Our Lord gave a very sobering analysis of our commission at the end of John 15:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18).
He urges us to expect nothing less. The axiom is uncomfortably clear:
“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” (Jn 15:20).
We must not attempt, indeed cannot, rise above our Lord in our expectations. His is the truest evaluation of the situation and heart of the world.
Christianity is serious. Christ unambiguously declares that His followers will be hated in this world and at the same time prays to the Father, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (Jn 17:15). Why? Because we are commissioned by the King, in the power of the King’s Spirit, and for the glory of the King and the ultimate joy of loving and serving Him (Jn 17:13).
To be sure, the hostility of the world is variable, often expressed in seasons of intensity. There are also factors of God’s grace that should not be discounted. Nevertheless, fair weather treatment from the world is sometimes the byproduct of compromise in the church.
How should we respond to these words of Christ in times and places where the world does not seem to expressively hate us?
Most of what American Christians experience from the world on behalf of Christ hardly registers as persecution or hostile hatred (cf. Jn 15:19; 16:2). So how do we respond? Self-examination (2 Cor 13:5), repentance of sin (2 Pet 1:4), sanctification to become more like Christ (Rom 8:29), pray for the Spirit’s work among us (Eph 6:18; Jude 20), and support of the persecuted church through prayer and tangible expressions of love (Rom 12:14-16).
As for our self-examination, let us remember: the church is to be an active agent in the world. If the world is indifferent, tolerant, or accepting of the church, she betrays dissemblance to her Lord. That is not how the world treated Christ. It indicates that the light is off, or at least dimmed; the salt has lost its saltiness (Matt 5:13). Church buildings have become bushels (Matt 5:15-16). Christianity is too often confined to gatherings on Sunday. It seems that we are better at hiding our faith than we are of shining it.
Ease, comfort, and luxury tempt even soldiers to fall asleep (2 Tim 2:3-4). Still worse, Christ’s bride, in far too many places, is found even flirting with the world (1 Jn 2:15).
We should respond to Christ’s sobering words with renewed attention to His commission (Matt 28:19-20). We must be an active agent in the world, alive and awake, witnessing for the honor and glory of our King and out of compassion for our fellow man. Our Christlikeness will—in some measure—be evidenced by the response of the world. Christlikeness is the goal, the effects will be hearts responding to Christ in repentant faith, or the light of Christ will agitate souls. There is no middle ground, truce, or alternative.
(for an exposition on John 15:18-16:4 please consider: Commissionary Christianity)