18 “If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave 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.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Hate. Persecute. These are strangely harsh words to bring into this intimate final gathering of Jesus with His disciples. Moments before He’d told them they had been promoted from servanthood to friendship (verse 15). This new status meant they would be given “inside” knowledge, their lives would produce permanent fruit, and the Father would give them anything they asked in the Son’s name. The only requirement for retaining this promotion was that they would keep His commandment to love each other.
But Jesus was honest with them. Entering the inner circle of fellowship with Him and His Father was going to be very, very costly. They were about to witness the full intensity of the world’s hatred for their Master, and He wanted them to know that, as His friends, they would encounter a similar hatred. They would soon suffer deeply as a direct result of their alliance with God.
When we speak of suffering as a component of our spiritual formation, we usually think of those things we encounter on our way to finding God. None of us really comes to know God except through some sort of crisis, for it is there He reveals Himself as Redeemer, Comforter, Sustainer, Healer, and Friend.
While we never choose or volunteer for the specific crucibles that accompany our spiritual growth, nonetheless a true follower of Jesus begins to understand their value. Not only do these experiences draw our desperate attention back to God, but they also work to shape our character. In addition, they give us powerful resources with which to minister to others, thus demonstrating God’s grace and compassion to a world that often has a hard time seeing Him.
But in today’s passage, Jesus is speaking of a different kind of suffering, a suffering that is the direct result of our identification with Him. In this sense we might see these kinds of challenges not as formative, but as proofs. How can we know we belong to Christ? Because the world that hates Him also hates us.
Ours is a generation that is only beginning to grasp what this means. Up until recently, we have lived in a nation and time where to be a Christian has generally been considered honorable. Now (although a majority of Americans may still call themselves “Christian”), a number of the authentic standards of biblical Christianity are being explicitly identified as “hateful,” thus giving people a reason to hate those of us who resiliently choose to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ.
How do we learn to face this sort of rejection, and possibly even more severe persecution in days to come? We learn it in part by embracing the sufferings God permits in our lives along the way. Sometimes God mercifully removes our pain, but it is often evidence of His deeper mercies when He comes alongside us in our pain, giving us the strength to persevere, the courage not to fear, and maybe most of all an ever-increasing understanding of our calling to be like our Master, who endured everything for the joy He knew was to come.
1. Looking back over your past sufferings, list some of their positive benefits.
- Did you find yourself praying more?
- Did you find yourself searching the Scriptures for answers?
- Did you become less interested in meaningless distractions, understanding what is really important?
2. Think about the ongoing value of the challenges you’ve faced.
- Do you have greater confidence in the faithfulness of God?
- Do you see the beauty of the community God has placed you in?
- Are you finding yourself more patient with others who are hurting?