Lover or Hater?

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar.
For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen,
cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
(1 John 4:20, NIV)

When I was a kid, my sister and I were fierce rivals. She and I were always vying for my parents’ attention—and that of anyone else we were around. She was everything I wasn’t: cute, petite, charming and athletic. I was awkward, chubby, bossy and nerdy. Everyone liked her and tolerated me. Needless to say, we didn’t care much for each other’s company most of the time.

My mother tried to raise us to be more than spiteful little savages. She took us to church and encouraged us to read the Bible.

One verse that my sister memorized and was fond of quoting was 1 John 4:20. She was always quick to point out that I really couldn’t love God and hate her at the same time.

I insisted I didn’t hate her, I just didn’t like her much. I refused to let her fasten that kind of guilt trip on me or be convinced that I wasn’t a Christian because we didn’t get along.

Years later, when I audited a Greek class my husband was taking in Bible school, I learned the true meaning of that verse. The word, mise?, translated “hates” in most English Bibles, can also mean despises or disregards. The word, adelphos, translated, “brother,” can mean something as specific as a sibling or fellow believer. It can also be applied more generally as a “fellow human being.” With that in mind, when I translated that passage from the Greek to a literal, idiomatic and then more natural English version, here is what I came up with:

Whoever claims, “I love God,” yet continues to disregard his fellow man is a liar. For the one who does not love his fellow man, whom he has seen, is incapable of loving God, whom he has not seen.

Ouch! Boy, was I convicted then!

Not many of us will admit to hating anyone. There may be a few people we might say we despise. But any honest person has to admit that there are a LOT of people we disregard.

How many times have you spotted a homeless person holding a cardboard sign at a street corner, and then looked away before he or she could make eye contact? Or what about the person who is overweight, unkempt, dyes his/her hair an unnatural color, or otherwise looks “odd”? Do you immediately feel repulsed when you identify someone as “gay” or “transgender”? Do you stay away from members of certain races, religions or nationalities? Are there certain people you intentionally avoid at home, work or school, because you don’t want to get sucked into their drama?

Most of us are comfortable with ‘the Golden Rule’—“Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). It’s not too hard to treat people the way we’d like to be treated. We also don’t mind Jesus telling us the second most important commandment in the Old Testament: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, quoting Leviticus 19:18). But, just before His death, Jesus gave a new and far more difficult commandment: “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12, NCV).

That one raises the bar to an impossible level. Jesus’ love was extraordinary. It was unselfish; it was generous. He didn’t make distinctions between the lovely and unlovable. He reached out to the hated, the disregarded, the disdained. Jesus’ love was radical. He even went so far as to sacrifice His own life to rescue those who hated God and wanted nothing to do with Him. Like His heavenly Father, Jesus didn’t just show love; He lived it, because He WAS love.

At His very core, His essence, God is Love (1 John 4:8). He loves everybody and doesn’t want anybody to die without knowing that and experiencing His love and forgiveness (1 Peter 3:9). If we love God as we say we do, then we are going to have that same compelling, self-sacrificing love that God and Jesus demonstrated (John 3:16, 1 John 4:7-11).

Our annual observance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is really a celebration of His divine love. In the spirit of that love, we ought to be concerned enough about those around us to tell them about Christ. At the very least, we should be willing to invite them to hear about His love at the church we attend each week.

I know it’s tough to reach beyond your comfort zone and interact with people you don’t know, or to come out of the spiritual closet and identify your faith to those you do. But think about 1 John 4:20. Ask yourself, “Am I a lover or a hater? Do I love others, and therefore prove that the love of God is in me? Or do I disregard others and reveal that my professed love of God is a lie?”

I’m not perfect in this God-kind of love. But I want His love to be perfected in me. That’s why I’m praying for Him to help me love others as He has loved me. I’m asking Him to help me demonstrate that love by reaching out to as many people as possible and tell them about Christ.

During this Holy Week, would you consider doing the same?