Against Hate (Genesis 4:1-16)

Cain and Abel by Keith Vaughan, 1946

Adam slept with Eve his wife. She conceived and had Cain. She said, “I’ve gotten a man, with God’s help!”

Then she had another baby, Abel. Abel was a herdsman and Cain a farmer.

Time passed. Cain brought an offering to God from the produce of his farm. Abel also brought an offering, but from the firstborn animals of his herd, choice cuts of meat. God liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn’t get his approval. Cain lost his temper and went into a sulk.

God spoke to Cain: “Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.”

Cain had words with his brother. They were out in the field; Cain came at Abel his brother and killed him.

God said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”

He said, “How should I know? Am I his babysitter?”

God said, “What have you done! The voice of your brother’s blood is calling to me from the ground. From now on you’ll get nothing but curses from this ground; you’ll be driven from this ground that has opened its arms to receive the blood of your murdered brother. You’ll farm this ground, but it will no longer give you its best. You’ll be a homeless wanderer on Earth.”

Cain said to God, “My punishment is too much. I can’t take it! You’ve thrown me off the land and I can never again face you. I’m a homeless wanderer on Earth and whoever finds me will kill me.”

God told him, “No. Anyone who kills Cain will pay for it seven times over.” God put a mark on Cain to protect him so that no one who met him would kill him.

Cain left the presence of God and lived in No-Man’s-Land, east of Eden. (The Message)

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.

1 John 3:11-12, NIV

Despite being brothers, Cain and Abel couldn’t have been any more different.

Abel became a shepherd. He took the absolute best of his flock and made it an offering, with the intent of giving God an appropriate gift. The Lord was pleased and approved of Abel’s actions because they demonstrated a good attitude and a sensitive heart. Abel’s belief and practice worked together.

Cain became a farmer. He cobbled together some of the leftovers from his vegetable harvest and gave them a nonchalant toss to God. The Lord did not look favorably on Cain’s actions because they evidenced a bad attitude and a hard heart. As a result, Cain became sullen, upset, and angry. His emotions reflected his actions. Cain didn’t listen to God. Instead, he let hate takeover and killed his brother.

God sets faithful people apart to demonstrate love and to be the hope of the world. God’s people reflect their divine image when lives are changed for the better; hatreds are overcome; failures are forgiven; grace melts hard hearts; selfishness is diminished; and compassion grows into blessing others – not hating them.

Humanity was created for love, not hate.

We know that we have transferred from death to life, because we love the brothers and sisters. The person who does not love remains in death. (1 John 3:14, CEB)

Love is the distinguishing mark of the spiritual person and the follower of Christ. The person with hate has so many barnacles built up on their underside that they cannot move through the water of life with any joy or fulfillment. What’s more, they drag down the rest of the fleet that seeks to move in concert together in love.

Everyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderers have eternal life in them. (1 John 3:15, NCV)

Yes, we ought to love – which means we also should not put up with hate. You and I are under no obligation whatsoever to listen to hateful speech and allow hateful actions. That’s because people are meant to be a reflection of God’s loving and healing acceptance of people. 

Love doesn’t let others spew hate in front of you, no matter who they are. Maybe you could respond to hateful words by saying, “Sounds to me like you need to let God pressure-wash some barnacles off your heart.”

If someone chronically complains to you, and there is never any love behind what they say, then there is hate behind it. In such a case, the person needs deliverance from the Evil One.

Every institution and organization on God’s good earth must have a zero-tolerance policy toward hate, and a 100% commitment to love. 

God has not called us to hate anyone, but to love. And God’s people are only the hope of the world when they love others. 

The world will know that there is a God in heaven, and a Christ in the church, when people within local congregations love one another, when particular Christian denominations go out of their way to bless others, and when the love of Jesus compels them to drip grace on the most unlovely of people. Indeed, they will know we are Christians by our love.

Cain is Exhibit A of modeling the way of hatred and death. He separated himself from his brother, Abel, in every way possible – relationally, emotionally, mentally, and finally, physically through outright killing of the body.

The message from Holy Scripture is: Do not be like Cain. Be like Abel. Love others. Do not hate them. Live for others. Die to self. Avoid violent speech and actions. Don’t be a murderer.

Lord Jesus Christ, through your death on the cross you disarmed the powers of evil. Help us, we pray you, to enter into your victory and to stand in your authority against all evil. Send forth your light and your truth. Bring to light the deeds of darkness and let plans of violence and murder be revealed. By the power of your Holy Spirit, convict those who have allowed their minds to be dominated by evil. Lead them to repentance so that they may receive new life and rejoice in your forgiving love. Amen.

Lynching, Lusting, Liquidating, and Lying (Matthew 5:21-37)

A Bengali depiction of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you; you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (New International Version)

Christ’s Sermon on the Mount by Joseph Matar

Relationships are important to God (and us!); we need one another because we are created in the image of a relational God. So, God wants us to have good relations with each other.

Murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths all have to do with interpersonal relations. These are topics from the Ten Commandments (6, 7, 9, and 10) that Jesus wanted to uphold.

Murder

Just because no blood is spilled doesn’t mean a killing hasn’t taken place. At the heart of the killing is angry contempt – which makes us all mass-murderers. The sort of anger Jesus refers to is nursing a grudge that morphs into hatred. It’s the deliberate decision to let anger sit in the pit of the gut and slow cook into deep resentment. Once that resentment is well done, murder becomes the meal.

Name-calling is the outward expression of resentful grudge bearing. “Raca” is an “airhead.” It means to be empty or stupid. The word “fool” is literally a “moron” – one who lacks both brains and morality. Both names hurt deeply, which is the expressed aim of the name caller. To have our intelligence and character questioned, cuts to the heart.

Jesus insists that harboring internal resentment comes out in external name-calling, verbally lynching people without a trial. Whenever we string a person up, divine judgment is coming to town. 

No one has a right to nurse a grudge. Repaying hatred with hatred is a highway to the grave. If you have ever wished someone dead, hated anyone, or belittled another; then, you have assassinated that person in your heart and are under the judgment of a holy God.

So, what to do in overcoming the resentment? Seek reconciliation immediately. Jesus used two illustrations to illumine the need for reconciliation with others when there are sour relations: an example of worship and an example with the court.

If you are worshiping, and remember that someone else is nursing a grudge against you, it is your responsibility to go and make things right. The Lord does not want to talk to anyone who won’t talk to their sister or brother.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors… For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:12, 14-15, NIV)

None of this is meant to minimize the hurt or trauma that has taken place. Many people have faced hell in the shape of a human. Yet, because Jesus takes your hurt seriously, he calls for forgiveness and reconciliation. Without it, the pain unnecessarily continues and there is no healing.

In the illustration of court, we are to settle matters quickly and make things right so that judgment won’t happen. Let’s avoid living with the regret of vengeance because of destroying someone’s life. Forgiveness and reconciliation are always options on the table.

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrews 12:15, NIV

Adultery

Adultery has its origins in mental sexual activity with another person. Jesus is not against normal gender attraction, nor sex itself (which is a gift of God). Rather, Jesus condemns the leering upon another with sexual fantasy. All adulterous relationships and inappropriate sexual relations start with the “look.”

“Lust” is to intensely desire something, to seek mastery over another. The reason people stare, and lust, is not because of the other person’s manner or dress; it’s because they already have an adulterous heart.

Managing adultery with a band aid is like trying to contain a nuclear meltdown with some duct tape; it’s an amputation we need. Jesus leaves no room to think it’s okay to lust in the heart because “I’m not hurting anybody.” Mental adultery demeans and degrades women.

Our lustful desires are powerful; yet God’s grace is more powerful. There’s no need to be burdened with shame and guilt when the cross of Christ has already taken care of it. There is a multi-billion dollar industry of pornography because our hearts are black. Now is the time for forgiveness, grace, and healing in Jesus Christ.

Sermon on the Mount by Jorge Cocco Santiago

Divorce

Today in America, more than one-third of all adults have experienced divorce. Jesus condemns the cavalier divorce, the thought of having a better spouse, even though there is no marital unfaithfulness. This is yet another form of mental adultery which believes someone else can better meet my needs. 

Jesus makes provision for divorce to occur in certain circumstances. Yet, he doesn’t bend to liquidating a marriage over unhappiness with what God has joined together. The intent of Old Testament legislation on divorce is to avoid a casual stance toward marriage (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Over the centuries, people found creative ways of getting around the law. Although a divorce may be legal, it might not be ethical. Jesus wanted divorce practiced with concern for the woman, so that her rights and needs were considered.

For most of human history, if a husband did not like his wife (e.g. for continually burning his supper) he could divorce her. Jesus, however, insisted divorce must not happen because of a hard time getting along; or don’t love your spouse anymore; or that your spouse keeps irritating you. 

Being frustrated or unhappy are not biblical grounds for divorce. The answer to most marital problems does not lie in a new spouse, but in the hard work of identifying the idols of our hearts, overthrowing them, and re-connecting.

Christ sought to defend women who are victims. In biblical times, if a wife was given a certificate of divorce, she had four options: 1) return to her family of origin; 2) become a beggar; 3) become a prostitute to make ends meet; or, 4) marry again, which was extremely difficult to do. 

In reality, divorce is a legal testimony verifying that a separation has already occurred. It’s a recognition that disunity and division is already present, that a terrible break already happened, damaging the people involved.   

If God found it necessary to divorce his own covenant people, then it’s inevitable that divorce will happen among couples (Jeremiah 3:1-8). So, let’s be discerning in how we handle each individual situation of marital difficulty.

Oaths

“I swear on a stack of Bibles I won’t…” “I will, if I get around to it….” These are a few of the caveats we give when making a promise or oath. Oaths communicate our level or ability of getting something done, or not.

That’s fine. What isn’t fine is making excuses or false promises with no intention of doing what you say you will do. Jesus takes all that extraneous language out. Say “yes” or “no” and then follow through; if you don’t, you’re a liar.

We often lie because we don’t want to do something to begin with. “Yes” and “no” are clear boundary words. Boundaries define where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to take and not take responsibility for gives me freedom.

Jesus wants us to clarify our values; make wise decisions; identify what we will accept and reject; and follow through on what we say we will do, period.

Murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths are all related. They have to do with how we relate to others, especially those closest to us and to God. We are to live responsibly by keeping our hearts large and soft.

Psalm 52 – Deliver Us From Evil

The world’s oldest olive tree, 3,000 years, on the island of Crete

Hey, powerful person!
    Why do you brag about evil?
    God’s faithful love lasts all day long.
Your tongue devises destruction:
    it’s like a sharpened razor, causing deception.
You love evil more than good;
    you love lying more than speaking what is right.
You love all destructive words;
    you love the deceiving tongue.

But God will take you down permanently;
    he will snatch you up,
    tear you out of your tent,
    and uproot you from the land of the living!
The righteous will see and be in awe;
    they will laugh at those people:
“Look at them! They didn’t make God their refuge.
    Instead, they trusted in their own great wealth.
        They sought refuge in it—to their own destruction!”

But I am like a green olive tree in God’s house;
    I trust in God’s faithful love forever and always.
I will give thanks to you, God, forever,
    because you have acted.
In the presence of your faithful people,
    I will hope in your name because it’s so good. (Common English Bible)

Ideally, every person on planet earth would be safe to talk to and work with. But we know this is not true. That’s because we have our own experiences of persons in authority who used their power and influence for malevolent purposes – knowing exactly what kind of harm they’re doing.

This is precisely what once happened with David. Before he was king over all Israel and Judah, David was on the run from King Saul.

David had done nothing wrong. In fact, he had done everything right from a good heart. And yet, because of Saul’s jealousy and lust for power, he saw David as a threat and not an asset. So, he hunted him like an animal.

King Saul’s abuse of power was bad enough. But that abuse reached it’s evil height with Doeg the Edomite. (1 Samuel 22:6-23)

Doeg was a nasty guy. He wasn’t just bad; he enjoyed being bad. Saul was so obsessed with getting rid of his perceived rival, that he sought to kill anyone who aided and abetted David. And Doeg had such a lust for murder that he was willing to kill anyone.

And that’s what he did. When Saul found out that the priests in the village of Nob had helped David when he was on the run, the jealous king tried to use his authority to command the army to slaughter them all. However, being reasonable men, they could not do it.

Yet, Doeg stepped in and stepped up to single-handedly wipe out the priests. Sadly, he didn’t stop there…

Doeg the Edomite turned and attacked the priests; on that day he killed eighty-five who wore the linen ephod. Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; men and women, children and infants, oxen, donkeys, and sheep, he put to the sword. (1 Samuel 22:18-19, NRSV)

It was after this horrific event that David crafted the psalm for today.

There is abuse, trauma, and oppression – and then there is the continual harming from another which goes unabated. The abuser, the oppressor, the murderer keeps going, unchecked. And we are powerless to stop it.

There is only One who can right such terrible wrongs.

Today’s psalm speaks of God’s constancy, the continual love which persists all day long. David lifted his grief and anger to the Lord concerning the misuse of power and authority by Saul and Doeg. In light of God’s justice and faithful love, David affirms and believes that the Lord will bring ruin on those who despise divine commands and ethical instruction.

We don’t know always know why evil continues, or how it will end. Those enduring questions out of our own human condition and experience of evil may persist. Yet, the believer knows with certainty, as follower of a righteous, just, and holy God, that the downfall of the wicked will be total, and it will be permanent.

There is a day coming when evil shall be finished forever. And it’s hard not knowing exactly when that’s going to happen.

Perhaps this sort of talk seems like a cop out. It may appear that if God is so loving and powerful that evil ought to be stopped this very second.

Yet, consider this: There is so much evil and injustice in this world that to forcefully and immediately pull up those nasty wicked weeds will end up taking out the good plants next to them. The cure ends up being the harm.

The Lord is presently, patiently, and meticulously moving all things toward an inexorable ending – and it must be done carefully so that the godly are preserved from annihilation.

Fortunately, most people on earth aren’t like Doeg the Edomite or King Saul. Unfortunately, having one of them in your life is likely to happen because of the world’s great evil. One wicked person is bad enough to foment hate, spread lies, create havoc, and outright murder people – both verbally and actually.

The biblical psalms exist to serve us well whenever we experience the wrath of a person like Doeg. The psalms let us know we aren’t alone and help give us a voice. This is highly important, especially when the wicked seek to silence us and squelch our voice.

Trusting in the Lord, day after day… week after week… month after month… year after year… decade after decade… with the same slow and deliberate plod of God, strengthens us like a big old thick olive tree. And the psalms are here to help that happen.

May the Lord Jesus Christ guard and deliver you from the snares of the devil, the assaults of evil spirits, the wrath of the wicked, all base passions, and the fear of the known and unknown. Amen.

1 John 3:11-17 – Love, Not Hate

Cain and Abel by Gunter Tanzerel, 2011

The message you heard from the very beginning is this: we must love one another. We must not be like Cain; he belonged to the Evil One and murdered his own brother Abel. Why did Cain murder him? Because the things he himself did were wrong, and the things his brother did were right.

So do not be surprised, my friends, if the people of the world hate you. We know that we have left death and come over into life; we know it because we love others. Those who do not love are still under the power of death. Those who hate others are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life in them. This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for others! If we are rich and see others in need, yet close our hearts against them, how can we claim that we love God? (Good News Translation)

For the world to be a life-giving place of thriving people, it must spin on the axis of love, grace, and belonging – and not be a death-dealing haunt of murder, hate, and disconnection.

“Death” and “life” are full of meaning in Holy Scripture. Whereas we tend to use death and life as referring chiefly to the body, they are primarily relational terms in the Bible.

Death is a separation from God and others; and life is connection with God and others.

In addition, death and life are biblically understood as forces or realms of being within or without. Whenever someone moves from death to life, they leave the realm of separation with its loneliness, lostness, lethargy, and lack of meaningful and helpful interaction with God and others to a place of connection in which there is love.

There is no love in the realm of death. Death is awful in the sense that it places one outside of love.

Like death and life, love is also a relational term and a force or power which exists. Love, in fact, is such a huge realm of being and such a large domain that it almost defies definition. We are mostly left to describe love because all attempts to nail down love with a precise definition will never do it justice.

Therefore, the Apostle Paul, in his great ode to love, did not even try to define it, but merely attempted to characterize love:

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, GW)

Consistent with the force and relational nature of death, life, and love, hate is not primarily a feeling toward another but exists as a stance toward another within the domain of darkness and death. To hate is to deliberately and volitionally separate from another person and/or from God. It is to consider someone as the “other” who is not like me, and so, I will neither associate nor interact with “those” people.

Love, however, thrives in the vast multi-dimensional realm of life. Love seeks connection with another and desires to act mercifully and kindly through discovering needs and meeting them. Although emotions of love are very real, those feelings are the result of calculated actions and words which benefit humanity and the common good of all persons.

It is vital that we make clear decisions to pursue life and love others. And Jesus is our model for this. Christ is the ultimate Connector, bringing vibrant life, even eternal life, through loving actions. Jesus intentionally entered the dark realm of death and absorbed all the hate of the world for you and me. In a great and loving reversal, Jesus Christ’s death – his separation from God and others – brought connection with God and others.

Likewise, followers of Jesus will learn to take on the world’s hatred, not fearing death’s ability to disconnect, and love others as they themselves have been loved by Christ. Christians are known by the way they act toward those in the realm of death; believers love and do not hate; despite being hated by another.

The biblical character Cain is Exhibit A of modeling the way of hatred and death. He separated himself from his brother, Abel, in every way possible – relationally, emotionally, mentally, and finally, physically through outright killing of the body.

The message from the Apostle John is this: Do not be like Cain. Be like Jesus. Love others, and do not hate them. Live for others, die to self.

Murder is also a relational term in Scripture. It is, of course, a tool forged from the flames of hell to be used by the hand of hatred to bring death’s realm of separation. Jesus clearly understood murder in this manner:

You know that our ancestors were told, “Do not murder” and “A murderer must be brought to trial.” But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22, CEB)

Christians are people who put love where love is not – which means they brave death’s door to pull others from the flames.

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love. And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. (Jude 20-23, NLT)

May your soul be blessed with love’s kiss.

May the grace and kindness of love bring life and continue to be life-giving for you.

May the hardness of hatred be far from you.

May death’s destructive power dwindle to nothing in the face of Christ’s love working in and through you to the glory of God. Amen.