“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’”
The Difference In Jesus
These words of Jesus where he talks about how the world will hate us if we follow him are sometimes misinterpreted today. Someone who identifies as a Christian has feelings of moral outrage, and maybe their feelings are understandable. But then because of the way they express their outrage, not surprisingly, they’re hated. And these same people will then point to this passage of scripture and say, “Yeah, well I shared truth and now they hate me, just like Jesus said they would.”
But Jesus’ key words from this passage come right at the very end. He says, “
“If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’”
So the difference I see between the person who identifies as a Christian who shares their opinion or their perception of truth ineffectively, say, in a rant or with a snarky post on social media, and the way Jesus shared truth is that when Jesus shared truth, he shared it in the context of unmistakable love and grace. Jesus demonstrated extraordinary love in ways that made him stand out. He did “works that no one else did.” He healed too many people to count. He forgave sins on the spot. He gave to the poor. He fed the hungry. And when Jesus spoke his words were such that when the Pharisees asked their officers why they didn’t arrest Jesus as they were ordered to, the officers said, “No one ever spoke like this man!”
How The First Century Church Changed The World
I think most people who share their opinion or who share truth genuinely want to change the world. They want to make the world a better place. And I don’t think there was a group more effective at changing the world than the first century church. The first century church was literally described as a group of people who were turning “the world upside down.”
“. . . they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” (Acts 17:6-7)
It wasn’t just Jason and his friends who were turning the world upside down. There are numerous accounts of similar behavior among Christ followers. Soon after Jesus’ death and resurrection, emphasis on the deity of the Roman emperor was increased in the culture of the day. And it became a requirement for everyone in the Roman Empire to publicly declare that “Caesar is Lord.” Once a year everyone was required to throw incense into a fire in the public square and, as they did it, they were required to say the words “Caesar is Lord.”
Polycarp, a Christian leader, refused, and he was executed for it. There are numerous other accounts of Christ followers refusing to say those words and dying for their commitment to Jesus.
I saw a documentary once about how the early Christ followers were notorious for caring for their terminally ill neighbors. Also I’ve written before about an ancient letter from a man named Diognetus. In his letter he writes that the reason for the rapid growth of the early church was because of the generosity of the Christ followers.
Like Jesus, the Christ followers of the first century demonstrated extraordinary love in ways that caused them to stand out from the surrounding culture. They loved Jesus so much they would die for his name. And they loved people so much they were known for what Jesus said his disciples would be known for: their love.
The First Century Church’s Source Of Power
So the first century church changed the world with their radical love for Jesus, and by loving people like Jesus. But where did that love come from? How did they come to be filled with love like that?
Not by sharing opinions. Rather, they changed the world because they were abiding so deep in Jesus that their lives were a stark contrast to the lives of the people around them. People in their day looked at them and said, “Wow!” The people of their day looked at them and said, “They’re so different! I want to learn where that love comes from.”
To find the source of the first century Jesus follower’s amazing love, we need to look at the first 10 verses of the same chapter as today’s passage. In those first 10 verses of John chapter 15 the word abide is used 10 times.
Abide: to be intimate with, be connected to, be at home with.
That’s where their love came from. The love found in the people of the first century church came from their abiding with Christ. And their abiding resulted in their living like Jesus. They loved Jesus so much they wouldn’t deny him. They loved people so much they stood out from the rest of their culture.
That’s how they changed the world.
I have a Christian friend who used to be suicidal. He talks about two things he changed in his life that lifted him out of the darkness. One is taking walks and talking to God. The other is spending time with friends who are sold out for Jesus. I can’t help but notice that those are two ways of abiding in Jesus. Now my friend helps people who struggle with depression, and in doing so, he’s attracting people to Christ.
On Being Different
So then why was Jesus hated? And why will we be hated as Jesus followers? Jesus was hated because he was different. His great love for people alarmed and threatened the religious leadership of his day. That’s why he was hated “without a cause.”
And that’s why we should be hated. Not because we shared truth before building a foundation of unmistakable love. Not because people don’t like our opinions. But because our love for Jesus, and the love of Jesus that flows out from us to others, is so outrageous, that some people hate it. If you really want to change the world, love people radically, the way Jesus did, and establish that first with anyone you want to share truth with.
If we abide in Christ deeply enough we’ll stand out from the culture around us, the same way Jesus stood out from the culture around him. And some people will hate us, because the world doesn’t like people who are different.
The Diognetus reference is from Timothy Keller’s excellent teaching, Preaching Today Tape #230, May 2, 1999, via Christianity Today, URL: http://www.preachingtoday.com/sermons/sermons/2005/august/230.html