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Lesson 83: What To Expect In The World (John 15:18-27)

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February 22, 2015

If you know that you’re going to face a difficult situation, it’s helpful to have some idea in advance of what you’ll be in for. I’ve told you before about a funny event that happened when I was in Coast Guard boot camp. A guy showed up for boot camp with his water skis and fishing pole because a recruiter had told him that boot camp was on an island (true) and that you could water ski and fish in the estuary surrounding the island (true, if “you” is understood to mean, “a person technically could do those things”). But if “you” meant “you personally,” it was about the furthest thing imaginable from the truth!

The recruiter conveniently failed to tell this naïve recruit that the first day of boot camp, they issued your uniform and made you ship home all of your civilian clothes, including your underwear, along with your comb, shampoo, and all toiletries, except for a razor and shaving cream. You wouldn’t need your comb and shampoo after they gave you the boot camp haircut, which came next, because you would have no hair! Also, they controlled your life all day and all night. If they wanted to wake up everyone at 2 a.m. and have you march or stand in formation in the cold, they could do that. For the next nine weeks, you were not in control of your life—they were! If that recruit had been told anything close to the truth, he might not have signed up. (I joined because it was better than being drafted and sent to Viet Nam.) But for sure, he wouldn’t have shown up with his water skis and fishing pole!

The problem is, some Christian “recruiters” (also called, “evangelists”) entice you to sign up by describing all the wonderful benefits that you’re going to receive: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” That sounds pretty good! And, Jesus promises an abundant life to all who follow Him! “Yeah, I could use more abundance in my life!” And so you sign up for the program, not realizing that while there are many benefits in following Jesus, there are also many trials and persecutions (Mark 10:28-30).

Jesus knew that after He left the disciples to return to heaven, they would face some difficult opposition from the world. Maybe, because He had just told them that they would do even “greater works” than He did (John 14:12), they were envisioning receptive crowds and smooth sailing ahead. But the reality was, they would face some severe persecution, not just from the pagan world, but also from the religious crowd. The Lord wanted them to know what to expect from the world and how to respond to the hostility that they would experience. His message is:

While the world hates believers, we should testify to the world of the truth about Jesus Christ.

These verses present a sober, even grim, picture, except for what has gone on before: Because we enjoy Christ’s love and joy (John 15:1-11) and because we are members of the loving family of God (John 15:12-17), we can endure the hostility of the world. But we need to be prepared for it so that we’re not shocked when it happens. Our text falls into two sections: The world’s hatred of Christians (John 15:18-25); and our responsibility to the hostile world, namely, to bear witness of Christ (John 15:26-27).

1. The world hates believers because it hates Jesus Christ (John 15:18-25).

There are five things to note about the world’s hatred:

A. Hatred or love for Jesus Christ is what either divides or unites people.

Note the contrast between verses 17 & 18: Christians are to be known for their love, but the world is known for its hatred. Jesus emphasizes “world,” using it six times in verses 18 & 19. The world refers to the organized system under Satan’s domain that is opposed to God and His rightful King, Jesus Christ. In 1 John 5:19, the apostle draws the contrast: “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

Of course, if you were to go out and ask people on the street, “Do you hate Jesus Christ?” most would answer, “No, I don’t have anything against Jesus. He was a great moral teacher.” If you asked, “Do you follow the devil” they would strongly exclaim, “There’s no way that I follow the devil! I’m not a Satan-worshiper!” They don’t follow Jesus, but they aren’t openly opposed to Him, either. And they aren’t aware that they’re following the devil, even though they are. They subscribe to godless values. They ignore God in their daily lives, unless they get into a crisis where they suddenly decide to pray. But the average unbeliever isn’t going to say, “I hate Jesus and I hate Christians!” He’s just living his life as he sees fit and is content to let religious people follow Jesus if they want to.

But Jesus says (John 15:18), “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” “If” is not uncertain; it’s a Greek construction that means, “If the world hates you, and it will”. The Lord wants us to know that behind the world’s hatred for us is its hatred for Him. And, as He adds (John 15:23), “He who hates Me hates My Father also.” You can’t separate Jesus from the Father.

But, you may wonder, why does Jesus say that the world hates both Him and the Father, as well as all believers, when most unbelievers would say that they don’t have anything against Jesus or against Christians? In Matthew 12:30, Jesus draws a similar line: “He who is not with Me is against Me.” He paints the contrast in black and white to draw a distinct line to show that you must take sides. There is no gray zone. Either you love Jesus and His Father and all who follow Jesus, or you hate them all, whether you admit it or not! The boat is leaving the dock. Either you’re on board or you’re not, but you can’t straddle both!

D. A. Carson (Jesus’ Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer [Baker], pp. 116-117) points out that we see the world’s hatred in those who claim to be liberal and tolerant of differing viewpoints, but who are not so tolerant when it comes to Christian absolutes. He states,

They demonstrate their forbearance and large-hearted goodness when they confront diverse opinions, varied lifestyles and even idiotic practices. But if some Christian claims that Christianity is exclusive (as Jesus insisted), or that moral absolutes exist because they are grounded in the character of God (as the Bible teaches), or that there is a hell to be shunned as well as a heaven to be gained, the most intemperate language is used to excoriate the poor fool. The world hates.

B. The world hates because Jesus exposes its sin.

John 15:22: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.” Jesus adds (John 15:24): “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.”

What does Jesus mean? Obviously He doesn’t mean that those who have never heard of Him or His miracles are sinless. The Bible is clear that all people, even those who have never heard of Jesus, are guilty sinners before God (Rom. 3:10-18). All people have evidence that there is a Creator by looking at His creation, but they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness … so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:18-20). Also, all people have violated their consciences, doing what they instinctively know is wrong (Rom. 2). And so, all have sinned and thus are guilty before God (Rom. 3:23).

Rather, Jesus means that His coming and the many miracles that He did increased people’s responsibility and guilt when they did not submit to Him as Savior and Lord. In Matthew 11:20-24, Jesus denounced the cities where He had done most of His miracles because they did not repent. He made it clear that it will be more tolerable even for the pagans in Tyre and Sidon and for wicked Sodom on judgment day than for these cities. In other words, increased light rejected means increased sin and guilt.

When Jesus exposes people’s sin, unless the Holy Spirit is convicting them and drawing them to Christ, they react defensively. As Jesus told His then unbelieving brothers (John 7:7), “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.” Or, as John 3:19-20 states, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Also, note that unbelief is not due to a lack of solid evidence. These people heard Jesus’ words and they saw His many miracles that no one else had done (John 15:22, 24), but they still rejected Him because He exposed their sin. It’s still true today: there is more than enough evidence to believe in Jesus Christ, but people reject that evidence or bring up other excuses for their unbelief because they enjoy their sin and they don’t want to repent.

Two applications: First, if you live in obedience to Jesus Christ, you will threaten unbelievers in your family, at school, or at work, because your godly life will expose their sin. As a result, they will try to get you to sin so that you’re just like they are; or they will attack you falsely. Be ready for the onslaught!

Second, if you go to church but you don’t submit your life to the lordship of Christ, you’re exposing yourself to greater judgment! To put it another way, going to a church where the Bible is taught is dangerous! There will be degrees of punishment in hell. There’s a point where you have more than adequate evidence to believe that Jesus is Lord. But if you reject that evidence and don’t repent of your sin, you will incur a stricter judgment.

C. If the world thinks that you’re wonderful, you may need to question whether you’re being a bold enough witness for Christ.

Let me make it clear: You should not be the source of offense by being insensitive, rude, or obnoxious. We need to conduct ourselves with wisdom, grace, and sensitivity toward unbelievers (Col. 4:5-6). But here’s where you will catch flak: Unbelievers will be tolerant until you tell them that Jesus is the only way to God. Then they will accuse you of being intolerant. They will be friendly until you make it clear that God has absolute moral standards and that our culture’s standards are wrong. Then they will accuse you of being self-righteous and judgmental. They will be tolerant of your Christianity until you refuse to lie to cover their wrongdoing or cheat in favor of the company. At that point, they will turn against you and go behind your back to turn others against you.

But if you state or imply to unbelievers that all good people will go to heaven, you laugh at their dirty jokes, you go to the same filthy movies that they go to so that you can be in the know with all the office chatter, and you lie for the boss, the world will think you’re wonderful; but you’ve compromised your witness for Christ. You may think, “But if I don’t go along with the world like that, I’ll lose my job!” Well, we have brothers and sisters in Iraq who are losing their lives because they won’t deny Christ. As Jesus said (Matt. 5:11-12), “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

D. The world’s hatred for Christ and for believers does not thwart God’s sovereignty, but rather fulfills it.

Jesus says regarding the world’s hatred of both Him and His Father (John 15:25), “But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’” He is citing Psalm 69:4 to show that unbelievers can rage against God, but they don’t have any basis for their hatred and they’re inadvertently fulfilling God’s word. God is sovereign and no one can thwart His will (Ps. 103:19; 115:3; Job 42:2; Dan. 4:35). The application is that when unbelievers seem to win, don’t fret. God is still in control and He will ultimately judge all unbelievers who wrong you and He will vindicate His people who have been persecuted for His name’s sake.

E. The world hates believers because we’re different than they are.

We’re different in many ways, but there are three in the text:

1) We have a different calling: Christ chose us out of this evil world.

John 15:19: “If you were of the world, 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 again brings up a theme that upsets many: divine election. Proud people like to think that they have the ability to choose Christ, but He taught that no one can come to Him unless the Father chose him and draws him. When Jesus taught that in John 6:37-40, 44, & 65, we read (John 6:66), “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.”

The world, even many in the religious world, will say that if God chose only some, He is not fair. But, as I pointed out when we studied John 6, Jesus taught God’s sovereign election to the unbelieving Jews who were grumbling against Him (John 6:41ff.) to humble their pride. And, I must add, don’t ever ask God to be fair with you! Plead with Him to be merciful to you, the sinner!

2) We have a different Master: Jesus is our Lord, while the world serves Satan.

In verse 20, Jesus implies that we are His slaves and He is our Master. But Satan is the ruler or god of this world (John 12:31; 14:30), who has blinded the eyes of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4). Before God rescued us, we all lived in Satan’s domain of darkness (Col. 1:13), but now we live in Christ’s kingdom of light.

This means that the world does not understand our thinking or our behavior. The world thinks that people are basically good, whereas the Bible says that all are sinners in rebellion against God. People in the world live for themselves and their own agendas, whereas the Lord’s people live for Him and His purposes. The world makes up its own relative moral standards, whereas God’s people obey His moral absolutes. So misunderstanding and hostility from the world are inevitable.

3) We have different knowledge: We know the Father, but the world does not.

John 15:21: “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 fundamental problem of people in the world is that they do not know the living and true God. Instead, they make up their own gods. Even atheists worship their own intellect as supreme, refusing to acknowledge that all that they have comes from God (1 Cor. 4:7) and that they will give an account to Him when they die (Heb. 9:27). But knowing God is the essence of the eternal life that Christ gives to all who believe in Him. As He prayed (John 17:3), “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

But in spite of the world’s hatred, we should never respond with retaliation or hatred. There may be times to ask God to judge the wicked. There are times to shake the dust off your feet and move on (Matt. 10:14). There are times to be silent rather than to cast your pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6; Luke 23:9). But our normal response should be:

2. In spite of the world’s hatred, we should testify to the world of the truth about Jesus Christ (John 15:26-27).

Jesus leaves us in this world to proclaim His glory (1 Pet. 2:9). But how can we bear witness in the face of such a hostile world? Jesus shows that we can do so only through the Spirit of truth.

A. The Spirit of truth testifies about Jesus Christ.

John 15:26: “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….” As you may know, that verse sparked a controversy that split the Eastern and Western churches over whether the Spirit eternally proceeds only from the Father (Eastern) or from the Father and the Son (Western).

But in the context, Jesus was not referring to the ontological nature of the trinity, but rather to the mission of the Holy Spirit, whom He calls the Spirit of truth. But we can know that the Holy Spirit is a person. A mere “force” cannot testify to the truth. And, the fact that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and is sent by Jesus, who Himself was sent by the Father, implies the deity and the distinctiveness of all three persons of the trinity.

But the point here is that the Spirit will continue the witness to Christ after He returned to heaven. How does He do that? He does it through the Word of God, which He inspired, but also through believers. As Peter testified (Acts 5:32), “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” The Spirit testifies through us.

B. Christ’s disciples testify about Him.

John 15:27: “… and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” This refers in the first place to the apostolic witness, because they were with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry until He ascended into heaven. They testified about what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20). They didn’t make up cleverly devised tales, but were eyewitnesses of Christ’s majesty (2 Pet. 1:16). We have their factual testimony in the New Testament. So our witness is not just true for those who choose to believe it. It’s always true whether people believe it or not.

So the Holy Spirit uses believers to testify to others about the truth of Jesus. As Merrill Tenney puts it (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], ed. by Frank Gaebelein, 9:155), “Without the witness of the Spirit, the disciples’ witness would be powerless; without the disciples’ witness, the Spirit would be restricted in his means of expression.” We can’t just relax and trust the Spirit to do His thing apart from us. We have to give verbal witness to the truth about Jesus Christ as the Spirit gives us opportunities.

Conclusion

Three applications: First, some of us (like me!) need to have more contact with the world. We are not to be of the world, but we are to be in the world (John 17:14-18). If you’re always surrounded by Christians, ask the Lord for opportunities to rub shoulders with people who need the Savior. You can’t testify to the truth about Christ if you don’t have contact with the world.

Second, pray for alertness to opportunities and boldness when you speak. I often think about what I could have said about an hour after the opportunity has passed. And, most of us do not err on the side of being too bold. None other than the apostle Paul said (Eph. 6:19-20), “Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

Third, expect from the world what Jesus received from the world: mostly hatred, but some fruit. He says (John 15:20), “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” If you expect everyone to respond favorably, you’ll be discouraged when they don’t. But if you expect everyone to respond negatively, you won’t even try to bear witness. Jesus promises that some will believe through your witness (Acts 18:10). So keep proclaiming the good news!

Application Questions

  1. Paul prayed for boldness, yet urged believers to be sensitive in their witness (Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:5-6). Where’s the balance?
  2. How should Christians handle a request to lie for the boss or respond when a dirty joke is told?
  3. How can we know in which areas it’s okay to be like the world (styles, fads, etc.) and where we need to be distinct?
  4. Why is the doctrine of election offensive, even to some believers? What are some of its practical applications?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Evangelism, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

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