“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15, ESV).
When readers of the Bible begin to consider sin, and to classify those which are most serious and harmful, they almost invariably think of sins of physical action which have the most harmful or offensive results. Murder, rape, child molestation and others of such nature are almost always considered to be the “worst” sins, those for which forgiveness must be most difficult to obtain.
It does not take long however to discover that God’s list of “worst” sins is not necessarily the same as ours. In particular, he is much more concerned with the impact on one’s spirit or heart than on the consequences of sin to our flesh. No statement is more emphatic than the text cited at the beginning of this article — 1 John 3:15.
I remember a popular song of my childhood entitled, “Standing on the Corner, Watching all the Girls Go By.” One catchy line was “You can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking.” Maybe not, but we are accountable for our thinking to an even higher authority than our human courts. In the context of that old song we should remember Jesus’ warning, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
It is that same principle which John appeals to in his condemnation of hatred. One who hates his brother is every bit as guilty, and as evil, as was Cain (Genesis 4:8-10). This is the negative application of the principle, “God is not as concerned with what we do, as with what we are.” That is normally said of good deeds, but it applies equally to sins.
It is largely true to state, “one is not evil because he sins; he sins because of the evil within him.” Jesus made that plain in his teaching of defilement: “… what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person …” (Matthew 15:18-20).
Without the evil thoughts, the actions prompted by them would not occur. Sin originates from within us. It is only after those inner thoughts incubate and mature that we act upon them. James asked and answered the question as to the origin of our sins: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2). Always, the inner thoughts are first, then come those deeds which the thoughts inspire.
But one has already committed the evil when he harbors and develops the thoughts and attitudes which lead to the sinful action. The one habituated to pornography is an adulterer in God’s perspective, even if he never commits the actual physical act. The one who hates his brother (who can be anyone) is just as much a murderer as one on death row, so far as his spiritual relationship with God is concerned. Hatred is just as offensive to our Creator as that act which would take his life. It is just as contrary to the nature and will of God.
The real importance of this principle is taught earlier in 1 John 3:7. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
Sin is not just about doing some bad thing, like stealing or killing or lying. It is far more about being ungodly. One who hates is far from the nature of God. One who loves is of God and from God. That should be the ultimate standard of our conduct. Not just what we do, but what, and who, we are.