How to Be Hated for the Right Reasons, John 15:18-16:4a.


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“How to Be Hated for the Right Reasons”

John 15:18-16:4a

November 8, 2020

Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service

Pastor Nicoletti

 

We continue in John chapter fifteen and into chapter sixteen this morning, as Jesus continues to instruct his disciples in the moments leading up to his arrest.

 

And so, please do listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this morning.

 

Jesus said to them:

15:18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 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. 20 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. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 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. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 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. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

16:1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

 

This is the word of the Lord.  (Thanks be to God.)

 

“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]

 

Let’s pray …

 

Lord, we call to you, and we ask you to save us,

so that we might be your faithful servants, and live in light of your testimonies.

We cry out to you,

and we put our hope in your words.

We gather here now,

that we might meditate on your promises.

Hear our prayer now, according to your steadfast love,

according to your justice in your covenant, give us life.

And as we face opposition from those who oppose you,

Help us to know how to root ourselves in you.

Grant this, we ask, for Jesus’s sake. Amen.

[Based on Psalm 119:46-151]

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

One of my favorite Christian satire articles is from 2017 and was published by the Babylon Bee. The title of the article is: “Man Unsure If He’s Persecuted Because He’s A Christian Or Because He’s A Massive Jerk.”

 

The article quotes the young man: “‘I want to say it’s because I believe in Jesus, but I’m also super obnoxious, I guess,’ Richert told reporters. ‘It could be for either reason, and I’m just not entirely sure which. […] I’m stumped. It’s a total toss-up.’”

 

The article continues, saying: “According to Richert, he’s constantly suffering persecution and exclusion in the workplace, among his family members, and even at church—and he’s never entirely certain if it’s his reprehensible personality or his love for Jesus [that] is the cause.”

 

The article is funny … because it has a little bit of truth in it. And it is a truth we must wrestle with if we are to rightly understand and apply our text this morning.

 

Jesus here assures us that the world will hate his followers when they resemble him. That is an important truth. But if we are going to understand what that truth means for us, we first need to understand what it doesn’t mean.

 

And to get at that we need to think through a few things. We need to consider two common confusions for Christians, one common misunderstanding, and then how to navigate all those pieces.

 

 

  1. CONFUSING OUR FAULTS WITH FAITHFULNESS

 

We begin with one of the confusions. The first confusion for us to consider is our tendency to confuse our faults with faithfulness.

 

Our tendency to confuse our faults with faithfulness.

 

Jesus says in verse nineteen that what he’s talking about is when we are hated for not being of the world. He says in verse twenty that it is our resemblance – our similarities – to him as our Master, that brings about the hatred of the world that he is talking about. He says in verse twenty-five that the hate he is talking about is the same as the hate he experienced: it is hate without any just cause.

 

But, of course, the truth is that often we give others – including non-Christians – just cause to dislike us and to be angry with us.

 

We know this is true in general. We sin, and this can justly elicit the wrath of others. If we aren’t conscious of this category, then we are delusional.

 

And yet, there are times when we confuse these two categories.

 

Sometimes the confusion is obvious and even malicious. It is extremely discouraging, and sinful, when a Christian leader or a church or a ministry commits a sinful scandal, and when they are held accountable for it and face the just wrath of Christians and non-Christians alike, they try to frame the response they receive as persecution. This is an especially heinous form of sin that those in power in the Church can be tempted towards, and we see it far too often.

 

But there are also more subtle forms of this which can be incredibly common. These are forms where we recast our faults as signs of faithfulness, and recast people’s negative reactions as a form of persecution.

 

Let me give two examples of how we might do this.

 

First, in conservative evangelicalism, there can sometimes be a tendency to confuse harshness and aggressiveness with courage and clarity.

 

We can sometimes confuse harsh aggressiveness as a faithful refusal to compromise the truth or to be controlled by an overly sensitive culture.

 

Now, of course sometimes God’s people are hated for their courage and clarity. But other times the fault lies with us and with how we communicate.

 

And to see that more clearly, I turn again to the Westminster Larger Catechism’s treatment of the ninth commandment. There the catechism catalogues some of the many ways we can sin in our communication with others.

 

Here are some of the ways it lists that we might sin with our words – it says our sins may take the form of “speaking the truth unseasonably” or of speaking the truth “to a wrong end.” It goes on to include among sins we may commit with our words “scoffing,” along with “rash” or “harsh” censuring. [WLC #145]

 

Johannes Vos, in his commentary expounds on these categories. “‘Speaking the truth unseasonably’” he writes, “means speaking the truth at the wrong time, when wisdom or common sense would lead us to wait until a more suitable time.” [Vos, 393] Think about that. That means that you could have the facts on your side, and you could have right motives, but the time and place – the venue you have chosen to speak hard truths to someone – is so off that it is a violation of the kind of loving communication that the Bible requires of all believers.

 

Vos goes on to then describe what is meant by the prohibition on “speaking the truth maliciously, to a wrong end.” He writes: “This means speaking the truth with a wrong motive and for a wrong purpose. Even though what we say may be strictly true, it may be wrong to say it.” [393] Of course we all tend to assume the best of our own motives … but a Christian is called to have a better understanding of themselves than that. When you speak hard words to someone, you may be able to give 12 reasons why your motives could be just … but you are called on still to examine the real motives of your heart. Because even though there might be 12 good reasons to speak a hard truth to someone, it can still be true that your real motivation is a sinful one. And sometimes those you are speaking to can see that even more clearly than you yourself do.

 

“Scoffing,” Vos continues, “as used by the catechism means mocking or ridiculing persons as a way of injuring or making them unhappy.” [Vos, 396]

From there Vos then asks: “What does the catechism mean by ‘rash, harsh, and partial censuring’?” He answers: “‘Rash’ censuring means passing judgment when it is not your duty to do so.”

 

Consider that. You may be right about someone’s sin. Your assessment may be spot on. You may have some good motivations in wanting to speak that judgment. But it may not be your place to do so. That may not be your rightful role. And if you take it upon yourself anyway, you may be in sin.

 

Vos continues: “‘harsh’ censuring means going beyond what the evidence warrants, or ‘jumping to conclusions’ in passing judgment on another.” In other words, you may have evidence of a small problem, but you take it, without sufficient evidence, as a sign of a much bigger problem. And you confront them for the bigger problem. You may consider yourself a prophetic voice in their life. But you might simply be guilty of the sin of harsh judgment. [Vos, 396]

 

Christ’s followers are called on to be clear about what they believe and to have courage in speaking the truth when they are called to. But we need to admit that many of us, when it comes to our own conduct or the conduct of those we admire, can be prone to confuse fault with faithfulness. We may “speak the truth unseasonably” and confuse it with courage. We may “speak the truth maliciously” and confuse it with clarity. We may speak harsh, rash, or scoffing censures and confuse it with bold witness. There are leaders in the broader church who have gathered a following for themselves by these very tendencies, and they have many imitators.

 

And then, when people respond with anger or just wrath towards their unseasonable, malicious, harsh, rash, or scoffing words – these Christians often respond with laments about the persecution they are facing for their faithfulness.

 

We can see it out there. But we should also ask if we see it in our own hearts. Maybe we don’t have a national following. But do we fall into this pattern of mistaking sinful harshness with faithfulness in our own conduct online or in person? Do we see this pattern in how we disagree with friends, or others in our church? Or do we see it in how we confront those we may be discipling in the faith? Do you maybe see it in how you speak to your husband or your wife – or in how you speak to your children? Where do you make the mistake of confusing sinful harshness with faithful courage – and how does that then lead you to often mistake a negative response from others as a problem with them when it might really be a problem in you?

 

The Bible calls us to have a more complex view of our speech than that.

 

First, the Bible calls on us to consider whether we should speak at all in certain situations. Jesus, if you remember, was mostly silent at his own trial. Several times he determined it best not to speak. That means that there may be times it is best for us not to speak as well. King Solomon wrote that there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” [Ecclesiastes 3:7b] Jesus told his followers not to throw their “pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” [Matthew 7:6]

 

Whether because of the setting, the season, or the mental or spiritual state of the other person, there are a range of reasons why you may not be called on to confront someone else or speak a certain truth to them. You must consider that possibility.

 

Second, the Bible calls on us to consider how we speak. There are so many ways you could speak truth in a sinful way. And even a true word with a right intention can do great damage if spoken in the wrong way. In the Book of Proverbs we read: “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.” [Proverbs 27:14] Solomon wasn’t just warning morning people about everyone else. He was pointing out how the details of how we speak to others can turn even a blessing into a curse. When it does, their reaction may reflect much more about us, and our sinfulness or foolishness, than it does about them and their spiritual condition.

 

In all of this the central question is whether what is eliciting anger is Jesus … or actually just us. We often want to believe it is the first, when it is really just the second.

 

So sometimes we confuse our faults with faithfulness by sinfully eliciting the anger of others. But other times we confuse our faults with faithfulness when we sinfully interpret the opposition of others.

 

Sometimes we disagree with others (whether Christians or non-Christians) over important but secondary issues. And when that happens, we can sometimes confuse their strong disagreement with persecution. We assume their motives are spiritual when they may actually be much more mundane than that.

 

And the Larger Catechism speaks to this as well.

 

Among the sins we might commit in our communication, it includes “misconstructing intentions, words, and actions” along with “evil suspicion.” [WLC #145]

 

Vos explains that this is just another form of lying – all the evidence we have is for strong disagreement over an issue, but we claim that something far more sinister is behind their opposition. Vos laments that this is a common sin within the Church. [Vos, 396]

 

Finally, there is “evil suspicion.” “This expression,” Vos writes, “does not mean a legitimate suspicion, which is supported by reasonable evidence, but rather an improper suspicion which is not based on evidence but arises from ‘wishful thinking’ or our too-great eagerness to believe something bad about others. Because of our sinful hearts we are too ready to put the worst interpretation on other people’s conduct, when perhaps the actual facts of the matter could be explained in a more charitable way.” [Vos, 400-401]

 

Now I’ve mentioned sinful harshness and I’ve mentioned sinful reception of disagreement, and while we may tend to think of these things as being tendencies of two different kinds of people, they often go together.

 

Those who see themselves as being sensitive to hurtful speech can also often be the most harsh and rash with their words against others. And those who see themselves as being courageous straight-shooters and who may even mock over-sensitivity in others, can also be prone to cast themselves as victims of persecution when others voice firm disagreement with them.

 

Which means that one or both of these tendencies can be true of you. And if one or both of them are, then you may have a tendency to confuse the results of your own fault with persecution.

 

Where might your sin or foolishness be the thing that is actually evoking other’s anger, rather than your faithfulness to Jesus?

 

Where might you be seeing valid criticism from others in your life as persecution, when in fact it is not?

 

These are just two examples. We could name many more.

 

Sometimes the world hates us for our Lord. But sometimes its wrath (or its perceived wrath) is not rooted in our faithfulness … sometimes it is rooted in our faults. If we are to rightly understand Jesus’s words to us here, the first thing we must do is be careful not to confuse those two things.

 

 

  1. CONFUSING EARTHLY CONFLICTS WITH THE COSMIC CONFLICT

 

The second thing we must do is to avoid another possible confusion: the confusion of earthly conflicts with cosmic conflicts.

 

And though it’s easy to miss it, that distinction is made in a very pointed way in our text.

 

To see it, we need to consider the world in which Jesus and the disciples lived their lives. It was a world marked by earthly tension and conflict. Jesus and the disciples were all Jews. And they all lived in land occupied by the forces of pagan Rome. And tensions ran high. The character of many of the pagan Roman rulers and the character of the Jews they appointed to positions of power in Judea, were offensive to most Jews. Their military policies and pagan ways were set deeply against the Mosaic Law. Various responses were suggested, but many Jews saw deep hostility between their way of life and the way of life lived and promoted by the Roman rulers.

 

And in verse eighteen Jesus begins to talk about “the world” that will hate them. They will hate them, Jesus explains, because they hate him. And they hate him because they hate his heavenly Father – they hate Yahweh the God of Israel. To a casual Jewish listener, we might expect them to assume that Jesus is talking about the pagan Romans who live in such rebellion against the Law of God. But then Jesus, still speaking of “the world” refers to the Law of Moses as “their Law” in verse twenty-five. And if that wasn’t clear enough, in chapter sixteen, verse two he identifies those he is speaking about as the leaders of the synagogue. Jesus is speaking of the first-century Jews and first-century Jewish leaders as “the world.”

 

For many Jews, the chief conflict they saw before them had, on one side: The Romans, the Jews who had sided with the Romans, and the Jews who sinfully lived like Romans. On the other side were the pious Jewish Pharisees and militant Jewish zealots. That was the primary conflict of life – viewed as the cosmic battle between good and evil.

 

But Jesus lumps both sides in as part of the world. Jesus tells them that as important as the Jewish and Roman distinctions may be – as important as that earthly battle might be, it was not to be mistaken for the cosmic battle between God and the world.

 

They elevated an important earthly conflict to the level of an eternal cosmic conflict. It was a mistake. But it is a mistake we can be prone to as well.

 

We live in a fallen world. And so conflict is inevitable. And in this fallen world, when there is conflict, some level of sin is also inevitable. But that doesn’t mean such battles are cosmic or eternal.

 

Two competing companies may battle for more market share in their industry. Disagreements arise within families. Conflicts over the best way to do things arise within churches. Deep debates develop within nations. All of these disputes and conflicts may be important. But none of them are ultimate. None of them are eternal. None of them are the true cosmic battle of this world.

 

To understand the difference between earthly and cosmic battles, two concepts are helpful.

 

One is Augustine’s concept of pagan virtue.

 

In the fifth book of The City of God Augustine considers the historical pagan rulers and leaders within Rome. And he points out that at times their deeds and their immediate goals were commendable – even virtuous. That doesn’t mean they were Christians – for their ultimate concern was not Christ. But instead, they did good things and pursued good earthly goals for the wrong reason – for an idolatrous reason. And so their desire for one earthly good – for an idol like worldly glory – helped them keep other sinful desires in check. [V.12] He writes: “For the sake of this one vice – that is, the love of praise – these men suppressed the love of riches and many other vices.” [V.13]

 

And in fact, Augustine goes on to say that the deeds done by pagans in this way could be models for Christians to emulate, even if Christians should not emulate the ultimate goals of those who did them. [V.17-18]

 

This reality begins to show us that the lines of earthly conflict may not always be the same as the lines of cosmic or eternal conflict. Christians can work with and learn from and benefit from non-Christians doing the right thing, even if they are doing it for the wrong ultimate reason.

 

That’s one concept we must consider to help us distinguish between earthly conflicts and eternal ones.

 

The other is Francis Schaeffer’s categories of “allies” and “co-belligerents.”

 

Schaeffer explained it like this – he said: “I have two words which I would recommend to anybody … and they are ‘ally’ and ‘co-belligerent.’ An ally is a person who is a born-again Christian with whom I can go a long way down the road … now I don’t say to the very end, because I’m a Presbyterian and I might not be able to form a church with a strong Baptist … but we can go a long way down the road – and that’s an ally. A co-belligerent is a person who may not have any sufficient basis for taking the right position but takes the right position on a single issue. And I can join with him without any danger as long as I realize that he is not an ally and all we’re talking about is a single issue.” When answering a follow-up question, Shaeffer clarified that this “absolutely” meant that he could at times be working with co-belligerents against his allies on a specific issue. [Duriez, 192]

 

Taken together, this means that the battle lines of earthly conflict will often be drawn along different lines than the cosmic battle of this life.

 

The cosmic battle of this world is between those who follow Jesus as King and those who reject his kingship. And yet, Christians who understand these concepts from Augustine and Schaeffer understand that often in the earthly conflicts of this life, we will be working alongside those who are not our cosmic allies, but may be our earthly co-belligerents. And at the same time, in an earthly conflict we may be working against our cosmic allies. And that’s okay.

 

In the workplace, you are called to be a co-belligerent with non-Christian co-workers, though Christians may be among your competitors. In your family you may be called to be a co-belligerent with a non-Christian spouse as you both seek to raise your children well. In serving the church you may gather resources from non-Christian thinkers on the best way to tackle certain problems. And in the public square you may be called to work with or vote for non-Christians whom you think will best advance the public good, even as other Christians vote for someone else, whom they think will best advance the public good. Each of these are earthly conflicts, and while each may in some way connect with the cosmic and eternal conflict of this world, none of them is the eternal battle itself.

 

And that distinction is key. But if we fail to make that distinction, a few errors follow.

 

One is that we can wrongly view our opponents in an earthly conflict as spiritual enemies when they are not. And then, we can see their opposition as persecution rooted in our faith in Christ, when it is not.

 

You may believe in the mission of a secular organization you are a part of. You may believe in a project you are pursuing with others in your local community. You may believe in your political party or platform. Those different associations may be good. But they are not the people of Jesus. And so those who oppose you in those works are not necessarily opposing Jesus. And that is a key distinction to make.

 

Another error is that we can find ourselves responding to valid criticisms of our co-belligerents as if it is persecution for their virtues … when it might be criticisms that we ourselves should agree with.

 

Jesus refused to do this with the Jews of his day, even though they had so much in common with the Christians, and looked so much more morally upright compared with many Romans. But Jesus refused to mistake them for his followers. We must learn from him.

 

How are you tempted to take those you know and love – whether friends, co-workers, worldly heroes, even family members –  and treat them as members of the Kingdom of God when they are not?

 

Such people can be co-belligerents. They can be co-belligerents in very personal ways – in how we work, in how we raise our family, and more. But they are not cosmic allies. Let us not mistake them for that.

 

A third error is that we can be tempted to demonize Christians who are on the other side of an earthly battle, and treat their opposition as persecution, when it is not.

 

A Christian brother or sister may oppose you in an earthy dispute, but they remain your brother or sister in the cosmic conflicts of this world, and you must not say or do anything that would claim otherwise.

 

Consider the election of the past week. We should all care deeply about who our earthly leaders are, so there is nothing wrong with us being very engaged with the events of the past week. Some of you were upset by the outcome announced yesterday. Some of you were relieved.

 

But here’s the thing. If you are deeply distressed that there are Christians who had the opposite reaction of yours, who are present here worshipping with you this morning, then you might be guilty of this third error.

 

If you don’t just oppose, but you are deeply distressed by Christians who have voted for a different set of co-belligerents than you have in an earthly election, then you may be confusing the earthly conflict and the eternal conflict – and what follows is a confusion between real spiritual persecution and ordinary earthly conflicts.

 

And this isn’t limited to politics. It is true of how you relate to other families. It’s true of how you interact with others at work. It’s true of how you make friendships. It’s true of how you relate within your family. It’s true of any situation in which you are tempted to place anything as more important in relationships than allegiance to Christ.

 

The second confusion we must resist is that of confusing important earthly conflicts with ultimate conflicts.

 

 

III. MISUNDERSTANDING THE ROOT & UNIVERSALITY OF THE WORLD’S HATE FOR CHRIST

 

With those two possible confusions spoken to, we need to now address the potential misunderstanding at the heart of this text.

 

Jesus’s central point in this text, is that when the world hates us for the right reasons – when it hates us not for our sin, and not for our role in earthly conflicts – then its hate for us is rooted in its hatred for Jesus.

 

And the world’s hatred for Jesus is universal among all who do not follow him.

 

That is, after all, what John often means by the word “world” as he uses it in verses eighteen and nineteen. The “world” in this case is not the created order as a whole, and it’s also not those more overt enemies of God’s ways like the Romans. The “world” refers to the entire “created moral order in active rebellion against God.” [Carson, 252]

 

In Jesus’s day that included both the pious Jews and the pagan Romans who rejected Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God – the Anointed One. There is no neutrality with Jesus. All who refuse to bow the knee to him are, at the core of their being, in rebellion against their Maker. They are in rebellion against God as he is. The only way they can tolerate God is by remaking him in their minds and hearts. The true God elicits their hatred. And since Jesus is the perfect image of God, he too receives that hatred. And to the extent that we resemble Jesus – to the extent that we bear his image – we will elicit the same response. [Carson, 525]

 

Whatever may unite us with non-believers in good and often wonderful ways, will one day fall away, as our resemblance to our Lord elicits their hatred – either in this life or in the next one. The disciples had many meaningful relationships among their Jewish neighbors. They were comfortable with them. They felt at home with them. But eventually some of those same people would try to kill them when their resemblance to Jesus became unavoidable.

 

Sometimes this hate was elicited by the words of Jesus of his disciples – when they spoke truth that the world did not like. But often it was their deeds that provoked this hate. Jesus’s deeds testified to his love and his power. It was after he raised Lazarus from the dead that the Jewish leaders decided to kill Jesus. [John 8] It was after healing a lame beggar that John and Peter were first arrested. [Acts 3-4]

 

When we resemble Jesus, our Lord, in word and in deed, then those who hate him – those who have rejected him as king – will also hate us.

 

 

  1. NAVIGATING THE COMPLEXITIES OF THE WORLD’S HATE

 

With all that said, how do we think about all this?

 

In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Bret Stephens, spoke of the problem of what he called “monocausality” – the tendency to attribute everything (whether good or bad) to just one cause – one issue.

 

Stephens writes: “Monocausality — whether it’s the clash of economic classes, the hidden hand of the market, or white supremacy and its consequences — has always been a seductive way of looking at the world. It has always been a simplistic one, too. The world is complex. So are people and their motives.”

 

The Bible won’t allow us to take a monocausal view of the conflicts in our lives, and the anger we may face from others.

 

Sometimes anger is directed at us because of our sin.

 

Sometimes anger is directed at us because of our place in earthly conflicts.

 

Sometime – and we haven’t even gotten into this – anger is directed at us for all sorts of ordinary sinful reasons: envy, sinful wrath, lustful desires, racism, sexism, classism, or any number of things.

 

But sometimes hate is directed at us because we resemble Christ – because we are aligned with God in a world that has rejected its Maker.

 

If all those things are possible, how do we navigate all that, and apply Jesus’s words to us here rightly?

 

Well, first let’s talk about what this means for non-Christians, or those of you who aren’t sure of their faith.

 

You’re here this morning – in person or online. And so you’ve had some interaction with believing Christians.

 

And chances are you’ve seen this combination of things that we have described.

 

Maybe you’ve been sinned against in significant ways by Christians.

 

Maybe you’ve engaged in earthly conflicts against other Christians.

 

But maybe you’ve also worked alongside Christians and seen something good.

 

Maybe you have observed Christians and seen something different about them. And maybe sometimes it makes you angry and you’re not sure why … and maybe other times it makes you long for what they have.

 

Jesus acknowledges both of those possible responses. In verse twenty he says that one possible response to what is different about those who follow Christ is anger … but another is imitation – another, he says is to listen to their words, and seek to obey the calling of Christ as they have.

 

Both desires may exist in you at once right now, but Jesus calls on you to cast one aside and to embrace the other – he calls on you to cast aside the defensive anger you may feel, and to embrace the longing for what you see in Christians that is different. He calls on you to stop defending yourself and stop fighting for independence from your Maker, and instead come to him and ask for forgiveness for your rebellion and a place in his kingdom both now and for eternity.

 

What you see that is different, he says in our text this morning, is a reflection of him – a reflection of Jesus. You see some reflection of Jesus’s character – as imperfect as it must be in any Christian in this life. And as you see something of Jesus, Jesus calls you respond by following his call.

 

That’s what our text has to say to the non-Christian.

 

What about for Christians?

 

There are many possible causes of the world’s hate towards you. Our text tells you that as far as it is in your power, you should strive that there would only be one cause.

 

Where your sin or foolishness in how you interact with others causes their anger, you are to own your faults and to repent – pursuing love, gentleness, and wisdom.

 

Where your involvement in important earthly conflicts leads to anger in others, you are to work against that as much as is in your power. Of course you cannot control people’s hearts and minds. But the Apostle Paul says to the church in Rome: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” [12:18] You are to love all your neighbors – even those you are in legitimate conflict with, even those who consider themselves your enemies over earthly disputes.

 

Where others hate you because of ordinary sin in their hearts, Jesus says you are to forgive them, as he has forgiven you. [Matthew 6:14-15]

 

And then, you are to pursue resemblance to Jesus in a way that elicits a response from the world.

 

Sometimes that response will be hatred. Sometimes it will be conversion, as Jesus alludes to in verse twenty. But in either case, let your goal be that when people see you, they see Jesus, and they are forced to respond to him.

 

This is what Jesus has in mind throughout this passage.

 

But Jesus doesn’t just give us a goal. He is the one who brings it about.

 

Just a few verses earlier he reminded us that he is the vine that gives us life so that we can bear fruit. The Father is the vinedresser pruning and shaping us. And here in verses twenty-six and twenty-seven he tells us that it is the Holy Spirit who will testify in and through us.

 

Our calling is to rely on God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as we seek to be people who speak the truth in love, just as Jesus did, and who live in a way that reflects him to everyone we encounter.

 

And as we seek that, we are to seek it in humility, never looking down on non-Christians around us. For, as Jesus reminds us here in verse nineteen, you were once part of the world. You are a natural citizen of the world in rebellion against God. And the only reason you are no longer a part of the world in rebellion is because Jesus, in his grace, called you out of the world.

 

He is with you now, making you more and more like him.

 

He will work in you by the Holy Spirit to speak to others about who he is.

 

He will comfort you and sustain you when you face anger and even hatred.

 

And as you follow him, he will bring you safely home to himself.

 

And so, trusting in all his promises, seek to be hated in this world for the right reasons.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This sermon draws on material from:

Augustine. The City of God. Introduction and Translation by William Babcock. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2012.

The Babylon Bee. “Man Unsure If He’s Persecuted Because He’s A Christian Or Because He’s A Massive Jerk” January 30, 2017. https://babylonbee.com/news/man-unsure-hes-persecuted-hes-christian-hes-massive-jerk

Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. PNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.

Duriez, Colin. Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

Stephens, Bret. “The 1619 Chronicles.” The New York Times. October 9, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/09/opinion/nyt-1619-project-criticisms.html

Vos, Johannes G. The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary. Edited by G. I. Williamson. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002.

The Westminster Larger Catechism

Wright, N. T. John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11-21. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004.

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