Who are you and what are you doing here? In the upper room as Jesus spoke with His disciples, He gave them the answer to that question. As Christians, we need to be clear on who we are and what we are doing here. As the people of God, we have a message and mission to carry out in our time here in this world.
If we as God’s people are growing in our love and loyalty to Christ, how does this affect our relationship with the world? Among other things, hatred, hardship and hostility have accompanied the people of God throughout history. The Bible makes it clear that in the Christian life these things are inescapable on this side of glory. Way back in Genesis 4 we learn about the hatred Cain displayed towards his brother Abel. This hatred led to the murder of his very own brother. Why did he do this? John tells us that it is “because his deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12).
Seven times in John 15 Jesus warns His disciples’ concerning the hatred that they will receive. Believers in Melbourne will no doubt face different levels of hatred to believers in Mosul, as will be the case with believers in Sydney compared with believers in Syria. But the reality that the Lord makes clear in this passage is that hostility will beat against His people as they live in this world. This will come as a shock to many because they have been spoon fed “Christianity light” which ignores the biblical call to salvation and the cost of following Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). To love and follow Jesus Christ carries with it the greatest of rewards, but as John Calvin rightly said, “there is no crown without a cross”.
So when hostility does arise, how are we to respond as the people of God? In this message, I would like to answer that question by considering the hatred of the world and the help that comes from the Holy Spirit as seen in this passage.
1. THE HATRED OF THE WORLD (John 15:18-25)
Our passage begins with Jesus saying, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (15:18). The word “world”, which appears six times in verses 18 and 19, carries various meanings in the New Testament. On occasion the Bible speaks of the “world” in the sense of the physical planet, the “world” of humanity and it is also used to refer to an outlook on life without reference to God’s will. It is this third use that we find in our passage. This outlook on life that does not regard God’s will is under the domain and sway of Satan. In his first epistle John wrote, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).
The word “if” at the beginning of verse 18 does not indicate uncertainty, but rather the opposite is shown to be true. Here Jesus is preparing His disciples for the inevitable (cf. 16:1, 4). What is this hatred that Jesus is referring to? We are not to understand it as referring to every unbeliever walking around saying they hate Christians and Christ. Some may do this, but the hatred referred to here is not that specific. Hatred towards the people of God will come in various forms. This hatred is demonstrated by its opposition to biblical truth, verbal attacks, then it escalates to ostracizing Christians and even killing them (cf. 16:2). But the bottom line is that hatred toward Christ and His people occurs because you either love Christ or hate Him. Jesus made it clear, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matt. 12:30), and there is no neutral ground.
What are the reasons for this hatred and hostility? Jesus provides His disciples with two reasons – Commitment to Christ (15:19-21) and Conviction of Sin (15:22-25).
Commitment to Christ (15:19-21)
Firstly, the world will hate the people of God because they are committed to Christ. Jesus said,
“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” (15:19).
By God’s transforming grace, the people of God love Christ and are committed to Him (cf. 15:1-11). The basis of this commitment is His choosing them out of the world to be His own (“but I chose you out of the world” cf. 15:16). This sovereign choice produces a different outlook in the life of the people of God. It is this new outlook that brings about hostility from the world. It is amazing how the world is happy to talk about Jesus and even make movies about Him. The world is tolerant concerning Jesus until you say that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation and all other ways are false. Then you will see the hatred of the world. Worldly thinking is not always united on many things. Things like politics, sports and food are just some examples that demonstrate clear differences of opinion and priority. However, worldly thinking is always united when it comes to the Lordship and exclusivity of Jesus Christ. The world refuses to acknowledge Christ as Lord and even scoffs at the idea of submitting to Him as Lord. The world hates and opposes the fact that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. This is why true commitment to Christ is against the world’s way of thinking.
Commitment to Christ will bring about hatred and hostility from the world. As such hardship occurs, it is essential to know that it happens ultimately because they hate Christ. Jesus went on to say,
“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. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (15:20-21).
Reminding them of His words spoken back in 13:16, Jesus told His disciples that if He is their Master and He will be persecuted, then they who are His slaves ought to expect persecution also. The point is simple; if you are committed to Christ then you ought to expect the same treatment He received. But this will not always mean persecution. There were some who listened and kept His word. Therefore, Jesus also promised, “If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (15:20b). This is an encouraging promise to know as we strive to be witnesses of Christ in a hostile world.
Jesus adds, “But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (15:21). Why does the world hate the Lord Jesus Christ so much? This question is answered in the following verses as we consider the second reason why we will be hated.
Conviction of Sin (15:22-25)
The world is OK with Jesus, but the problem is that it is a “Jesus” created to fit their worldly thinking. He is a “Jesus” that makes them feel comfortable in their way of life. He is nothing more than a “Jesus” they invented and He is powerless to save. But if you faithfully serve the Lord Jesus Christ and submit to His rule, this will be offensive to the world. Why? The bright shining light of Christ’s holiness exposes the corruption of the world hidden by darkness. Jesus said,
“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. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 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” (15:22-24).
These verses are not teaching that the world was innocent of all sin until Jesus came into the world. Here Jesus is speaking of the specific sin of rejecting God when provided with the greatest of revelation and evidence. They saw the miracles, heard the teaching and saw the transformation in people’s lives. Yet they could not stand Him. Earlier in this gospel account we read,
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (3:19-20).
Those that Jesus is specifically referring to here are the religious leaders. Hatred will come from all kinds of sources. But notice that the greatest opponents of the gospel of Jesus Christ are the false religions of the world. This is also a reality experienced inside of the church. This was true in the earthly ministry of Christ, it was true for the apostles in the book of Acts, and it continues to be true for the church around the world.
Before we come to our next point, Jesus says something that is truly amazing. He said, “But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause’ (15:25). Jesus is perfect and without sin yet they hated Him. The grounds of this hatred were not because of anything He did that violated the Word of God. Instead, it was fuelled by their desire to cover up their own sin. This verse reveals that despite such selfishness, the sovereign plan of God was not thwarted. Even in the midst of hostility, the Lord was at work and His will shall be done.
2. THE HELP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (John 15:26-27)
With hatred and hostility as realities facing God’s people, Jesus assured them of Divine help. In verses 26-27 Jesus spoke of the promised Holy Spirit who will help the people of God in their witness. This is a precious promise and ought to fill us with thankfulness and comfort.
The Spirit Bears Witness of Christ
With the promise of the Holy Spirit coming to believers, Jesus said, “He will bear witness about me” (15:26b). This reminds us that though Jesus left and ascended to Heaven, He is still with them through the Holy Spirit. As hardship comes, we through the Spirit’s help are to remember our Lord Jesus Christ.
We Bear Witness of Christ
Because of the Holy Spirit’s work in them, Jesus said, “And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (15:27). As one reads the book of Acts this promise becomes a reality. They took the message of the gospel and spoke it in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8).
If we love Christ and follow Him, there are incredible blessings awaiting us as God’s people. However, there is a cost in following Christ. Paul wrote that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:10). We must make sure that we don’t unnecessarily contribute to the hostility by being foolish and bringing on suffering because of our sin (1 Pet. 2:20, 4:15). Instead, we are to entrust our “souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Pet. 4:19). The world will be hostile and hate us, but as the people of God we are to glorify God by loving His people and our enemies. Of course this will not always be easy, so let us come before Him often in prayer seeking His promise of help in the provision of the Holy Spirit.