Question: "What does it mean that there is a time to love and a time to hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8)?"
Answer: King Solomon reflects in Ecclesiastes 3:8 that “there is a time to love and a time to hate.” This statement, however perplexing, can be understood when examined in context. The verse is part of an extended passage (Ecclesiastes 3:1–8) in which Solomon catalogs fourteen contrasting times and seasons of life (birth and death, planting and harvest, weeping and laughing, loving and hating, etc.). Together they represent the sum of human activity. Solomon concludes that God is in control of each moment of our existence in this world. God has a proper time and a good purpose for every experience (Romans 8:28).
Is there ever a time for Christians to hate? The Bible mentions several things God hates and, therefore, believers should also hate (Revelation 2:6, 15). Jeremiah highlights God’s hatred of idolatry (Jeremiah 44:4–5; see also Deuteronomy 12:31; 16:22). Isaiah and Amos speak of the Lord’s hatred of hypocrisy (Isaiah 1:14–17; Amos 5:21–24). Proverbs 6:16–19 lists arrogance, deception, murder, wicked plotting, evil inclinations, slander, and troublemaking as seven things that are detestable to God.
The psalmist declares, “Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 97:10). In his wisdom literature, Solomon instructs, “To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech” (Proverbs 8:13).
Loving God means hating sin. The whole truth of God’s love includes getting angry about sin and its effects on humanity (Psalm 7:11). Jesus was furious when He cleansed the temple, but His anger did not change His nature as a loving God (1 John 4:7–21).
“A time to love and a time to hate” cover the full range of human affections and emotions. Our capacity to both love and hate is part of being created in God’s image. Therefore, sometimes hatred and anger are manifestations of the fullness and intensity of our love.
Jesus explains the high cost of loving and following Him: “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26, NLT).
While there are times when hatred is appropriate, love is the defining characteristic of true believers (John 13:34–35). Jesus calls us to love in His two greatest mandates: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39). In addition, He asks us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43–44).
Scripture is filled with examples of “a time to love.” We love because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:7, 19; Romans 5:8). Even our ability to love comes from Him (Galatians 2:20). When we feed the hungry, care for the poor and needy, visit the sick and those in prison, not only are we loving and caring for people, but, ultimately, we are serving Jesus Christ Himself (Matthew 25:34–46). Believers are to “be devoted to one another in love” (Romans 12:10), serve one another (John 13:1–17), and live in unity with the same attitude and humility as Christ (Philippians 2:1–4). Everything we do is to be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:14).
Solomon’s reflection on “a time to love and a time to hate” is also an excellent reminder to love sinners while hating their sins. God accomplishes this perfectly, but how do we in our human imperfection love sinners as God loves them, in holiness and without malice? We love them by sharing the truth of the gospel message with them so they can find forgiveness and freedom from sin in Jesus Christ. We love sinners by showing them kindness, acceptance, and respect even as we disapprove of their behavior. We hate sin by not excusing it, ignoring it, or partaking in it.