hate (hāt): (v) to feel intense or passionate dislike for (someone) (n) intense or passionate dislike
Hate is a strong emotion that makes people do horrendous things. Most of the time, they don’t even know why they commit the acts that they do. As we all know, it is toxic, but being born into sin, we seem to have little to no self-control when this emotion rears its ugly head.
I have many aggressive enemies; they hate me without reason. They repay me evil for good and oppose me for pursuing good. Do not abandon me, O Lord. Do not stand at a distance, my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my savior. Psalms 38:19-22 NLT
This month as we dove into the topic of hate, I came across many biblical examples to choose from. Characters that were hated, persecuted, lied on, beaten, imprisoned, and even murdered. Characters that were doing nothing but good deeds and miracles. Characters that people hated because they were embarrassed by the knowledge they possessed and shared.
The character we’re going to study today was someone “full of God’s grace and power.” He performed miracles and took great care of less fortunate widows.
Let’s begin in the fifth chapter of the Book of Acts, seventeenth verse, just before our character is introduced. The apostles have begun to spread the gospel but are starting to meet opposition from the high priests and officials who have become jealous. The apostles have been arrested and put in jail. During the night, the Lord’s angel breaks them out of jail and commands them to continue giving the message of life to the people from the Temple (Acts 5:17-20).
The next morning, the high priest and his officials send for the apostles so they can stand trial only to be told that the apostles are no longer there. The jail is found to be securely locked, with guards outside, but no one there. Completely perplexed, the high priest and his officials are then informed that the apostles have been found teaching in the Temple. Peter and the other apostles were arrested again and brought before the high council. Confronting the apostles, the high priest reiterates that the apostles were ordered to never again teach in the name of Jesus. But the apostles respond that they must obey God rather than any human authority. Infuriated, the high council decides to kill them (Acts 5:18-33).
What made the high council immediately jump to wanting the apostles dead merely for preaching the message of Jesus? Spoiler alert: it was hatred.
The high council, talked out of murdering the apostles by a member named Gamaliel, had the apostles beaten and demanded again that they stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Once released, the apostles rejoiced in their suffering and continued to preach boldly about Jesus both in the temple and within homes that received them (Acts 5:33-42).
With that background in place, let’s turn to our Biblical character we mentioned earlier.
As we continue into Acts, chapter six, we see believers are continuing to multiply. However, division is also beginning to occur. Greek-speaking believers are complaining that Hebrew-speaking believers are discriminating against their widows during the daily food distribution. Side note: more hate. So, the apostles, who have determined that their time needs to be spent teaching the Word of God and praying, decide to institute a system of oversight regarding food distribution. Among the seven men chosen to supervise this distribution was Stephen, a spirit-filled man full of faith (Acts 6:1-6).
As Stephen went about performing amazing miracles, he gained some enemies. Hater alert! Men from a Jewish sect called the Synagogue of Freed Slaves started a debate with him that they couldn’t win. Enraged, these men persuaded others to lie about Stephen and his teachings, saying that he blasphemed Moses and God. This in turn caused many people to be angry with Stephen and led to his arrest. As he stood before the high council, witnesses continued to lie about Stephen and his teachings (Acts 6:7-14).
Oh My GOD!! It’s at this point Stephen’s face became as bright as an angel’s (Acts 6:15).
It was now Stephen’s turn to testify and answer the charges leveled at him!! His reply began as a beautiful recounting of the Israelites’ history with God. He recounted the life of Abraham and the great promise made to Abraham by God. He told of Isaac and Jacob. He recounted the choice of Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, eventually leading Joseph to Egypt.
Stephen was just getting started good when he recalled the great famine in Egypt and how Joseph would rescue his family. He spoke of the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt afterwards and the birth of Moses. He spoke about how God used Moses to deliver the people from Pharaoh and their wandering in the wilderness for forty years.
As he builds his case, he concludes this history lesson with mention of Joshua taking the Israelites into Canaan, the reign of David and his desire to build God a temple. And he briefly mentions that Solomon was who accomplished this (Acts 7:2-47).
But then Stephen turns the conversation!
Stephen reminds them of the greatness of God and how He cannot be contained within a temple of man’s own creation (Acts 7:48-50).
Then sweet, angelic Stephen boldly rebukes the council, calling them stubborn, heathens at heart, and deaf to the truth. He accuses them of deliberately resisting God and His ways. He exposes their ancestors’ misdeeds of persecuting God’s prophets. And he places the betrayal and murder of Jesus squarely on their shoulders (Acts 7:51-53).
This is where the hate got out of hand.
The leaders were so furious, they shook their fists at him in a sign of pure disgust. Amid this display, Stephen lifts his eyes to heaven and sees God’s glory and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. But when he speaks his vision to those in the room, they could no longer take any more of the words coming out of Stephen’s mouth. Covering their ears and shouting, they rush Stephen, dragging him outside the city to stone him. As his accusers took off their jackets, they laid them in front of Saul, who we later come to know as Paul (Acts 7:57-58).
Even during this violent, hateful act Stephen remains focused on his redeemer. As they stone Stephen to death, he prays for the Lord to receive his spirit. And just like Jesus, with his last breath, he forgave those killing him asking the Lord not to charge them with the sin they were committing (Acts 7:59-60).
With Stephen’s death, a great wave of hate and persecution descended on the Church.
Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church of Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. Acts 8:1 NLT
There is a saying, “Haters gonna hate.” This just means that everyone is not going to like us. Some are going to hate us just because of who we are. Some are going to hate us just because of what we stand for. Some people are going to hate us just because they hate themselves more. Whatever the reason others may hate me, I KNOW that Jesus Can Stand Me! No matter how bad I may mess up, Jesus loves me, and He can stand to be with me in my mess.
Thank you, heavenly Father, for turning the hate we experience into something for our good. Thank you for loving us and staying through the pain and suffering. You are all we need, and we stand on Your promises because You don’t lie. You beat out hate with Your love. We don’t deserve Your love, but that doesn’t stop You from giving it to us over and over. Thank you for replacing the hate and damage leveled at us with Your love and grace. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.
By Melony Henderson
Please note all scripture was taken from the NLT.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.