize for the way you’ve been talking about him or her behind his or her back” – though it takes some scriptural nerve and Spirit led conviction to do this. Sometimes, though, the hateful person and his or her henchpersons end up leaving of their own accord if over a period of time their conduct is rebuked and they end up not getting their own way – these are cases where their disappointments are well deserved, and the body of believers may charitably hope that they eventually learn from their disappointments. Sometimes – and thankfully, few times – it takes strong discipline and expulsion from membership by the elders, upon the basis that this hateful conduct is divisive and falls under the directions of Paul in Titus 3:10-11. Note also these scriptural directions of the fellowship of believers on how to avoid hateful conduct when it seeps into and poisons a fellowship:

Hebrews 3:13: “ . . . encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

Hebrews 10:23-24: “ . . . let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

Hebrews 12:15: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Note that the bitter root or root of bitterness, as in the King James Version, is a person who leads others astray and away from the path of godliness; the term is pulled from Deuteronomy 29:18.)

Ephesians 5:6,11: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them . . . Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, who who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also will be tempted.”

The apostle Paul’s description of the hateful nature of the unregenerate person in Titus 3:3 describes two of the reasons that people find for hatred of others. Here are those two, with some others:

  • Dislike of something about that person. This can sometimes open admission of hatred for that person, that kind or class of person. This would include any kind of class or racial prejudice. In many cases someone may openly admit this in a milder form: he or she is a person or type of person “ . . . that I have problems with” – that expression should be a red flag and should not be glossed over if it is freely admitted, especially if it’s in a setting like a small group where others can counsel and pray about the problem of dislike and potential and probable hatred for another believer in Christ. The reaction of other believers to these kinds of statements should be in accord with Galatians 6:1 rather than a blithe tolerance.
  • Envy of something that the other person has in some way that the person with the hateful heart may feel deprived of. Again, Galatians 6:1 gives the appropriate reaction.
  • Vengeance for some perceived wrong done against oneself or someone that a person wants to protect, such as a friend or family member. The scriptural reaction is not to take vengeance!
  • Exposure of the sin of the hateful person by correction or simply by the consistent Christian life of someone who is following Christ with all his or her heart. The convicting words and sinless life of Jesus was the reason that he gave for the undeserved hatred dealt to him (John 15:18-25), and it can be behind the hateful treatment of a believer who is following Christ with integrity and love (I John 3:12-13).  If this is the reason why when a believer known for his or her consistent Christian life becomes the target of hatred, the presumption cannot be that he or she deserves the treatment – particularly if the treatment contains such insinuations such as he or she being such a ‘goody two shoes.’ While some believers may well be self righteous and ‘holier than thou,’ the presumption cannot be, in the light of scripture, that that kind of epithet is always justified. Moreover, a believer in Christ can expect this treatment from the backslidden in a church fellowship and the world without Christ in general.

Another of the characteristics of the hateful heart is overkill: the malicious behavior against the target becomes more pronounced, exaggerated and persistent than any of the excuses or justifications would warrant, and eventually it becomes evident that the hatred is all that there is behind the malicious behavior. It’s been my observation that this deep, persistent and self justifying kind of hatefulness is especially characteristic where the hateful person actually knows that there is no justification for the malicious behavior than his or her own hatred.

Here are some scriptural ways to dealing with hatred and the roots of hatred:

  • Forgiveness and refusal to retaliate (‘get even’) for genuine and perceived slights, hurts and injuries
  • Refusal to judge, especially in the sense of the unfair application of one’s own likes and dislikes, preconceptions and prejudices to another person
  • Contentment in what God has given, can give and may yet give as a barrier against envy
  • Prayer for the supernatural, Holy Spirit power to love as Christ has loved us (Ephesians 3:16-17)
  • Commitment to the way of loving others at all costs
  • Redirection of one’s hatred to its true purpose, to a hatred of sin, and the sin in one’s own heart first of all and most of all.

There are two final observations that I’ve found from I John.  The first is that the hateful are spiritually blinded (I John 2:11). Usually others will find that whatever comes from their lips that sounds spiritual and Biblical is second hand; it comes from listening to and stealing the words of another’s spiritual experience and Biblical diligence. In fact, reading the Bible for themselves and spending time in prayer alone with God is usually something repulsive to believers who have become enmeshed in hatefulness. Even more, pastors who become hateful grieve the Holy Spirit and usually end up destroying their own ministries, even if they don’t end up in scandalous sexual sin. Their preaching becomes a litany of mockery, ridicule and controversy, that entertains some and grieves away many others. What they have done is descended from being someone for whom the Word of the Lord is his delight to standing in the way of the sinner and sitting in the seat of the mocker (Psalm 1). Rather,scripture itself calls for turning away from all that is hateful to be able to receive the Word of God profitably into one’s heart and soul: “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (I Peter 2:1-3).

Finally, the most important observation and most serious for every professed believer in Christ: a hateful heart is eternal evidence against the reality of one’s conversion and a spiritual disease which testifies against the genuineness of a person’s regeneration (I John 3:14-15, 4:20). I would not mention this at all if it had not come with scriptural justification and apostolic authority. It’s one of the realities which the apostle John warned against, and it’s something that someone who takes the Word of God seriously in its plain sense must take seriously as well. This is something that I write with no pleasure and with all the seriousness that I can. It’s something against which a believer needs to fight with all that is within him or her through the power of Christ in the Holy Spirit, so that he or she does not allow hell to have an earthly outpost in his or her hateful heart.

This, then, will be one sign that genuine revival has come to a believer, a church or a number of churches: the purification of hateful hearts to the loving holiness and clarity of Christ.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.


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