A Pepper Grinder Post

If the World Hates You

I am the kind of person who likes to get along with people. I want everybody to think well of me, and, I am sorry to say, I've been known to modify how I act toward someone based on what kind of person I think they'll like. Because of this, it's probably not surprising that God would intervene and put a stop to this nonsense (especially since I have often asked Him to change me).

Lately, the form this intervention has taken has been to put me in multiple situations where I was in some level of conflict with someone. I HATE being in that situation, and at one point, I felt like Ishmael in the Old Testament. When an angel told Hagar that she would have Ishmael, the angel prophesied:

He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers. (Genesis 16:12, NIV)

This made me start to think about what is normal for a Christian. I act as though a peaceful life where everyone is pleased with me is the norm. When things deviate from this, I get unhappy. But is my expectation Biblical?

Here is what Jesus said in John 15:18-21 (my translation)

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as one of its own. But because you don't belong to it (but I have taken you out of the world), the world hates you. Remember what I said: "A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they'll do the same to you. If they obeyed my word, they'll obey yours too." All the things they do to you are because of me--because they don't know the one who sent me.

This is not what I wanted to hear! It sounds as though Jesus is saying that hatred and persecution are our normal lot in life. Let's take a look at a few things and make sure this really is the message.

Stony HillsideMy first question is about a phrase that John uses in a very John-like way: the world. John likes to use simple words in a way that sounds almost like something you would give a beginning reader. If you try to analyze a passage, you can be left wondering what that simple-sounding word really means. For example, in John's writing, "the word" becomes not just a spoken word, but God's entire communication with us, and also Jesus Christ. In the same way, I wondered what this "world" was that hated Jesus and will hate us. I mainly focused on how John uses the word, and I found that the meaning he gives it is fairly straightforward. Most of the time, it just means all the people in the world. This means that what Jesus is saying will hate us is not some abstract force or system, but people. He is saying that, because he has changed us and made us different from most people, they won't like us.

Well, he doesn't say they won't like us, he says they'll HATE us. This is disturbing to me for two reasons. One is that I don't want people to dislike me, much less hate me. The other is that I don't feel that most people do hate me, so it makes me wonder if I am really following Christ the way I should.

There is something about this that we need to keep in mind. Jesus said that the world will hate us the way it hated him. Throughout much of his ministry, lots of people seemed pretty pleased with Jesus. Sure, the Pharisees, teachers of the Law, and Sadducees hated his guts, but lots of the common people seemed delighted with him.

Does this mean that we could actually be fairly popular? I would say yes and no. The thing with Jesus was that he knew that even when people seemed to be on his side, many of them were not truly committed to him. Here is what an earlier passage in the Gospel of John says:

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man. (John 2:23-25, NIV)

It seemed as though Jesus was on his way to starting a successful church plant or maybe even a denomination, but he didn't start taking contributions for the building fund. He knew what was in a man. He knew that most of the happy throng that was so pleased with him now would be calling for his death a relatively short time later. This is just what we see with political leaders. A president who has sky-high approval ratings during a time of crisis might have terrible ratings a couple years later. This means that we don't have to enter into tremendous doubt because most people seem to like us at some point in our lives. What we need to do is keep in mind that many people who act like we're great now may secretly (or not so secretly) rejoice when things go against us.

Tree on a HillI think the bottom line on the subject of the world hating us is that Jesus is not someone people can be neutral about. At the root of things, you either love him most of all, or you hate him. I think that most people who don't put him first would be shocked at the concept that they hate him, but this is how Jesus presents it. He is not someone who can be given second place. If we are his followers, there will be a similar dynamic. If people love Jesus, they should love us (though I also think that sin often gets in there and messes up relationships between Christians). If they do not love Jesus, they will NOT love us. They may get along with us okay, especially if certain topics are avoided, but down deep, they are not on our side.

I think that this hatred will happen even if we say very little. Simply by living according to Christian principles, we remind other people that they are living in rebellion against God. They want to think that Christians are stupid or jerks or misguided or naive. They want to think that living to please themselves is perfectly okay, because that is what everyone they know does. You, by your very presence in their lives, ruin that pleasant illusion.

Does this mean that we shouldn't try to be close to people who aren't following Jesus? Not at all. Jesus hung out with all sorts of people. I think it is a great thing for Christians to be friends with non-Christians, and not just so we can "evangelize" them. But I think reality dictates that we realize there is a limit to how close this relationship can get.

It's easy to react to hatred by feeling that we should hide away in an emotional cocoon, but Jesus doesn't give us this option. There were certainly times when Jesus went off by himself or took his disciples off to a private place so they could recharge, but it doesn't seem to me that long-term withdrawal from society is a valid Christian option. Jesus loved and was hated. The same path is marked out for us.

This seems like an awfully gloomy message. Is it possible that I'm misinterpreting or making too much of this one passage? Consider some other passages (all from the NIV):

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. (1 John 3:13)

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Timothy 3:12)

There is a certain danger to this teaching. It would be easy to assume that any time someone is mad at us, it is because we belong to Jesus. If we do a sloppy job at work and our non-Christian boss yells at us, it would be wrong to hide behind this passage and say that we are being hated for Jesus's sake. This teaching doesn't excuse us from examining ourselves to be sure we are acting as we should toward the people around us.

I could also picture someone with a different type of personality from mine taking this teaching and saying something like, "If they're going to hate me anyway, why should I try to be nice to them?" Why not be in-your-face and confrontational with unbelievers? After all, Jesus certainly said some blunt, obnoxious things.

tree and cloudsWhile it's true that Jesus sometimes said things that were very provocative, it's important to remember to whom he was saying them. He was generally speaking to the religious leaders of his day. He was talking to the people that Jews looked to for guidance and as examples of how to live for God, and yet who were doing their best to tie people into knots and keep them from truly experiencing God's love. There's no record of him blasting tax collectors or prostitutes.

We also need to remember that we are commanded to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) and to "make every effort to live in peace with all men" (Hebrews 12:14). This is encouraging for me, personally, because it is my natural tendency. It is not wrong for me to WANT to be on peaceful terms with everyone. What is wrong is for me to expect that, if I truly try to live my life for Jesus and according to his principles, I will always attain that peace. If we serve Jesus, we will be hated--because he was.