“For many are walking — as I frequently told you, and even now tell you with tears — as ones who hate the cross of Christ.”
What happens when someone refuses to follow the model of Paul as Paul follows the model of Christ? Sadly, Paul reminds us, that person demonstrates their hatred for the cross of Christ and for the redemption that was achieved on that cross. The Heidelberg Catechism words it that we have a natural tendency to hate God and to hate fellow man.
But why such a strong word? What is someone is just ambivalent? Could there just be a kind of agnostic position where a person is just not interested but is not actively engaging in hatred? The answer is clearly, “no.” Jesus stated very clearly, “If you love me you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15). Jesus further builds on that notion that “whoever has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me…and will be loved by my Father” (John 14:21). In other words, obedience is the mark of one’s love for the Son and if we do not love the Son we will not be loved by the Father. That in itself should be a convicting message.
But why hate? There are some, for example, that will argue that ambivalence is the opposite of love, not hatred. There is something to be said there…but let me suggest a different explanation, as I would argue that ambivalence is a form of hatred…typically expressed in passive-aggressive behavior. Hatred can be lived out either passionately (we might call that enmity) or passively (passive-aggressive behavior, ignoring the person, etc…). Either way it is hatred and in both contexts, obedience is not present.
Jesus tells a parable about two sons (Matthew 21:28-32) and each was asked to work in the vineyard. The first said yes but didn’t (passive-aggressive behavior) and the second said no (active refusal — an expression of enmity) but then repented and went to work. The first clearly represents the priests and the Jewish establishment who committed themselves to obedience in their vows yet didn’t; the second represents the active sinners who had openly rebelled against God and then repented and did what God commanded. Jesus asks the question…which did the will of the Father? Doing the will of the Father is another way of speaking about obedience and thus when Paul looks upon those who are actively or passively in disobedience, he speaks of them as hating Christ.
With this before us, we should be reminded, then, that Paul’s language is not just speaking about those who are outside of the church, but of those who are inside of the visible church but who, by their very actions, demonstrate their hatred for Christ and the cross. Most who are in this group in the church would not like to think of themselves as hating Christ, but if they do not walk in obedience as they live out every corner of their lives, then what does that say about their hearts? What does it say about our own hearts, too, when we choose to be disobedient in small things or in great things in our lives? And no, we don’t get the choice of picking and choosing either…Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, that means that all of Scripture is ultimately what He has commanded and what we are to obey in its proper context. No, we will not get it correct perfectly in this life, but we ought strive in that direction. Will you?