Quarrels and hatred come so naturally from our sinful nature. Yet our patience comes from Jesus.
John A. Braun
On our Christian journey to heaven, signs often point us to paths that lead away from our destination. Paul identifies one of those signs as hatred and discord. We don’t even need this sign to beckon us to these acts of the flesh. They arise quickly within our sinful hearts and burst from our mouths with bitter venom. Without much coaxing, so often we cause heartache and cripple positive action even among our fellow believers in Christ.
Acts of the flesh: Hatred and discord
Arguments arise at all levels and in all kinds of ways. Sometimes those arguments are over silly and unimportant issues. The neighbor’s dog leaves a deposit on your lawn, and you step in it when you’re mowing. You get angry, and the words that tumble out of your mouth make your neighbor angry. It doesn’t take long for you to be on the road to discord and quarreling. Husband and wife easily turn down the road, and so do parents and children.
It happens in neighborhoods. It happens in families. We are frustrated or hurt by what someone says or does. A little further down the road something else happens to fuel the tension. Soon we have turned down the road where hatred awaits. Hostility and enmity characterize conversation and action. A couple more steps and we are off the Christian way and building a hate wall.
Sometimes the turn from the Christian way seems so natural. Our prejudices and thinking contribute to building the wall. We know we are not “one of them.” It seems natural to call different ethnic groups by offensive names, and they in turn label our ethnic origins in demeaning ways. The road of discord and hatred includes waysides were like-minded people stop and feed on the racial hatred of each other.
And racial hatred has a twin—ideological hatred. Both are born from a human heart that has turned away from the Christian way. We hate Democrats. We hate Republicans. We hate this politician and his or her supporters of the policy or personality we detest. Yes, we can disagree about differences on any subject, but the human heart is a perverse thing. Actions of the flesh all too often play out in destructive rhetoric that destroys peace and hardens the discord—even turning it into hate. If there is any doubt, surf social media and read the vicious attacks on all sides of almost any issue.
Name calling and disruptive actions that flow from hatred of others are not part of the Christian way, and they destroy neighborhoods, families, friendships, and society in general. Jesus suggests, “Anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. . . . Anyone who says ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22).
We should not be surprised that hatred, enmity, discord, and antagonism are so easy to find in our own hearts. We know the Christian way, but we also still have our sinful flesh. We know better, but we quarrel, and words hurt. Paul knew his own sinful heart and ours: “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18). It’s a short trip from disagreement to enmity, hatred, and malice. It happens in the congregations of Christians too. Arguments create a stew that can bubble and boil over to set members against members. Paul reminded the Galatians “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15).
In this discussion, we should remember that God allows us to hate only one thing—whatever opposes his grace and mercy in Christ. We hate such evil with God’s blessing, but we do not have his approval to inflict harm on others who do not share our beliefs. We are reminded not to turn the other cheek and speak the truth in love. Peter advises, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing.” He continues by reminding us that we are to share our faith with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:9,15).
Fruit of the Spirit: Patience
One sign calls us back to the Christian way. In large letters it says, “Patience.” Yet in the heat of arguments and disagreements, the sign is difficult to see. Our first reaction to verbal attacks is to raise our voice and retaliate. We forget that we are children of God who know his love. Because we are redeemed and forgiven by a Savior who has shed his blood for us, we can stop, remember our Savior, repent, and be patient with others. It is not easy, but the love of God for us unworthy, wayward, and rebellious sinners can soften our attitude toward others.
We are told to stop, drop, and roll when our clothes are on fire. Good advice! It’s good advice also when we are on fire with hatred and discord. Stop! Drop to your knees and roll yourself in the forgiveness and love of Jesus. Then stand up as a child of God and be patient.
The word Paul used for this fruit of the Spirit could also be translated as “forbearance” or “long-suffering.” Those two words are helpful. In the malice and anger that are directed at us, we can find the strength in Jesus to hold back, forbear, and be patient in spite of provocation. Long-suffering is similar. Endure whatever personal attack you experience—suffer the insult quietly, and do not be quick to retaliate.
How can we do this? Remember Jesus who has endured our sins and paid the penalty for our anger, harsh words, and malice. In spite of our sins, he went to the cross to claim us as his children. Think of what that means. His perfect example of patience in the face of discord has achieved the good our sinful flesh lacks. He did what we could not do. His righteousness covers our unrighteousness.
And yet there is more. He wants us to be like him here in this life and has given us a perfect example to follow. Think of Jesus responding to the Pharisees who claimed that he had supernatural power from the devil (Luke 11:14-28). Think of Jesus before the high priest and before the crowds that called for his death. Think of Jesus standing before Pilate. He quietly endured and is a perfect example of long-suffering, forbearance, and patience. Like him we are to be peacemakers and not agents of hatred in this world of discord, quarrels, and enmity.
When we walk along his way, he knows that our steps will not be steady and resolute. We stumble and fall. It’s an ongoing struggle to avoid the quarrels that come so naturally from our sinful nature. Yet he calls us back, encouraging us to repent and turn once again to the way that leads to the eternal home he has prepared for us. He seeks to renew our hearts and attitudes with his forgiveness and his example.
This is the third article in a six-part series on acts of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit.
Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 2019