“Abhor” is a very strong word. The Scriptures command us not only to abstain from evil and avoid evil, but to abhor evil: “Abhor that which is evil” (Rom. 12:9)!
The word means to dislike utterly, detest, abominate and hate; it includes a strong feeling of horror. The Greek verb translated “abhor” in Romans 12:9 is only found here in all the New Testament. Its prefix means “away from” and the idea is that of shrinking back from something out of loathing. The child of God is to identify evil according to the Holy Scriptures. His calling is then not to do it or like it but detest it.
This teaches us that Christian ethics or gospel living, the subject of the whole of Romans 12, includes not only our thoughts and words and deeds, but also our affections, which involve a proper sense of revulsion or disgust at iniquity. We are not speaking here about a delicate person who is revolted at poverty or physical ugliness. We are dealing with detestation and abhorrence at moral evil or sin. The world does not like this!
At some level, practically everyone understands that ethics involves revulsion and detestation. Just about all are disgusted if, say, a young man throws an old woman to the ground and kicks her. Romans 12:9 deals with this sort of thing and, indeed, all that God’s Word identifies as “evil.”
So what is included in the evil that the Triune God calls all His children to abhor? In one word, sin! Sin is especially defined by the Ten Commandments written on two tables of stone at Mount Sinai (Ex. 20:1-17) and on the “fleshy tables” of our hearts in regeneration (II Cor. 3:3).
In the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods besides me” (Ex. 20:3), we are called to detest and abhor all idolatry, the worship of anything other than the Triune God, revealed in Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and taught in sacred Scripture. Thus Paul’s spirit was “stirred” or provoked when he saw Athens full of idols (Acts 17:16).
Whereas the world says that we are to celebrate the plethora of gods, the Christian abhors the dishonouring of the true God who is the Creator, Governor, Judge and Saviour: the Father in election, the Son in redemption and the Spirit in sanctification.
This is the Christian attitude to every idol: “Neither shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house, lest thou be a cursed thing like it: but thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing” (Deut. 7:26).
The second commandment, which forbids false worship, gives this warning: “for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (Ex. 20:5). No wonder Moses zealously detested the golden calf!
The regulative principle of worship, enshrined in the second commandment, forbids the statues and pictures of Rome, and the idolatrous icons of Eastern Orthodoxy: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them” (4-5). The idolatry of salvation by man’s own free will is also to be abhorred, for “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16).
Oath breaking is condemned in the third commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Ex. 20:7). This includes the sins of husbands and wives who commit adultery (after swearing to be faithful to one another “till death us do part”) or divorce for any other reason than fornication (Matt. 5:32; 19:9); church office-bearers who break their solemn vows by preaching and/or defending false doctrines or deserting their office; witnesses who perjure themselves in a court of law; and parents who baptize their children in the name of the Triune God (28:19) and swear to bring them up in the truth of the Reformed faith, yet who huff over some trivial matter, and take themselves and their children from a faithful church.
In the world, taking the name of Christ or God in vain is seen as normal, natural, genuine, forceful and/or funny. However, in Old Testament days, blasphemers were stoned to death (Lev. 24:10-23). God abhors the profaning of His name and we must too!
Sabbath breaking is forbidden in the fourth commandment. Yet look at the wretched condition of our land today. Even many professing Christians openly disregard the Lord’s day and do not “keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). Sadly, many churches allow this. We need more of Nehemiah’s holy abhorrence of Sabbath breaking (Neh. 13:15-22)!
The fifth commandment condemns dishonouring our parents. Listen to this vivid, and even gory, proverb: “The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it” (Prov. 30:17). Christian children must abhor the disrespect of parents.
The sixth commandment forbids murder (Ex. 20:13), and sinful wounding, injuring, hating and taking vengeance on others. The world calls abortion, the killing of unborn babies, good. According to the ungodly, it is good for women to murder the babies in their womb! Abortion is a major feature in the world’s ethics, something which must be exported and promoted all around the world, which just shows the rottenness of its whole moral system and values. The Triune God declares, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20).
Abhorring evil means that we must detest adultery, stealing, lying and covetousness—all sins against the seventh to the tenth commandments. Many of the sins against the second table of the law are listed in Proverbs 6:16-19: “These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” So we must hate these sins too. The believer’s heart must be like that of the Psalmist: “I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love” (119:163). This is crucial, for the abhorrence of evil arises out of the love for that which the holy God proclaims to be truly good! Rev. A. Stewart