“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” John 15:18
Recently, I’ve been contemplating John 15 and allowing myself to think long and hard about what ‘being hated for following Jesus’ might look like for me. I may not face the daily persecution that other believers around the world face. But would I be willing to lose a close friendship or a relationship with a family member? And under what circumstances might this even happen?
Throughout the gospels, Jesus states that simply following him brings hatred (John 15:18-20; Matthew 10:22, 24:9). But WHY would following Jesus and sharing his message of love and forgiveness move some people to hatred? The Bible has a few clear answers:
1. The Gospel is offensive. The unadulterated truth of Jesus and his message can be repellent to those who haven’t yet embraced it. For those in darkness, it is a blinding flash of light (John 3:19-20). Speaking the truth of the gospel can bring a strong reaction that has nothing to do with whether people like you or not.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 is a pretty shocking challenge to life as we know it. It describes an upside down kingdom where we celebrate the weak and love those who hate and hurt us. Philip Yancey says in his book ‘The Jesus I Never Knew’:
“I find it strangely heartening that the Bible remains offensive to honest, ignorant ears, just as it was in the first century… The Sermon on the Mount forces us to recognise the great distance between God and us, and any attempt to reduce that distance by somehow moderating its demands misses the point altogether.”
2. Love is offensive. In John 15:9, Jesus speaks in great detail about love … the love of the Father for him, his love for his disciples, and the kind of self-sacrificial love his disciples should have for one another. Then he immediately moves on to talk about hatred. It seems to me Jesus connected these two concepts for a reason. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asked, “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?” (Matthew 5:46) In other words, love those who are tough to love and don’t expect love in return.
Perhaps you have experienced a reaction against this kind of love yourself. My imperfect attempts to practically love those who are ‘difficult’ or have deep needs have, at times, been painful experiences. Disdain, ingratitude and rejection in the face of love are hard for our human minds to compute. Yet, this is a mere echo of what Jesus experienced. He said of himself, “They hated me without cause” (John 15:25).
3. You are offensive. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you are an alien. The world would love you as its own, but you don’t belong here anymore (John 15:19, 17:14). In 1 Peter it talks about how friends from your ‘old life’ may abuse or slander you in their surprise at how your life has changed (4:4). They might not even be aware of the reasons they are reacting against you. Perhaps they are looking for you to slip up to reassure themselves that you aren’t very different after all.
We shouldn’t live our lives in fear of making mistakes, but 1 Peter reminds us of the importance of living good and holy lives at work and in our communities – don’t let people hate you for doing what is wrong (1 Peter 3:13-17). If they hate you for doing what is right, so be it. Asking forgiveness when you do get it wrong is an incredible witness to those around you. And by living this way you will have opportunities to share the hope that you have. Be ready.
I don’t want to be hated because of a particular political agenda, for not being able to hear or engage with the opinions of others, for an inability to disagree respectfully, or because of a lack of love, compassion or empathy. But it is worth being hated for speaking up about Jesus, for loving people sacrificially and for living a life with Jesus at its centre. The question I live with is this: Am I willing to do these things, even if they cost me?
First published in the 2012 Winter issue of Agapé MOVE magazine.
The views expressed in this blog post are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GC network.