"Because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
– John 15:19
Somewhere in the missional conversation that has spanned the last two decades, we seem to have forgotten these chilling words from the lips of Jesus to his disciples. For many, missional has become a euphemism for body tattoos, hipster jeans, single origin coffee shops, artist collectives, and dropping a few Keller quotes in your sermon (I’m for all of these, by the way).
After reading several dozen church planting manuals over the past few years, I’ve yet to see one with a chapter entitled, “Don’t freak out, they’re just gonna hate you.” And yet, that’s the essential message that Jesus is pushing in his famed farewell discourse in John chapters 13-17: you have been chosen and sent into the world by the Father in the name of the Son through the power of the Spirit, and they’re just going to hate you for it.
Who is the world, and why will they hate us?
It’s important that we define some terms in order to accurately pin the source and nature of opposition that we’ll face. The world, in the book of John, isn’t the imagery conjured up when some evangelicals think of worldliness “out there” in culture – rock music, political marginalization, women who wear pants, or people that hate you for the fish on your bumper. For John, "the world," mentioned some 80 times throughout his narrative, is synonymous with a system of unbelief that’s opposed to the kingdom of God. Most surprisingly, we discover that worldliness is active primarily in the religious camp, where Jesus promises with not a small bit of foreshadowing that they’ll murder the disciples on their way to praise God at a prayer meeting.
Hatred, another vastly misapplied word in our cultural milieu, meant for Jesus a fundamental, primal hostility that often led to violent opposition. Jesus gives two essential reasons why the world (both religious and pagan) would hate his people:
They’ll hate us because of our attachment to Jesus’ name (15:21) – in John 7:7, Jesus declares that the world is hostile because Jesus exposed their sinful desires to see their own names glorified rather than the Father. Jesus’ words were offensive to everyone, and if we are united to him by faith (John 15:1-5), they’ll be offended by his name in us too.
They’ll hate us because of our allegiance to Jesus’ kingdom (15:19) – to abandon ourselves to the exclusive love of Jesus is to transfer our deepest allegiances away from the competing loves of this world. Just like when you abandon any group of people committed to a common cause (Whole 30, addiction, fantasy football, etc), your absence becomes an indictment on their loyalties, and they’ll hate you for it.
The most important aspect of this for believers, and particularly pastors, to understand here is that Jesus is saying the root problem is not social, political, or cultural, but ontological. Ultimately, it is our union with Christ that arouses the world’s ire, and it is an inescapable reality for Christians, no matter what part of the world they live in.
Let me give two practical applications here:
1. Jesus’ promise of opposition mans that no matter how cool we are, what style of church we pursue, how for the city we are, or how many non-profits we start, we will be offensive to the world if we are united to Jesus. If we are never offensive to anyone, we should be asking ourselves if maybe we’re doing it wrong.
2. The offense we give in our cities should be because of Jesus’ name, not ours. Much of the self-perceived victimization of Christians in the West, in my experience, is due to our self-righteousness, personal quirks, and loud-mouthed rants on Facebook that honestly don’t reflect the heart and spirit of the Jesus we encounter in the gospels. If we are always offending everyone, we should be asking ourselves if maybe we’re doing it wrong.
Bearing fruit in the midst of hostility
"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide." – John 15:16
Despite this fundamental opposition, Jesus calls his disciples to “bear fruit that lasts.” How is this possible if they’re going to hate us? Isn’t that a bit of a paradox? What is the nature of this enduring fruit?
Jesus promises three fruits that will arise from our organic connection with himself, the True Vine: the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of mission, and the fruit of communion.
First, Jesus promises that he will send the Spirit, the Helper, to bear witness about the reality of Jesus’ kingdom. He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and produce supernatural character change as he conforms us to Jesus’ image (Galatians 5:22-23).
Second, Jesus promises that Christians will bear witness in the power of the Spirit (mission). For Christians, this means that the pressure is off – in the power of the Spirit, we remind others of Jesus’ love. We don’t retreat, we don’t condemn, we don’t coerce, we don’t oppress, and we don’t whine like victims. The Spirit will make us a fragrance of life leading to life for some, and death leading to death for others (2 Cor 2).
Finally, Jesus promises us something deeper than the love of the world and something more eternal than anything the world can do to us via persecution: communion with him. When we are opposed, we are reminded that our only hope that endures is a hope that is lashed organically to the Vine on whom God has set his promises of restoration (Psa 80). He has chosen us, he loves us, and he invites us to experience his relational presence as the most satisfying reality in the universe. In my opinion, this is the only way Matthew 5:10 makes any sense: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”