“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.” (15:18-20)
These verses come fresh on the heels of Jesus’ declaration of love for us. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends …” (John 15:13-14).
The contrast, then, is sharp. Jesus loves us with deep, abiding commitment. Yes. But the world? Well, that’s a different story. It hates us. Indeed, it hates us in the same way it hated Jesus. How was that? Well, it took offense at everything about him – his teaching (think of his claims to be one with the Father), his actions (think of his healings on the Sabbath), his attitudes (think of his acceptance of children and outcasts), and his authority (think of his unhesitating action against the merchants in the temple). Further, the world actively conspired against him – right from early days we see the religious elite plotting his demise. We watch as the world poured out contempt and scorn, expressing hatred through physical pain, indeed torture, scourging him with whips and striking him with fists and clubs. Not content with half-measures, it’s animosity pushed past the boundary of life, nailing him to the cross, inflicting a sentence of death.
Why, then, should we be surprised if the world doesn’t embrace us? Why be offended when the world is offended with us? Jesus told us this would be the case. We’ve seen his affliction. How could we, as his servants, expect anything less? It may not come to the point of physical pain and death, but the rejection of Christian attitudes and perspectives shouldn’t surprise us, nor should the contempt that is poured out on us who hold them.
How, then, do we respond? Several things come to mind:
• “Salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16). Even in the midst of the world’s hatred, Jesus has a role for us to play. Our attitudes and behaviours, though despised, are to have a preserving and transformative impact. Sometimes we will need to speak out against the wrong. Sometimes we will need to push against the grain. In so doing, we shouldn’t be surprised if there is a cost to pay. Jesus wasn’t.
• “Turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-42). Our inbuilt default, especially in the democratic West, is to use every weapon of political power to fight back. There may, indeed, be times to do so – I think of Paul demanding that the Roman officials in Philippi come out to the jail to own their offense. But such power-moves are not the norm. If they too often trump “turning the other cheek”, we’re likely not following Jesus’ example. Be ready for the opposition. Don’t be surprised. Bear with it. Jesus did.
• “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Ultimately, the love that Jesus has for us sustains us in the midst of the world’s hate. “Greater love” is always greater than the greatest of all hatred. Stand in his love. Endure the hate.
• “If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” (verse 20). Jesus’ final statement here raises hope to press on. Yes, the world will persecute us, just like it did him. But there were also some in Jesus’ day who heard his teaching and obeyed. Some received his call – a call that chose them out of the world – and they embraced it. Hatred turned to acceptance. So today. There is hope even for those in a hostile world.
“No servant is greater than his master” (verse 20). It is our calling to follow his example. It is our joy.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you endured – there was much hatred, but you persevered. You did it for me. Now, by your Spirit, please strengthen me in my inner being that I, too, like you, may persevere. You have forewarned me. Help me to live with your grace and truth. To your glory. Amen.
Reflect: Where are you currently experiencing the opposition or resistance or hatred of the world? How should your response be shaped by Jesus’ own example?