Hating the Haters
“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15; also see Matt. 5:21-22).
Our culture labels those who take certain unpopular stands as “haters.” There are forms of hatred, such as racism, which fully deserve our condemnation, because we are all equally human beings made in God’s image (Acts 17:26; Gal. 3:28). But some of us are unjustly labeled as “haters” because we don’t affirm homosexual marriage, transgender identity, or other beliefs widely held by some segments of society.
There are multiple ironies in our being given this label. One is our belief that we are showing love to people as we seek to deliver them from a lifestyle which will bring ruin to their present lives and judgment for eternity. While there are some Christians who express their disagreements in sinfully hateful ways, most Christians seek to gently and kindly state our views. We may disagree with their lifestyles, but we love them as fellow human beings made in the image of God. Another irony is that those who label us as haters are often very hateful to us. As they accuse others of being haters through social media, public demonstrations, and even their t-shirts, they say nasty (and usually untrue) things about those who disagree with them.
Sadly, this attitude which is so widespread in society has infected the church to some extent. Rather than engaging in a constructive dialogue with those with whom they disagree, some label others as haters, thus precluding any meaningful discussion.1 One example of this would be how some view the role of women in the church and in the home. I have seen Christians who believe in the egalitarian position (which says that women are free to hold any office and perform any function in the church) call complementarians (who believe that the Bible teaches that the office and function of pastor/preacher is for men only) misogynists (women haters).2 This is both unkind and unfair. It also is a very serious accusation in light of 1 John 3:15 (above). The irony is that calling a fellow believer such a name is unloving (hateful). Love assumes the best (it “hopes all things” according to 1 Corinthians 13:7). Should we not give our brother or sister the benefit of the doubt that they have come to their position not because they hate, but because they have reached their conclusions through careful study of Scripture? Shouldn’t we follow the Golden Rule by representing others as we would want to be represented? Should we not also acknowledge that someone can love his sisters in Christ, even if he thinks that they have been given a different (but equally important) role to play in the church and in the home?
Judging the Judges
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:1-5).
I realize that the above passage is a favorite for non-Christians to misuse against Christians (claiming that any moral stance is sinfully judgmental), but I want to focus upon how we can be guilty of violating this text in our relationships with fellow believers. Just as those who condemn the “haters” can be hateful in doing so, those who judge the “judges” can easily become sinfully judgmental. I will offer one example, but I am sure that you can think of others. As a friend of mine wisely said, “We are most aware when it is our ox that gets gored.”
In recent years, there has been a great emphasis upon the centrality of the gospel in everything. Books and seminars are being offered on gospel-centered preaching, gospel-centered counseling, gospel-centered parenting, gospel-centered worship, etc. I personally have benefited from this perspective, which I believe has enhanced my ministry both in counseling and preaching. I have been concerned, however, that some who have jumped on the gospel-centered bandwagon have not completely left their old judgmental ways behind. I have observed cases in which those who claim to be gospel-centered condemn other Christians for being moralistic, legalistic, or lacking gospel grace. These churches and teachers being judged are not denying the gospel. Rather, they are judged because they don’t follow the unwritten rules which define what gospel-centered preaching and counseling should look like in terms of order, content, and emphasis. Those who are the recipients of criticism feel unfairly judged based upon extra-biblical criteria. Without realizing it, those who say that they are all about gospel grace have become guilty of the very harsh (and sometimes sarcastic) judgments which they condemn in others.
Criticizing the Critics
“Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it” (James 4:11).
The issue of when and how to correct or criticize other Christian brothers and sisters is a sensitive one. We have the striking example of Paul publicly correcting Peter in Galatians 2:11-21. But we also have exhortations to be gentle as we correct one another. “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24-25; also see Gal. 6:1).
I have noticed that we Christians often direct our heaviest rhetorical fire (criticism) against the perceived errors of those closest to us. This is true within denominations3 and para-church organizations.4 Sometimes we get so passionately caught up in what we think is the righteousness of our cause that we unnecessarily damage relationships by being harsh, excessively critical, and even sarcastic.
While all of us should welcome correction (Prov. 9:8), remember how hard it is to receive correction when you are criticizing others — Jesus likened it to having someone take a splinter out of your eye (Matt. 7:4ff). Be gentle and gracious (Gal. 6:1). Realize that our unity is fragile and humbly pursue peace when you interact about your differences (Eph. 4:2-3), especially with those who are in your “tribe”.
The fact that we are to be gentle in our criticism does not mean, however, that we can’t correct error. I have observed situations in which after someone criticizes what he regards as unbiblical teaching outside of his tribe that some within his tribe, who were hoping to build bridges with the outsiders, then criticize him for disturbing the peace. Some, without realizing the irony, even go so far as to call upon him to repent for calling others to repent. Of course, I also realize the irony that I could be seen to be criticizing them for criticizing him for criticizing others. May God help us all!
“Where there are many words, transgression is unavoidable. But he who restrains his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19).
Because of our fallenness, we are at risk of finding a certain sinful pleasure in judging others. We are often blind to the fact that we are guilty of the same transgressions for which we condemn others – even as we claim the moral high ground. May God help us to be slow (and careful) to speak (James 1:19), realizing that we who put ourselves forward as teachers will incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1). May God also give us grace to think the best of each other (1 Cor. 13:7), while also being willing to graciously overlook those times when we are the ones who are being unfairly criticized or judged (Prov. 19:11). May He also help us, with all humility, gentleness, and patience, to show tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:2-3).
Questions for Reflection
Are you guilty of unfairly judging or criticizing others? How can you respond in a Christ-honoring way when someone shares their criticisms of others with you?
- It is easier to write someone off by painting them with an emotionally-laden label than it is to try to understand their position and fairly represent them. This constitutes bearing false witness and thus is a violation of the 9th commandment.
- I am sure that complementarians have also been guilty of attaching unkind labels to egalitarians.
- My experience is with my fellow Reformed Baptists and with my Presbyterian friends.
- My primary experience is with my brothers and sisters in the biblical counseling movement.