“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’” (Jn 15:18-25)
For those of you who remember that far back, Will Rogers always said he never met a man he didn’t like. I’m guessing there were a few people you and I know that Will Rogers never met.
But the fact is, there are very few people who don’t want to be liked. Most of us are friendly and try to be good neighbors to others. We’ll extend the hand of friendship and go out of our way to be helpful. If we’re followers of Christ, we’ll love the unlovable and serve those who are down and out.
If you’re like me, you agonize when you think you have hurt someone’s feelings, or somehow done something to anger them. You want to set things right and make amends where you have messed up and restore relationships that have been damaged or broken.
It is difficult, then, to listen to Jesus tell us that there will be people who will hate us. And it’s especially difficult when you realize that in the words Jesus spoke just before this, Jesus commanded us to love others and lay down our lives for others. And if you’re thinking Jesus just meant to love other Christians or those who love you in return, remember that Jesus looked down from the cross on those who had nailed him there and prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Before we get into the text, we need to notice that there are certain words that John focuses on in his Gospel that are more than the simple cut and dried definition you would find in the dictionary. When he uses the words life and light and word and glory and love, get ready to dig deep because John wants us to hear something more than the surface meaning. And that is the case in our passage this morning. Matthew uses the word “world” nine times, Mark four times, but John uses the word “world” 78 times. That tells you that in his mind, that word is significant in Jesus’ mission for his disciples as, on this last night of his life, he prepares his disciples for his departure.
John began back in the first chapter when he wrote, The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (John 1:9-11)\
And it becomes obvious that John has in mind more than this terrestrial globe which we call earth. The world is the people in it, but not just the people, it is those values and character which put it in opposition to God. And you wonder “Why?” Why would Jesus come to a world that was going to ignore him and reject him and ultimately kill him? Why go to the trouble? Why submit yourself to that kind of treatment? And we get the answer in an obscure, unknown verse over in chapter 3: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
So “world” is not just all the negative, ungodly forces that oppose God, “world” encompasses everything that God holds precious and dear. And so this animosity of the world does not just set up an “us” against “them” scenario, it is something that breaks God’s heart because the “world” belongs to him and has been co-opted against him by Satan, but which he ultimately intends to redeem.
In our passage in John 15, Jesus begins with a conditional sentence: “If the world hates you…” Now, there are different kinds of conditional sentences. Some indicate a condition unlikely to come about, Isaiah writes, “If a mother were to forget her child…” in describing the impossibility of God not loving us. But here in John 15, the condition is not one of uncertainty, but of inevitability. Jesus is not saying, “If by some unlikely possibility, you upset someone…” He is saying, “Get ready because the world will hate you.”
And no, it’s not because of something you said or something you did. In fact, it’s not about you. It’s about Jesus. The reason they will hate you is because they hated Jesus first. And because you are the embodiment of Christ, they will also hate you. That’s exactly what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16, For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.
When people see you, they are reminded of Christ, and Christ confronts people with their own spiritual bankruptcy and their need for God. And there are people who see you and they smell the stench of death as they are reminded of how empty and lost they are.
There will be people in your life who find your presence offensive. Especially those who have seen Christ change your life and the Holy Spirit transform you into his image. Peter writes to believers who are being persecuted, For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. (1 Peter 4:3-4) It will be especially difficult for people who were your friends when you lived a worldly life and now you choose not to and they ask, “What’s gotten into you? Do you think you’re too good for us now?” They can’t imagine any other kind of lifestyle and your holiness convicts them.
And I use that word “holiness” intentionally, because while you and I might struggle with the purity side of holiness, it is God who “sets us apart” from the world, which is what holiness is really about. Your holiness, like that of Noah in Hebrews 11 convicts the world and by its nature calls people to live differently. And you and I know that is something the world doesn’t want to hear.
Jesus says, “You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” We are a counter-culture to the accepted norms and values and morals of this world. Now, he goes on to say if you were of this world, the world would love you. If we accept and affirm the world’s values, it emboldens the world in its wickedness. If we compromise our standards to fit in with the world and try to accommodate the world, we lose both our effectiveness and our credibility with the world. If our goal is to make people feel comfortable around us and not offend anyone then we will lose both our salt and our light.
As Jesus spoke to his disciples that night, he is describing that same continuity of plan and purpose which he had told them about only minutes earlier (in ch 14): the things you have seen me doing, you will do, and even greater things than these. If they hated me for doing these, why would they hate you any less? And as we read the book of Acts, we begin to see that hatred unfold as both Jew and Gentile begin to mount offensives against the power and force of the gospel.
So, what is our response to being hated by the world?
1) I know it’s tempting to withdraw into our Christian cocoons and hide out in the church building and behind our stained glass barriers and fear and loath the world – wring our hands and say, “If only it was like the good old days….” And that’s what a lot of Christians do. They withdraw from the world and try to build a wall of separation so the world can’t get to us.
The problem with that is that Jesus doesn’t want us to separate from the world. He says, we are in this world but not of this world. We are the salt and the light of this world, we are the counter-culture, we are the kingdom outpost in this world. Only by our interaction with this world will we have the opportunity to change it.
So our first response to the world’s hatred is not to withdraw, but to stay connected, be the leavening influence of the good news of Jesus as it flows through you to those who desperately need a Savior.
2) In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:10-12)
Now that seems to be a strange way to respond to the hatred of the world. It won’t be the last time we hear it. Peter will say, Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:12-16)
How can Jesus say, “Rejoice and be glad,” how can Peter write, “You are blessed”? And certainly there isn’t anything pleasant about being hated and being persecuted, except that, it reminds you whose you are. You belong to Christ and sharing in his suffering, suffering for his name confirms that your faith is real.
An ancient rabbinic story tells of a holy man who lived in a wicked city. Every morning this holy man would go out to the gates of the city and shout back in through the gate condemning the wickedness and begging for the city to repent. The other men would sit at the city gates and laugh and ridicule the man and tell him what a fool he was. “You’ll never change the city,” they shouted out at him. And the holy man responded, “I don’t expect to change the city – I just don’t want the city to change me.”
By not only accepting but rejoicing in the hatred of the world, we are reminding ourselves that we are not of this world and that our purpose here isn’t to adapt and assimilate to the world, but to stand against the world.
3) But there is one more response that we should have to the hatred of the world: love. It isn’t by accident that Jesus puts the hatred of the world and the love of Christians almost within the same paragraph. Love is God’s response to the hatred of the world, and it should be ours.
Again, a little later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “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, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:43-45)
There are times, and it seems like we are living in the middle of one, when evil seems to have a death grip on the world around us. It is evil when a Syrian dictator bombs his own people with nerve gas. It is evil when ISIS terrorists behead Christians for being Christians. It is evil when individuals walk into schools and businesses and public arenas and shoot and bomb and maim innocent people. It is evil when we see godliness ridiculed and sin flaunted. Satan is alive and at work in the world. And we feel helpless to do anything about it.
But we are not helpless. Though it might not seem like much, every time we reach out with love and compassion in the name of Christ, every time we respond with love and acceptance when we are being opposed, we are pushing back against evil. And it might feel like your efforts are inconsequential, but they are not without effect.
Yesterday, we went over to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison…. Much as the water and the wind have the power to change the landscape of this physical world, our love has the power to change the spiritual landscape of the world around us.