By Pastor Glenn Pease
One of the most exciting books you can read is The Count Of Monte Cristo. The hero of the book, Edmund Dantes, had been unjustly cast into a dungeon. Fortunately, by means of a tunnel he met an old man in another nearby dungeon. The old man told him of a great treasure that was hidden on the island of Monte Cristo. It seemed to be a worthless bit of knowledge, for he was just as trapped as the old man. His chance for escape, however, did come when the old man died. His body was put into a sack and was to be thrown over the cliff into the sea. Edmund Dantes saw his chance for escape. He managed to drag the body of the old man through the tunnel into his dungeon, and then he returned and got into the sack himself. He, of course, was thrown into the sea, and thereby became a free man.
He was far from free, however, for he so despised those who put him into the dungeon that he was a slave to hate. He spent the rest of his days, and his great wealth in tracking down, one by one, those who were responsible. He was clever enough to escape the bondage of the dungeon, but he remained a prisoner of the chains of hate. When one is intoxicated with hatred, he is not even free to chose to how to respond to persons, but is compelled to be hateful, and therefore, is among the least free of all men. None are so bound as those who are wrapped in the chains of hate.
Catallus, the Roman said, "I hate and I love. Perhaps you ask why I do so. I do not know, but I feel it, and I am in torment." He was a victim of his own depravity, and though he hated to hate, he knew of no way to escape. Hatred is just a part of the very being of unregenerate man. John says if a man hates, you can be sure he is still in the darkness. Even Freud, who was no great friend of Christianity, recognized the truth of man's depravity. He said, "Those who love fairytales do not like it when people speak of innate tendencies in mankind toward aggression, destruction, and in addition cruelty." Everyone who has their eyes open to the facts are compelled to believe that hatred and hostility are basic problems of our world. In the United States alone there are on the average every hour 15 persons who are stabbed, clubbed, or shot. The daily news could appropriately be titled-who's hating who.
The big question is what can be done? Is there any escape, or will man's hatred eventually be the force that brings down the curtain on the stage of history, and then blows up the stage to boot. Bombs and missiles are not the problem, for it is the hatred of men that makes them so dangerous. The most popular panacea for overcoming man's hatred is education. Herbert Hoover once said, "If we had just one generation of properly born, adequately educated, healthy children, developed in character, we would have Utopia itself." This is the view of numerous leaders, but it is unrealistic. Even though it is known that hostility is not inherited, and, therefore,
you could presumably begin with a generation of unhateful babies. But there is no way to raise them without them learning to hate, for they must grow up in a world where hate is always on the loose. Their parents hate; their relatives hate, and their neighbors hate. It would not be long before these potential utopianites would be responding as J. Petit-Senn who said, "We are told to walk noiselessly through the world, that we waken neither hatred nor envy; but, alas! what can we do when they never sleep?"
You cannot educate men out of hatred when the most powerful influences in their lives are teaching them to hate. Men are born with the tendency to hate, but the actual hatreds they acquire are learned from their parents, relatives, and associates. Dr. Leon J. Saul a professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine says in his book, The Hostile Mind, that studies indicate that very definitely that hostility begins in the home. Man is depraved, but the expression of that depravity in hate and prejudice are not in the child. These things have to be taught, and so the very cause of man's hatred is evil education. Oscar Hammerstein II captured this truth in poetry:
You've got to be taught to hate and fear,
You've got to be taught from year to year,
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a different shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before its too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught.
The Christian recognizes that education is essential, but it is inadequate to solve man's hate problem. Hate is more a matter of the heart, and so man needs his heart change before education will be of any profit. Man needs to know God through Christ, and he needs to know the commands of Christ, and live in obedience to them, for only then can the love of God be perfected in him, and only then can he have the power to snap the chains of hate that bind his heart. Education can help get men out of bondage, as Edmund Dantes clever thinking got him out of the dungeon, but only the love of Christ can get men free from the chains of hate. The most brilliant of men are still slaves of hatred if their education has not included a knowledge of God through Christ.
For example, take Joseph Goebbles of Hitler's Germany. He was a smart man, and he earned his PH.D. from Heidelberg. He rejected the Gospel, however, and he wrote in his diary just before his 28th birthday: "I have learned to despise the human being from the bottom of my soul. He makes me sick at my stomach." His brilliance only enabled him to hate with greater power and cruelty.
We have spent a lot of time setting the stage. We have seen that the problem of hate is great. We have seen that man's solutions to it just do not work, for these very solutions are infiltrated by the forces of hate. We have arrived then to where man has always been. The stage is set the same as in John today. Only the actors are different. The Gnostics said knowledge is the cure-all. You can just attain unto full knowledge, then you will be in the light. They, of course, despise and hated those who were ignorant. There knowledge did not free them from hate. John warned the Christians of his day that they ought not to be duped into thinking that brilliance is the key to the realm of light. Love alone can get you in. If a genius says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, John says he is still in the darkness. He is not a free man, but is bound and blind, and like captured Samson, he is a slave to the Philistines of hate.
There is only one way out of the darkness of hate says John. We must hit hate hard with the only weapon that can snap its heavy chains, and that weapon is obedience to the supreme commandment of love. John had just said in verse 3 that assurance grows out of obedience to God's commands, and now he explains the commandment which is the essence of them all. He begins in verse 7 where he addressed them as brethren, or beloved, as the modern versions have it. He assures them that he is not introducing any new idea like the Gnostics were doing. He is only writing of the old commandment which they had from the beginning. Cults and heretics always stress the fact that what they have is new and different. This is even more so with those who want to exploit the masses who crave for the novel in religion. The faith once for all delivered to the saints is often labeled as old hash, and discarded, but John, and all of Scripture, says it is this old hash alone that can nourish the soul and give it life and strength.
John says the commandment you need to obey is the old one you heard, and he is referring to the words of Jesus in his Gospel in 13:34, "A new commandment I give you that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." John has just said in verse 6 that we are to walk as Jesus walked, and He walked in love, and commanded us to also walk in love. This command is the foundation stone of the Christian life. Then in verse 8 John seems to deliberately contradict himself, for he says it is a new commandment he is writing. It is not hard to see how it can be both old and new. The old songs are often the new songs, and old subjects dealt with in a new approach become fresh and new. John is simply saying, the Christian answer to the problem of hate, and all other problems is an old answer that goes back to the author of truth-Jesus Christ. Yet, it is ever new and fresh. The message is old, but the experience of it is always new in the lives of those who obey it.
The commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself goes back to the early days of Israel, but it became new in Christ, for he did not just repeat it, he lived it. It was an old truth made new and fresh by being exhibited in life. John says it is true also in you, for in following Christ the old commandment of love becomes new because it is experienced and exhibited. This is so says John because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Darkness is not past, for if that was the case John would not even need to write. The Gnostics were still a force of darkness, but they would be conquered. John was optimistic and says the light will continue to shine until the forces of darkness are destroyed. The speed of the process will depend upon believers obedience to the command of love.
John says even Judaism was darkness in comparison to Christianity, for the true light was not shining in the Old Testament. The Jews despised the Gentiles. One Rabbi said, "The Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell." The true light in Christ, however, came to shine upon the Gentiles, and they became children of God. Jesus came, not as a light of Israel only, but as the light of the world. All walls were broken down, and all hate and prejudice were excluded from His kingdom. John Paul Wheelock wrote,
I lift my gaze beyond the night, and see,
Above the banner of man's hate unfurled,
The holy figure that on Calvary
Stretched out wide enough for all the world.
God's new age of grace and light has begun says John. The message supreme is that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. He goes on to say in verse 9 that this makes hate incompatible with the Christian life and fellowship with God. John hits hatred hard. It is a black and white area. Regardless of what you say, if you hate your brother you are not a part of this new age of life. You are still free-Christian, and you are yet in darkness. We do not judge the hater when we say he cannot be a Christian. It will be of no avail to tell us we cannot judge, for God has given us this revelation that the man who hates his brother is still in darkness.
Hatred hurts the hater far more than the hated for it excludes him from the fellowship of God. It is he who obeys and follows Christ, who loves as He loved that becomes the recipient of God's blessings, and in turn becomes the greatest blessing to society. The only answer to man's hate is love, and not just natural love, but the love that God imparts into the hearts of all who receive His Son as Savior. This is the Christian message to the world, and it is our responsibility to exhibit the love of Christ to the world. Henry Longfellow wrote,
The sole thing I hate is hate; for hate is death and love is life,
A piece, a splendor from above; and hate, a never ending strive,
A smoke, a blackness from the abyss. Where unclean serpents coil
Love is the Holy Ghost within; Hate the unpardonable sin!
Who preaches otherwise than this, betrays his Master with a kiss.
Let us neither betray Christ by word or deed, but obey the great commandment of love and be free from the chains of hate. Only then can we be living examples that give the prisoners of hate the hope that they too can be delivered by putting their trust in Christ.