Life is filled with choices and every choice has consequences. In grammar school, a student who befriends an unpopular boy or girl will lose friends and be made fun of. In high school, a student who refuses to give up his or her virginity will lose dates and be laughed at. In the workplace, if you live a life of integrity you’ll be passed over for a promotion. In the senior years, if you invest your time and money in the church you’ll miss out on various memories and material possessions. In the political realm, if you’re vocal about your favorite candidate, there will be those who disagree with you. In the spiritual realm, if you follow Jesus Christ, you will be hated. That’s right: HATED! Whether you like it or not, the Bible is clear that Christians will be hated and rejected by the world.
In John 15:18-16:4,1 Jesus explains why the world hates Christians. Naturally, I recognize that this will not be welcomed as a “feel-good sermon.” However, it does feel good to know that Jesus warned us in advance. As you reflect on Jesus’ words, ask yourself: Have I adopted a cultural Christianity or a cross-centered Christianity? Today, Jesus will say: It’s better to be loved than liked. In other words, it’s better to experience Jesus’ unconditional and eternal love than to win a popularity contest and be liked by the world.
In 15:18 Jesus declares, “If the world2 hates you, you know that it has hated Me3 before it hated you.”4 The particular form of the word “if” (ei) assumes something is true. Jesus is saying, “If the world hates you—and it does.”5 There is a certainty in Jesus’ words: “You will be hated! You can count on it!” Jesus then reminds His disciples that the world hated Him first. The NASB margin note offers a better rendering: “Or (imperative) know that.” Jesus is commanding His disciples to remember that He was hated from the time of His birth to the time of His death. Think about this: Jesus’ life began with King Herod attempting to kill Him. Jesus’ life ended in a death of sheer hatred. He was crucified at the wishes of His own people—the Jews. Thus, we must not be surprised by hatred.6 The word “hate” (miseo) is used seven times in the first eight verses (15:18-25).7 It is the dominant word in this passage. Jesus’ point is: Friendship with Me comes with a hefty price tag—the world’s hatred.8 Jesus wants you to be forewarned. In some circles, you will be public enemy number one.
There are three main reasons why the world hates Christians. First, we are no longer identified with the world. In 15:19 Jesus says, “If you were of the world [and you’re not], the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” Jesus insists that His disciples are no longer “of the world.” They may be “in the world,” but they are not “of the world.” Those who are “of the world” are loved by the world. But the world’s love is fleeting. You can be “loved” one moment and rejected the next. Just stop and think about all the people that the world has loved: O.J. Simpson, Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, Mike Tyson, and George W. Bush. These were household names. They were popular and influential, but now they are nothing. That’s how the world’s love is; it grows cold, oh, so quickly.
The world’s love is also conditional. If you want to be “loved” by the world, you need to do what the world does. When I was in high school, my jock buddies always tried to trick me into adopting their lifestyles. One time I was offered a can of Coke only to find out that it was straight Jack Daniels. Another time I was invited over to watch a taped basketball game only to find out that it was a porn flick. On another occasion, a young woman invited me over to spend some time with her relatives. When I arrived, I discovered that she set me up and she was actually all alone. Through God’s grace and protection alone, I was able to survive these temptations relatively unscathed. But the reality is the world wants to watch Christians falter and sin. When we participate in their behavior, it makes them feel better about their sin. However, Jesus insists that He chose us out of the world for the purpose of salvation and service.9 It’s better to be loved than liked.
A second reason why the world rejects Christians is we are identified with Christ. In 15:20 Jesus says, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” Jesus calls His disciples to “remember” (mnemoneuo) that they will follow in His sandals. As followers of Jesus, we can’t expect to have an easier time than He did (cf. 15:18). When our lives truly reflect His character and calling, we will experience either rejection or acceptance from people around us. As Paul says, we will smell either as the aroma of death or life (2 Cor 2:14-16).10 For most people, we will be aroma of death.11 Nevertheless, there will always be a remnant that loves Jesus and will love us.
It is worth pointing out that many Christians assume they are being persecuted for Christ, when in reality they are just “Christian jerks” who invite persecution by being obnoxious offensive, and argumentative. We need to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to be angry (Jas 1:19). We need to truly listen and not interrupt people. We need to talk less. We must especially avoid becoming belligerent with people. Many Christians are not sensitive or respectful. Hence, we bring on a lot of our own persecution. In this passage, Jesus is speaking about disciples who are persecuted for His name.
A third reason why the world rejects Christians is they are ignorant of God. In 15:21 Jesus says, “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” The world will persecute Christians because they don’t know God. There is a huge difference between knowing about God and knowing God. Our persecutors don’t know the one true God. They persecute us on account of their hatred of Christ. Jesus is saying, “Don’t take it personally—persecution is not your fault! Persecution is ultimately directed against Me. Instead of becoming angry with unbelievers, we need to pray that we would have compassion for them. Do you realize that many unbelievers have never read the Bible? Many unbelievers don’t even own a Bible. Do you understand that many people only know the name of Jesus Christ as a curse word? Did you know that your neighbor, classmate, and coworker may never have heard a clear presentation of the gospel? The reason that they don’t know God is because they are ignorant. (I do not say this in a disparaging way.) Although the world may choose to reject Christ, we are accountable to share Christ with them. Sadly, many Christians tend to verbally chastise unbelievers for godless living and then look the other way when believers are guilty of godless living.12 This is completely backwards.13 Unbelievers are not held to the same standard that Christians are. Unbelievers are supposed to sin; it’s a part of their job description! If I was an unbeliever, I would be sinning to my absolute heart’s content. I would be a world-class sinner. I would live for myself. But I would certainly hope that someone would love me enough to share the good news of Christ with me. While I would most likely rebel against the message, it would be helpful to know that someone cared enough to share it with me. May we seek to be more tolerant of unbelievers and ratchet our expectations for professing believers. The world doesn’t want the church to judge them; the world wants the church to judge their own. Gandhi once observed, “I might be persuaded to become a Christian … if I ever met one.” Gandhi was impressed with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, and he wanted to see evidence of a Christian living out Jesus’ teachings. May our lives showcase Christ.
Having mentioned the world’s ignorance about God, Jesus spends the next four verses explaining why the world doesn’t know God. In 15:22-23 Jesus argues that the world is guilty because they have rejected His words. Jesus puts it like this: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also.”14 Jesus isn’t saying that men and women would have been innocent if He had not come or spoken to them. The world was already sinful and rebellious before He appeared in the manger at Bethlehem. Christ’s coming highlighted sin in human hearts; He pointed it out so people had less grounds to claim ignorance. Therefore, to reject Christ and His words brings greater condemnation. Ever since the Fall, the world has been sinning against Light, but never had the world sinned against so much Light! The world is robbed of its excuses when it confronts Christ.15
In 15:24 Jesus argues that the world is guilty because they have rejected His works. Jesus says, “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.” Jesus performed all kinds of miracles. He healed the sick, He cast out demons, He fed thousands, He calmed the sea, and He raised the dead. Yet, the world rejected His works. In some cases, the world even attributed Jesus’ works to Satan (cf. Matt 12:24). No matter what Jesus said or did, the world chose to ignore Him and rebel against Him. Sadly, even the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ have not persuaded most people that Jesus is God. Consequently, the world stands condemned for the rejection of Jesus (John 3:18, 36; Rom 1:18-3:20).
In 15:25 Jesus argues that the world is guilty because they have rejected the Old Testament. Jesus says, “But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.’” The ultimate reason for the world’s rejection of Jesus and His revelation of the Father is found in the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus quotes from Ps 35:19 or 69:4. The latter is the more likely source for the quoted words, since it is cited elsewhere in John’s gospel (2:17 and 19:29) in contexts associated with Jesus’ suffering and death. Furthermore, Ps 69 was widely regarded as messianic.16 Jesus is saying: The world has rejected the Old Testament and My very words and works. This has resulted in their rejection of God.
Jesus’ words could prove to be overwhelming, so He brings up the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,17 and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”18 In the midst of the world’s hatred and rejection, the Spirit provides comfort, encouragement, and strength. Jesus teaches the disciples that they still have a responsibility to provide a witness to the love and truth found in Christ alone. Although it is important to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44), it is also critical to proclaim Christ as well. Christians need to exhibit both life and lips.
This past Friday, our outreach ministry served coffee at the employment office in Olympia. We were received warmly by most people. For the first hour we did whatever was necessary to glorify the Lord. We were then told that we could not mention God or Jesus in any way. Our outreach director, Ernest Stukes, challenged our team to be salt and light and display Christ through our lives. However, he was also wise and creative enough to station one of our people outside the building. This person was able to bless those individuals who left and to mention the name of Jesus. Our church believes it is crucial to provide a witness with our lives and our lips. After all, our lives are not godly enough to persuade anyone that we are different from Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and moral people. This is why a verbal witness is so critical. As we work for the State and teach in public schools, we must find creative ways to proclaim Christ. This can be as simple as hosting an off-campus Bible study or inviting students or coworkers into your home. If you want to share Christ, there are always ways to do so.
In 16:1-4, Jesus discusses the topic of persecution. However, these verses don’t refer to worldly people in general, but to hostile religious leaders. In other words, the biggest enemies of Christians are not atheists, agnostics, humanists, or liberals. Those who are seeking to persecute and kill Christians are religious zealots and leaders. In 16:1, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling.” “These things” refer to Jesus’ words in 15:18-27.19 The only other instance of the verb “stumble” in John’s gospel is 6:61 where it includes the idea of no longer following Jesus. It appears to have the same sense in this context. Jesus did not want His disciples to stumble (skandalizo) in their discipleship after His departure because the events that would follow took them completely by surprise.20 Jesus’ point is that, apart from His warning, their faith would be shattered and they would give up in defeat. Remember, they were still going to be scattered that very night (cf. Luke 22:31).21 While they may have stumbled initially, the Book of Acts demonstrates that the disciples did not fall away; instead, they became emboldened to preach Christ.
Jesus informs His disciples of the consequences of persecution in 16:2-3: “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me.” Those who will expel Jesus’ disciples from the synagogue are referred to in 15:21-25.22 Being put out of the synagogue means more than merely lacking a place to worship. It means the loss of the entire circle of friends who attend the synagogue. It is a social persecution. But, even death will be the lot for some of these men. In fact, we know what did happen to them. Ten of the eleven were killed for their faith. Paul was murdered by Nero; Peter, according to tradition, was crucified upside down; and James was beheaded. These deaths were performed by leaders who claimed to be doing God a favor. All except John, it appears, died martyrs’ deaths. John, the writer of this gospel, died in exile for his faith. These verses were fulfilled in the days of the early church when the Jews believed they were on God’s side, though they put Christ to death and persecuted the disciples. However, these verses also seem to have an extended relevance to today. Throughout the world, Christians are being persecuted and martyred by zealous Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. The reason that religious folks persecute and kill Christians is because they don’t know God. Their religious motives do not spring from devotion to the one true God, but to their religion.23
Jesus concludes in 16:4 by saying, “But these things24 I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes,25 you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.” The way Jesus states this verse makes clear that future persecution is a certainty, not merely a possibility.26 Jesus spoke these words to prepare His disciples for inevitable persecution. Rather than destroy their faith (cf. 16:1), persecutions had the potential of deepening the disciples’ trust, if they remembered Jesus’ prediction.27 Over the course of His earthly ministry, persecution intensified. By the time Jesus died and raised, persecution was at an all-time high. This type of persecution has continued in many parts of the world today. Undoubtedly, intense persecution will come to the United States, most likely in my lifetime, certainly within my children’s lifetime. We must remember the words of Jesus and guard ourselves from growing spiritually soft. If we don’t strengthen ourselves, we will be swept under the tidal wave of persecution. So be bold, be strong, and trust Christ. It’s better to be loved than liked.
So how can we counter the hatred and persecution of this world order? How do we prepare ourselves to stand strong for Christ in the days to come? The following three principles will help us apply this passage to our lives.
It is also important to express love for our fellow believers. One of the reasons that Jesus exhorts believers to love one another is because we will need each other’s strength to combat the world system.29 Unbelieving neighbors, coworkers, classmates, family, and friends will turn against us on account of our faith in Christ. When this happens, we will need the strength and security of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to “spur one another on to love and good works” (Heb 10:24 NET). This will enable us to persevere in our Christian fruitfulness.
A soldier goes to Ranger School in the Army in order to become a member of the Army’s elite corps of shock troops who spearhead the attack on the battlefields. To be able to meet the rigors of combat the soldier is put through intense training that pushes him to the very limits of his strength and will. When he comes out of those weeks of suffering and stress he is a different person. He is a Ranger. None of the process is pleasant or easy. But all of it is necessary. The same is true for believers. We are God’s shock troops in a hostile world. To serve in His army we must have strength of character which cannot be gained by reading books. It must be learned by living it. Thus, persecution and suffering have been proven historically to be blessings from God. It has been through this that faith has often grown stronger and more souls have been won to the Lord as Christians have responded with the boldness of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness all the way to death.31
Centuries ago, a wealthy, young Christian was in love and engaged to be married. He had everything going for him. But he lived in the Roman Empire and the emperor had declared Christianity to be an illegal religion. Saying, “Caesar is Lord,” like everyone else, would have made him politically correct, but he would not say it. Instead, he said, “Jesus is Lord.” He was, by virtue of his faith in Jesus, guilty of treason.
As the story goes, this young man was arrested in a crackdown against Christians. While awaiting execution in the arena, he wrote love letters to his fiancée. They were beautiful, passionate letters assuring her of his great love for her. But the two were never married, for in A.D. 269, the young man was put to death for being a Christian. His name was Valentine, and the day of his execution was February 14.32 Valentine’s Day is not about chocolates, hearts, roses, and jewelry; it’s about a man of God laying down his life for Christ. St. Valentine understood: It’s better to be loved than liked.
John 3:19-20; 7:7
1 John 2:15-17; 4:4-6
Matthew 10:19-20, 24-25
2 Corinthians 2:14-16
2 Timothy 3:10-12
1. Do I expect to be hated by the world (15:18)? Why or why not? How can I prepare myself to encounter hate and rejection? How can I cultivate a soft heart toward those who reject my faith in Christ (15:19-22)? What do I need to keep in mind when others despise me?
2. How many times have I been ridiculed because of my Christian witness (15:23-25)? Do I love Christ more than the opinions of men? When was the last time I chose to blend in with the crowd rather than follow Christ? Why did I cave to the pressure? What can I do to stand for Jesus the next time I am in that situation? Read Galatians 1:10.
3. When was the last time I reflected on the rewards that accompany adversity and persecution? Read Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 8:17; James 1:12; 1 Peter 3:13-17; and 4:12-19. How can I adopt an eternal perspective in the midst of my suffering?
4. What is the role of the Holy Spirit in dealing with Christian opposition (15:26-27)? How can I rely upon His power and grace when I am facing persecution? Have I expressed gratitude to God for His Helper? Will I make a conscious decision to affirm the Spirit today?
5. How have I been persecuted for my faith (16:1-4)? How did I deal with this persecution? Read Matthew 10:16-25; Luke 6:40; and 2 Timothy 3:12. Do I pray for the persecuted church? Why or why not? Will I set aside some time to look at the Voice of the Martyrs Web site: http://www.persecution.com/www.persecution.com and pray for those who are facing persecution today? Will I pray for boldness to follow the example of my persecuted brothers and sisters?
1 Various commentators agree with this section break (John 15:18-16:4 or 16:4a). See Bruce Milne, The Message of John: Here Is Your King! (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 224; Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1994), 252; Andreas J. Köstenberger, John. Baker Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 463.
2 Jesus mentions the term “world” (kosmos) directly thirty-six times in John’s gospel and indirectly fifteen times in the Upper room. See Gary Derickson and Earl Radmacher, The Disciplemaker (Salem, OR: Charis, 2001), 204. Kosmos is used in several different ways in the Johannine literature of the NT: The material universe as the object of creation (John 1:10); Satan’s system of priorities and thought focused upon the temporal (1 John 2:15-16); humankind (and the earth) as the object of God’s love and redemptive plan (1 John 3:16); and the mass of unbelievers who are hostile to God’s plan as a result of succumbing to Satan’s system of priorities and thought (John 15:18).
3 The pronoun “Me” (eme) is emphatic (cf. John 7:7). This reveals the world’s opposition to God, His Messiah, and His people (cf. 17:14; 1 John 3:13).
4 Keener finds another micro-chiasm in 15:18-25, with 15:20ab (a servant is not greater than his master) at the center. The six conditional clauses in 15:18-24 represent warnings pertaining to the future (or present) of the Christian community in relation to the world. Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John. 2 vols (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 1019.
5 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 696; Gerald Borchert, John 12-21. New American Commentary (Nashville: B & H, 2002), 154.
6 See 1 John 3:13: “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.”
7 John 15:18 (twice), 19, 23 (twice), 24, and 25.
8 Morris writes, “It is significant that the disciples are to be known by their love (cf. 13:34-35), the world by its hatred.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. Revised edition. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 678.
9 Some prefer to distinguish between an election to salvation and an election to service. However, I believe that an election to service includes an election to salvation. They are part and parcel.
10 Derickson and Radmacher, The Disciplemaker, 207.
11 Lutzer writes, “A Christian who is popular with the world is a contradiction in terms. If we have not attracted the scorn of the world, it may well be because we have muddled our Christian witness.” Erwin Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World (Wheaton: Victor, 1987), 99.
12 “The greatest criticism of the Church today is that no one wants to persecute it: because there is nothing very much to persecute it about.” George F. MacLeod, Leadership, Vol. 2, no. 4.
13 In 1 Cor 5, Paul is far more concerned about the behavior of believers than he is unbelievers. In 5:12, he writes, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?”
14 John puts “Me” and “My Father” into emphatic positions in the sentence by placing them before the verbs where they would normally have followed the verbs like it is translated into English.
15 Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World, 93; D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 526; Köstenberger, John, 465.
16 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 527; Köstenberger, John, 465.
17 The verb here is a form of the Greek word martureo and it can be interpreted in either the imperative or the indicative mood since the case endings for both moods is the same. In the imperative mood it should be translated, “He must testify of Me,” whereas in the indicative mood it should be translated, “He will testify of Me.” In either case, the Holy Spirit is seen as providing testimony of Jesus in a future period.
18 In these verses, we find the third of five descriptions of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel to the disciples. In the first (14:15-18), Jesus described the Holy Spirit as another “Helper,” Who would abide “in” the disciples forever. In the second (14:26), Jesus promised that the Spirit would teach them and remind them of all things that Jesus had taught them. Our passage in this lesson is the third description of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In 16:7, we find the fourth description of the ministry of the Holy Spirit where Jesus indicates that He will send the Spirit to them and describes His convincing ministry. Finally, in 16:13-14, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth.
19 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 530.
20 Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on John,” 2008 ed.: http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/john.pdfwww.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/john.pdf, 233. According to Matt 26:31, the first words that Jesus spoke after going from the supper to the Mount of Olives were, “This night you will all fall away [skandalisthesesthe] because of me.” For Johannine parallels, see John 6:61; 1 John 2:10; Rev. 2:14; cf. Did. 16:5. Köstenberger, John, 467.
21 Derickson and Radmacher, The Disciplemaker, 216.
22 On being “put out of the synagogue,” see John 9:22, 34 and 12:42-43. See also the references to “those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” in the Book of Revelation (2:9; 3:9).
23 Derickson and Radmacher, The Disciplemaker, 217.
24 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 532; cf. John 13:19; 14:29.
25 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 532.
26 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 615.
27 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 532; Morris, The Gospel According to John, 616.
28 Kent Crockett, The 911 Handbook (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 23.
29 Lutzer, How to Have a Whole Heart in a Broken World, 92.
30 Preaching Today citation: An Amish bishop quoted in The Economist (July 22, 1989). Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 16.
31 Derickson and Radmacher, The Disciplemaker, 218-19.
32 N. Allan Moseley, Thinking Against the Grain: Developing a Biblical Worldview in a Culture of Myths (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2003), 106-7.