The concept of love is central to the Bible and Christian theology. However, defining the ‘opposite’ of love in biblical terms is complicated. At its most basic level, the opposite of love is hate. But biblical authors also describe spiritual states like apathy, fear and selfishness as opposites of godly, self-giving love.
Hate as the Opposite of Love
Old Testament Depictions of Hate
The Old Testament often presents hate in direct opposition to love. For example, Leviticus 19:17-18 states: “Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” This passage indicates that hatred towards others is sinful, while love for neighbors is righteous.
Proverbs 10:12 similarly declares: “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” Here, hatred is associated with stirring up discord, while love forgives wrongs. Other Old Testament verses depict hatred as the opposite of love that should be rejected (Psalm 97:10, Proverbs 8:13).
New Testament Calls to Reject Hate
The New Testament continues the Old Testament theme of depicting hate as the opposite of love. Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Here, Jesus directly contrasts love and hate, commanding his followers to love rather than hate enemies.
1 John 4:20 also states: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” This verse indicates that hatred towards others is incompatible with love for God.
Other New Testament verses clearly instruct Christ-followers to reject hatred and not let it take root in their hearts (Ephesians 4:31, 1 John 2:9-11). Overall, the New Testament presents a consistent ethical teaching that hatred should be replaced with Christ-like love, even for enemies.
Apathy and Indifference
Warnings Against Lukewarm Faith
In the Bible, God strongly warns against having an apathetic or indifferent faith. Several passages emphasize the importance of being fully committed to God and avoiding complacency in one’s spiritual life.
For example, in Revelation 3:15-16, Jesus rebukes the church of Laodicea for being lukewarm: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
This powerful metaphor warns against a faith that is mediocre or half-hearted. God wants wholehearted devotion.
Similarly, in Matthew 6:24, Jesus declares, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” This verse makes it clear that God wants and deserves our full allegiance.
We cannot be indifferent or apathetic toward Him.
The prophet Elijah also confronted the Israelites for wavering between God and idols: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21).
Elijah rebuked the people for their complacency and challenged them to decisively commit to God.
Calls for Wholehearted Commitment to God
Along with warnings against indifference, the Bible contains many exhortations to wholeheartedly commit to God. For example, Deuteronomy 6:5 declares, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
This foundational verse calls people to devote themselves fully to God without reservation.
Joshua 24:15 presents a similar charge: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua urged the Israelites to decisively commit themselves to God rather than being indifferent or noncommittal.
Jesus also emphasized the importance of wholehearted commitment to God. In Luke 9:62, he stated, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” This agricultural metaphor underscores that followers of Christ must fix their eyes ahead on God’s kingdom rather than wavering in their commitment.
Additionally, James 1:8 warns that a “double-minded man” who wavers between God and the world “should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” God desires undivided loyalty from His people. Anything less than wholehearted commitment is unacceptable to Him.
Fear as the Absence of Love
Fear and love are incompatible emotions in the Bible. Where true love exists, fear is banished. At the same time, the absence of love opens the doorway to fear. Let’s explore the complex relationship between love and fear in Scripture.
Fear and Hatred in Relation to Sin
The Bible teaches that fear is a natural human response to God’s holy nature. When Adam and Eve sinned, “they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). Their sin made them afraid to approach a holy God. This remains true today.
Our wrongdoing produces fear of judgment (1 John 4:18).
Fear also leads to hatred. We tend to hate whatever threatens us. John explains, “Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him” (1 John 3:14-15).
Hatred flows from fear, and both are the opposite of love.
Perfect Love Casts Out Fear
God’s perfect love removes our reasons for fear. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). When we know God loves us in Christ, we no longer dread His punishment.
As we grow in grace, the Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5). This love begins displacing fear in our lives. We gain confidence to approach God boldly, knowing He cares for us as His beloved children (Ephesians 3:12).
We also gain power to show Christlike love to others (1 John 4:11-12).
The more we comprehend divine love, the less room we have for fear. God’s perfect love is the ultimate antidote to every fear.
Selfishness Contrasted with Selfless Love
Sin as Self-Seeking
The opposite of selfless love is selfishness. Scripture often contrasts self-seeking sin with Christ’s self-giving example. For instance, the apostle Paul wrote that we should “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Here we see that selfish ambition is contrasted with humility and looking to others’ interests.
Self-centeredness and pride are at the root of many sins. When we put ourselves first, ahead of God and others, we fall into greed, envy, strife and more. James 4:1-2 asks rhetorically, “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.” This verse shows how self-seeking leads to conflict.
In contrast, love “does not insist on its own way” and “is not arrogant or rude” (1 Corinthians 13:5). True Christ-like love looks out for others above self. As Jesus said, “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Christ’s Self-Giving Example
Jesus Christ exemplified selfless love by giving up his life to save humanity. As Philippians 2:5-8 explains, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Rather than clinging to his rights and status, Christ surrendered himself for our salvation. This mindset of humility and service should be our model as Christians. 1 John 3:16 states, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
Just as Christ sacrificed for us, we should sacrifice for one another.
The two great commandments are to love God and love neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). But it is impossible to truly love others while remaining self-centered. We must lay down selfish ambition andfollow Christ’s example of self-giving love.
This agape love seeks the highest good of others ahead of personal comfort or gain. As we yield to the Holy Spirit, he produces His supernatural love in and through us (Galatians 5:22-23).
In the biblical perspective, the opposite of love is not so much a single emotion or attitude as it is a heart turned away from God and others. Where love is selfless, life-giving and casts out fear, the absence of love manifests in selfishness, indifference, hatred and spiritual decay.
However, the Bible holds out hope that God’s perfect love can redeem even the most broken human hearts.