Learning to Hate

But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Revelation 2:6 (NIV)

Christians are taught to love, but there are also things they must hate. This biblical hatred is not petty dislike or a retaliatory impulse; it is passionate antipathy toward an idea and its outworking. It means enmity with the prevailing heresies and degeneracies which plague particular cultures.

The identity of the Nicolaitans is one of history’s great mysteries. Some guess that they sprang from one of the original “deacons,” Nicholas of Antioch (Acts 6:5), or his addled followers. Others see a symbolic play on words, tying the Greek, nika laon, (“He has conquered the people.”) to the Hebrew, baal am (“Lord of the people”). After all, Nicolaitans are mentioned next to “the teaching of Balaam” in the letter to Pergamum (Rev. 2:14-15). If that is the link, then they were likely enthusiasts for “eating food sacrificed to idols” and “committing sexual immorality” (v. 14).

Because of the mystery, “Nicolaitan,” became a generic word for “heretic” in following centuries. Christians who read these letters in Revelation are invited to “fill in the blank,” as it were, with the sub-Christian and anti-Christian movements of their own day.

Christians must not love what God hates and hate what God loves. The Church distinguishes itself in the world by what it loves and by what it hates. The Lord Jesus Himself hates the idolatrous and immoral practices of any people. His Church, therefore, must join Him in active opposition to the cultural tides of sin.

Rather than confront the idolatrous and immoral practices of its surrounding culture, the Church has often sought ways to conform to it. Christian character inevitably brings a clash of convictions requiring visible and vocal hatred of the deeds of darkness. Failure to do so contradicts the very words of Jesus Christ.

Though the Ephesians were praised for their discriminating hatred, they were faulted for their lovelessness (v. 4). In the words of Southern Baptist preacher, Vance Havner, “They were as straight as a gun barrel and just as empty.” But “hatelessness” was not God’s prescription for their lovelessness. Christians, and their pastors, should be fervent in both love and hate, so long as the quality and objects of these passions are divinely informed and ordered.