When Being Hated is a Good Thing

Title: When Being Hated is a Good Thing

Bible Book: John 15 : 18

Author: Mark Adams

Subject: Suffering; Persistence



My favorite youth ministry book of all time is Merton Strommen’s FIVE CRIES OF YOUTH. I love this book is because, in my opinion, Strommen does a great job of describing five of the main needs that adolescents tend to struggle with. In fact, I would say that even though it was written in the late ‘70's, his research was so thorough that the principles he unearthed are still applicable even today as we live in the “10's!” For example, Strommen discovered that the loudest “cry” of teenagers—their greatest need—is the need to be accepted or loved. And—as I look back—WAY back—to the years when I was a teen, I would have to say that I can relate to that one...because I remember that back then more than anything I wanted to be popular. Like most teens today, my self-worth was tied to the opinion of others...which is why I wanted to wear my hair like my peers and dress according to the latest trends.

And—I would imagine that no matter how far you are removed from your adolescence you can look back and relate...because Strommen was right. Teenagers long to be loved and accepted. This is one of the things that makes it so hard to be a teenager.

Well, unfortunately this particular “cry” doesn’t always go away when our pimples fade. Instead, this longing to be popular just “morphs” into a more adult version. This is why “mature” people still tend to do and say things to impress their peers. I’m reminded of the story of three old military vets who were hanging out at the local VFW hall one afternoon bragging about the heroic exploits of their ancestors. One grizzled old vet declared proudly, “At the age of 13, my great-great grandfather was a drummer boy at the battle of Shiloh!” Not to be outdone another vet said, “Well, my great-great grandfather went down with Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn!” The last vet said, “Well, I’m the only soldier in my family, but if my great-great-grandfather was alive today he’d be the most famous man in the world.” His friends asked, “Really!? Why?” And the man said, “Because he’d be 165 years old!”

Okay—be honest adults. Have you ever said something or done something or bought something or worn something in an attempt to be popular? Do you have an inner longing to be admired or LOVED by others?

Well—I don’t mean to rain on your parade but in our text for today, Jesus warns us that if we follow Him in life we should expect exactly the OPPOSITE.


Take your Bibles and turn to John 15. We’ll be starting with verse 18. Here is the setting. The disciples have left the upper room on the night of Jesus’ arrest heading for the Garden of Gesthemane. They apparently stop along the way so that Jesus can continue to teach them. Remember. These chapters record our Lord’s final lessons to His followers. It is just a few hours before His arrest. This is why these chapters are literally PACKED with vital truth. It’s not unlike when a coach gathers his team in the last few minutes before the game starts...to remind them of the most important things they have gone over in practice—things that will prepare them for the game to come. That’s what Jesus is doing. He’s preparing His followers then—and now—for the struggle that was to come. Okay, with that in mind follow along as I read. We’ll read John 15:18 through 16:11 and then 20-22.

18 - “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first.

19 - If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

20 - Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also.

21 - They will treat you this way because of My name, for they do not know the One Who sent Me.

22 - If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.

23 - He who hates Me hates My Father as well.

24 - If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both Me and My Father.

25 - But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated Me without reason.’

26 - When the Counselor comes, Whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth Who goes out from the Father, He will testify about Me.

27 - And you also must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning.

6:1 - All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.

2 - They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.

3 - They will do such things because they have not known the Father or Me.

4 - I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.

5 - Now I am going to Him Who sent Me, yet none of you asks Me, ‘Where are you going?’

6 - Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief.

7 - But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

8 - When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:

9 - in regard to sin, because men do not believe in Me;

10 - in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see Me no longer;

11 - and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

20 - I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.

21 - A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.

22 - So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

Okay before we go any further in our study we need to answer two questions that surface in our minds as we read these verses:

A. First, what is “THE WORLD” that Jesus says will hate us in verses 18-19?

Well, in the Bible this word, “world” is used in three ways. First, it can mean the CREATED world. We see it used this way backin John 1:10 where it says, “...the WORLD was made by Him...” It can also mean HUMANITY itself. We see it used this way in John 3:16 when Jesus says, “For God so loved the WORLD...”Finally, it can refer to the “world SYSTEM” that is...SOCIETY APART FROM GOD...OPPOSED TO GOD...and the THINGS OF GOD. And that is the way “WORLD” is used here. Jesus is referring to the fallen world system, which operates according to satan’s values. The “WORLD” here also includes that portion of humanity that embraces these fallen values. And—we must remember—these people may not like us. They may even persecute us. But they are NOT our enemy—but rather his victims. We can hate what they do—but we must love them—because God does.

Now—this text in John is not the only time we are given this warning. Bible repeatedly cautions us about “THE WORLD” in this “fallen system sense.” For example, in Romans 12:2 Paul says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” 1st John 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father, but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”

Since “the world” that we live in is opposed to God and His kingdom it means that, as Christians, in a very real sense, we are living in enemy territory. Charles Swindoll puts it this way, “Residents of the United States of America no longer live in a Christian nation. I dare say we do not even live in a post-Christian nation. I am now convinced, more than ever, that we live in an anti-Christian nation. When political correctness forbids humor at the expense of anyone but Christians, and popular culture finds blasphemy entertaining, a flood of persecution will soon follow. History has taught us this much.”

This leads to a second question that I think we need to deal with, namely...

B. Why does THE WORLD hate us?

The answer to this one is in verse 18. Jesus says the world hates us because it hates Him. And it hates JESUS because the “light” of His sinlessness—makes their sin and rebellion stand out—and as His followers bearing His message...we get the same unwelcome treatment. Warren Weirsbe writes, “The believer is the ‘new creation’ and no longer wants to live the ‘old life.’ We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth but a dark world does not want light and a decaying world does not want salt.” In other words, the WORLD hates us—because with our Christian life-style—our grace-driven moral base—we shine the light of truth on their sin—and no one likes to be seen as a sinner. When you or I tell a friend we don’t “DO” this or that—it makes them look bad for doing it.

R. Kent Hughes tells the story of an African chief—in this case a woman—who happened to visit a missionary station. Hanging outside the missionary’s cabin on a tree was a little mirror. The chief happened to look into the mirror and saw her reflection, with its hideous paint and evil features. She gazed at her own terrifying countenance and jumped back in horror exclaiming, “Who is that horrible-looking person inside that tree?” The missionary said, “It is not in the tree. The tree glass is reflecting your own face.” The African would not believe it until she held the mirror in her hand. She said, “I must have the glass. How much will you sell it for?” The missionary said, “I don’t want to sell it.” But she begged until he capitulated. Then she took the mirror and said, “I will never have it making faces at me again!” and she threw it down and broke it into pieces.

Well, that’s an illustration of why the WORLD hates Christ and His followers. Jesus’ life and teachings is like a mirror that reflects their sin. Every aspect of Christ...His character, His teaching, His attitudes and responses to life—all of this—is a threat to the reign and realm of the god of this age. And if we follow Jesus...if we pattern our lives after Him we will face various forms of suffering for the same reason.

But before you get too down about all this I must point out that there is a sense in which being persecuted—being HATED for following Jesus can be a good thing.

You see, when we face persecution for our faith it is an indication that we are on the right side—that we’re living contrary to this fallen WORLD. Persecution for righteous living is like a litmus test that shows we are walking down the right path—the narrow path. Think of it this way. If you lived in 1862 and found yourself fighting against the guys in the gray uniforms you’d know you were on the right side...because slavery was—and still is—wrong. Well, being persecuted in a godless world can be like that. It can tell us we are living RIGHTLY in a WRONG-KIND-OF-LIVING world. With that in mind, what else does Jesus say about this persecution that is sure to come our way? What last minute instructions did He give His followers about this issue? I’ve organized His teachings under three statements.

(1) First, He says, “Don’t be SURPRISED when it comes.”

Look at verse 20 where Jesus says, “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also.” Well, did they persecute Jesus? Of course they did—so it’s like an algebraic equation that says “If A is true, B will happen.” Well A is true—Jesus was persecuted, crucified—so we should not be surprised when persecution comes out way. To word it like a weather forecast, “If you follow Jesus there is a 100% chance that you will have to endure the storms of persecution.” In other words Jesus says we should EXPECT to be hated by the world.

In his commentary on this text William Barclay writes, “One of the outstanding qualities of Jesus was His sheer HONESTY. He never left men in any doubt as to what would happen to them if they chose to follow Him. He was clear that He had come ‘not to make life easy, but to make men great.’” And Barclay is right. In spite of what you may hear some pastors say, Jesus did NOT teach a PROSPERITY gospel, but rather a PERSECUTION gospel. Bonhoeffer wrote, “Suffering is the badge of the true Christian. The disciple is not above his Master. Luther reckoned suffering among the marks of the true church. Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer.”

By the way this is not the only time the Bible tells us to expect persecution. 2nd Timothy 3:12 says, “Everyone who wants to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Philippians 1:29 says, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him.” 1st Thessalonians 3:3-4 says, “No one should be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.” 1st Peter 4:12-13 says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” And in Matthew 24:9 Jesus says, “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death and you will be hated by all nations because of Me.”

Well, this “forecast of a storm of persecution” came true. In fact, it has been raging for two thousand years now. 11 of the first 12 disciples of Jesus DIED—were martyred for their faith. Only John died an old man—and he did that while in exile for his faith on the isle of Patmos.

History also shows that early Christians were forced to follow the first disciple’s example. They were persecuted by Roman emperors like Nero—who blamed the burning of Rome on Jesus’ followers...and then to punish them, threw them to the lions or hung them on poles and doused them with oil before setting them on fire to illuminate the paths of his gardens.

Now, some people say, “Well, that was then but this is now. Today mankind is more civilized...more tolerant. Christians aren’t persecuted as they used to be.” Well, friends I’m sorry to say that is just not true. The fact is our society is more resistant to Christianity than ever.

Our culture brags about its tolerance of other faiths...but the REALITY is our culture is tolerant of anything BUT Christianity. And in countries around the world this intolerance is seen in the physical suffering of believers who are persecuted more today than ever before. In her book, In the Lion’s Den, author Nina Shea reports that more Christians have been martyred for their faith in this century alone....than in the previous twenty centuries of church history combined. And she’s right. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia right now in the age of “tolerance,” 2.2 billion people in 79 countries live under significant restrictions of their religious freedom. 225 million Christians live in countries where it is a crime to name the name of Christ and assemble to worship Him.

In this text and others like it our Lord is saying we must not be surprised to find that if you and I follow Him—if we live according to the clear TEACHINGS of His book...there are people in this sinful, fallen world who aren’t going to approve of that lifestyle choice; they’re not going to like it. In fact, let’s take a portion of His TEACHINGS—specifically the Beatitudes—and use them as an example. If you strive to be “poor in spirit,” some will rebuke you and say that you are just being self-righteous. When you “mourn” over sins—like gossip and pride and abortion on demand and homosexual marriage, others will be made to feel uncomfortable for embracing those sinful actions and therefore will not want you around. If you are meek—well the meek usually get run over in this proud, self-centered world of ours. When you break out of the spiritual status quo and “hunger and thirst” for God above all else, some will label you a religious fanatic. You’ll be the brunt of comments like those from Rosie O’Donnell who once said that radical Christians are just as dangerous as radical Muslims. Be “merciful” these days and there are people will call you gullible. Strive to be “pure in heart” by wearing a TRUE LOVE WAITS RING...and you will feel the rebuke of a world that thrives on lust—a world that uses sex to sell everything from “fresh” fruit to automobiles. Work to be a “peacemaker” and get ready for war in this world that so often embraces conflict.

You see, living like Jesus makes us stand out—and this world doesn’t like people who stand out. This fallen world system attacks non-conformists like the antibodies in our blood stream attack a foreign body like a splinter or a bacterial cell. So understand—Jesus taught the REALITY that Christians will be face difficulty simply for being Christians. Now—you may or may not have had to pay the kind of price that believers in Muslim nations or communist nations have to pay....but chances are a number of you have been marginalized by friends or co-workers who couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t party with them, or why you didn’t find humor in their crude jokes, or why you chose to attend church instead of play golf. I know of many believers, some in this church, who have suffered persecution on the job in which they were denied promotions, or salary increases, or even being laid off or fired...because they refused to be unethical in some way. But—I can guarantee you, that if you take a stand for Christ and your convictions, you will suffer some form of persecution. Following Jesus won’t get you elected as “prom queen...or king” in this fallen world of ours. It won’t bring you the popularity you long for. John MacArthur put it this way,“EVERY faithful believer will have some resistance and ridicule from the world, while others, for God’s own purposes, will endure extreme suffering.”

Now—I have to stop and say that it IS possible to suffer “persecution” for the WRONG reasons.

I mean, some Christians are ostracized because they are rude and obnoxious...judgmental and unloving.
Some believers are ridiculed because they are as self-righteous and holier-than-thou as the Pharisees were in Jesus’ day.
Some are “persecuted” because their evangelistic methods are crude and disrespectful.

And then some disciples have a hard time in life simply because they live in sin. They ignore God’s loving laws and when the painful consequences come they ask, “Why did God do this to me?” Well, their difficulty—their “persecution” isn’t God’s fault. It’s theirs. They sinned. They chose to disobey God. Peter talks about this in 1st Peter 4:15 when he says,“If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” Any one out there being “persecuted” for meddling? No hands need be raised.

My point is if we live the way Jesus calls us to live...if we let it be known by our words and actions that He is our Lord...then we shouldn’t be surprised if persecution comes our way.

This leads me to point out a SECOND thing that Jesus says in our text on this subject.

(2) Don’t STUMBLE.

Look back at verse 1 of chapter 16. Jesus says, “I’m telling this so you won’t go astray.” In other words, our Lord is saying, “Don’t let the trouble and hardship that comes from living a Godly life in a fallen world make you want to give up. Keep following Me down the narrow path...Keep walking in My steps...Keep going against the flow...even if it’s hard to do so.” In verse 25 Jesus reminds us that even this persecution is a fulfillment of prophecy—so if anything, it should STRENGTHEN our faith in Him. It should firm up our resolve to keep on keeping on. PLUS—the truth is there are BENEFITS that can only be experienced by those who DON’T STUMBLE...those who follow Jesus even though persecution results from them doing so.

A. First, suffering for Jesus deepens our relationship with Him.

When painful trials come our way often we respond by studying the Bible more regularly. We talk to God more. We run to Him for strength and comfort. Who is it that said, “How many times was I driven to my knees because I had no where else to go?” Suffering has a way of driving us much closer to God than we would be otherwise. And this is especially true when we are suffering BECAUSE of our faith—for then we are really suffering WITH Christ. And when you suffer WITH or ALONGSIDE someone you grow incredibly close to that person. Soldiers who survived the horrors of the prison camps of WWII or the VIETNAM WAR would testify that their fellow prisoners were their closest friends for the rest of their lives. Well, this principle is also seen in our relationship with Jesus. It’s what Paul was getting at in Philippians 3:10 when he said, “I want to KNOW Christ and the power of His resurrection and the FELLOWSHIP of sharing in His sufferings.” Paul learned that when you are persecuted in Jesus’ name, you literally suffer along side of Him and when this happens you grow closer to Him...much closer than when times are comfortable and pain free. It is in these times that we learn that we can indeed LEAN on Jesus...that He IS a very present help in time of trouble....that we CAN be more than conquerors through Him Who loves us and gave Himself for us.

B. Second, suffering reveals the value of our faith.

And there is a second BENEFIT. When we persevere in the face of persecution it shows others how much we value our faith—and this gives us an opening to do what we are called to do: share the Gospel.

I think this is what Jesus was getting at in verses 26-7 when He said, “When the Counselor comes, Whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth Who goes out from the Father, He will testify about Me...AND YOU ALSO MUST TESTIFY.”

The fact is, when we cling to our faith in Him in spite of persecution, we give irrefutable proof that we believe knowing Jesus is WORTH our suffering. God uses our faithfulness to Him in these hard times to draw people to Himself.

In 320 A.D. during the reign of the Roman Emperor, Licinius, a Roman General stationed at a garrison in Sebaste, Armenia...discovered there were Christians among his troops—40 of them. He had them arrested and ordered them to recant their faith or die. They refused. It was the dead of winter so the general had them strip off all their clothing and left them standing on the ice in the middle of a frozen lake...as you can see in this painting. On shore was a heated bath house. He told them that at any time they could reject Jesus and find shelter in the bath house, or they could die on the frozen lake. Well, as these soldiers stood together in the bitter cold, they chanted, “Forty brave soldiers for Jesus, Forty brave soldiers for Christ. We’ll be true to our God and state death in the face though we perish on this lake of ice. We’re forty brave soldiers for Christ.” The bath house attendant sat in the warmth and listened to the soldiers. After many hours one of the forty finally broke down and abandoned the pack. He ran to the bath house. The soldiers were quiet for a while, then one began to chant, “Thirty-nine soldiers for Jesus...thirty-nine soldiers for Christ...” Well, the attendant at the bath house was so moved by the determination and commitment of the 39 that he stripped off his clothes, ran out to the middle of the lake and sang at the top of his lungs, “Forty brave soldiers for Jesus, Forty brave soldiers for Christ. We’ll be true to our God and state death in the face though we perish on this lake of ice. We’re forty brave soldiers for Christ.”

Friends, when we cling to our faith no matter how difficult it makes our lives, the world notices. When we face illness and heartbreak and even death with a firm faith in God, people realize that our faith is real...that it’s worth something..and often they will run to join us in it. They reason that if Jesus is worth dying for...He must be worth LIVING for. Perhaps this is why history shows that the church grew the fastest during times of persecution. And even today this still proves to be true. In spite of years of persecution, the church in China is huge and growing. The church in Sudan is the fastest growing in any Muslim country. The blood of the martyrs is often the seed of the church. So...when persecution comes—and it will...don’t be SURPRISED...don’t STUMBLE...and then Jesus says one more thing.

(3) Don’t be SORROWFUL.

In verse 16 Jesus says, “In a little while you will see Me no longer and then after a little while you WILL see Me.” Our Lord was saying that our persecution may be hard—but when we all get to Heaven it will seem like it only lasted a little while. He uses the illustration of a mother giving birth—which I am told is a very painful thing—but when she holds that little one in her arms, all the discomforts of the past nine months are forgotten...the morning sickness...the fatigue....even the pain of delivery is forgotten. It’s drowned out by the joy of that baby. We may grieve today—but a time will come when our grief is turned to a joy that no one will ever take away!

You know, hindsight is 20-20 and Jesus is giving us the benefit of His ETERNAL perspective on our future saying, “Trust, Me! You will look back and shout, ‘IT WAS WORTH IT!!!!’” In verse 12 He says that we should rejoice and be glad in tough times, “...because great is your reward in heaven!” In other words, we can respond to persecution with joy because we know that in light of eternity, it won’t last long—but our Heavenly reward WILL and it will more than compensate for our suffering. As 2nd Corinthians 4:17 says, “...our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all...what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” History records that in the moment of their martyrdom many believers acknowledged this fact. I mean, what gave Rowland Taylor and Bishop Ridley and John Bradford the impulse to kiss the stakes at which they were burned for their faith? What moved Obadiah Holmes, after 90 lashes turned his back to hamburger, say to the magistrates, “You have struck me with roses!” Why did Thomas Hardcastle say that his persecution was “a precious season of grace?” On the way to the hangman’s noose, why did Deitrich Bonhoeffer say, “This is the end...but for me the beginning of life?” These men said these things because they knew the glories of Heaven were near. So...if you are suffering for the right reasons...count yourself fortunate because it means you’re on the right side...be glad because God might use your response to lead someone to faith. Rejoice...because when you get to Heaven you’ll be glad you followed Jesus through the tough times of life. In fact, you won’t be there five minutes before you say, “Why didn’t I stand up more? Why didn’t I make my life count for more?!”

Let us pray...

Father God,

Forgive us for all the times we have avoided the hardship that comes from striving to life a Godly life in a godless culture. Forgive us for so often GOING ALONG just to GET ALONG. Fill us with the courage necessary to obey You even when it’s unpopular to do so. Help us to live such that we are recognized as Your children. And then, give us the compassion to respond as Jesus did...a compassion that leads us to pray for and forgive our persecutors....a love that draws lost people to You. And then God, I pray that You will be especially close to our brothers and sisters around the world who are even now experiencing intense persecution. Protect them...encourage them....and most of all use their temporary pain for Your eternal glory. I ask all this in Jesus’ name. AMEN

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