John 15:18-25: On persecution.

“18 ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 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. 20 Remember what I told you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfil what is written in their Law: “They hated me without reason.” NIV

If the last section in John was about love, this next one turns to the theme of hate – the hatred of the world (”the moral order apart from God” D. Guthrie) for Christ, for His Father, and for the church (18, 19, 23, 24). At one level it is an inexplicable hatred because it is ”without reason” (25; see Psalm 25:19; 69:4). Why would ”the world” hate the God who ”so” loves it (John 3:16). It doesn’t make any sense naturally speaking. But we are not ‘naturally speaking’. We live and serve in war time realities (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Here are four observations from the passage:

  1. The persecution of Christians is indissolubly linked to the persecution of Jesus (18, 20, 21). The Lord had previously enunciated the principle found in (20) back in (13:16): ”No servant is greater than his master.” There it related to the need for humility. Here it has to do with how the world will treat them. If Jesus was hated by the world they will be. But some did respond warmly and positively to the teaching of Jesus and we will find this too. The picture is not totally bleak.
  2. Christians are persecuted because they do not belong to the world (19). We belong to another country, a better land, a different commonwealth, a greater kingdom: ”But our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). We have been born from above. We don’t belong in this world. It’s been said that the principle here is that like attracts like but repels opposites. It’s like when birds turn on other birds of a different plumage and want to kill them.
  3. Persecution has its origin in ignorance of God (21). People who truly know God would not hound other lovers of God. They just wouldn’t.
  4. Persecution may be understandable, but it is nevertheless inexcusable (22,24). The preaching and miracles of Jesus left them without excuse. Brilliant light had shone in their darkness. They allowed their day of opportunity to pass them by.

I applaud every sincere attempt to befriend people who are not Christians. Jesus was the Friend of sinners, and I want to follow in His steps. But if we offer that friendship without compromise, we will find that there will be many who do not wish to return it. Don’t be surprised if you are often rejected, ostracised and even hated. Don’t let it be because you are offensive, or unwise in your behaviour. But you must be prepared for it. That’s how things are. That’s how Jesus said it would be.

I heard that a new Christian said to Charles Spurgeon: ”Mr. Spurgeon, now that I am a Christian, how much of the world must I give up?” Spurgeon replied, ”Young man, don’t worry. The world will give you up.”

PRAYER: ”Lord Jesus, in the face of hostility, help me to not be surprised, and fill me with courage to still stand by your Cross.