“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 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.” (John 15:18-19 ESV)
John 15 is probably best known as the chapter about Jesus as the true vine and his followers as the branches, with ‘abiding in the vine’ as its main theme. I Googled ‘abiding in the vine’ and received 995,000 results. I scanned 50 pages (10 entries per page) of results and it appeared that nearly every link pointed to John 15.
However, near the end of the chapter we have the above verses, spoken to his closest disciples as He was preparing them for his departure and their subsequent mission of spreading the message of the gospel. I can’t remember the last time I heard a sermon built around the certain promise of persecution to the followers of Christ. If they did it would clash with the previous ones about the grand, wonderful purpose God has for each of us, along with the promises of our best lives now.
Perhaps some think that the promise of persecution just pertained to the disciples about to be commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the gospel, but not followers today. That doesn’t hold much water however, since spreading the message of the gospel has been given to all believers for all time, and the character of the ‘world’ in our text has not changed.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the text, break it into smaller pieces with an eye to application in today’s ‘world’.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 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.” (John 15:18-29 ESV)
“If the world hates you…”
At first glance, the presence of the hypothetical ‘if’ let’s us off the hook. An ‘if’ is not a certainty; therefore it’s not a certainty that the world will hate the genuine follower of Christ. Not yet. We’ll get to that in a bit.
What is meant by the ‘world’ (kosmos) in these verses? Literally, it means “orderly arrangement, that is, decoration; by implication the world (in a wide or narrow sense, including its inhabitants, literally or figuratively [morally]): – adorning, world.” (Strong’s G2889). Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon expands inhabitants to specifically mean “the ungodly multitude; the whole mass of men alienated from God, and therefore hostile to the cause of Christ”.
That definition of world definitely fits the context of our passages. The inanimate world cannot hate, but its inhabitants can, as we are told in verse 18 that the ‘world’ in fact hated Christ. As further proof we have the accounts of certain ‘inhabitants’ of Jesus’ world who sought to capture and kill him. (See John 7 & 11).
“If you were of the world…”
Here again we have the big ‘if’ and a hypothetical that seems to let us off the hook. Here again we have the term ‘world’ meaning the fallen world system set against God and his Son, and the phrase ‘of the world’, or belonging to that world system. You could easily ask “Aren’t we all ‘of the world’ since we are born into it?” The answer would be yes, and as our passage tells us, as long as we are ‘of’ the world the world the world’s inhabitants will love us
Now for the BIG question.
Are we ‘of’ the world?
“…because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Not only did Jesus tell his disciples (and us) that they were not of the world, he told them why they were not of the world, that he had chosen them out of the world, or from among the world’s mass of fallen humanity. And because they were not of the world, the world hated them and it will hate all those who profess Christ and proclaim the gospel. The ‘world’ has not changed and neither has the message of the gospel. Yes, there were a couple of ‘ifs’ in our text, but there also was and is a certain and sure promise of persecution for all those who have been chosen out of the world for the cause of Christ.
What does it all mean?
First of all we can draw from our short text that the world hates Christ, and therefore it hates Christians, then and now. We also might have cause for concern if the ‘world’ loves us. What does that mean? How do we know if the ‘world’ loves us? For the answer to that, all we need do is consider verse 20 in the same Chapter of John:
“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.” (John 15:20 ESV)
Just as Jesus was persecuted for just being himself (the Son of God), his followers will be persecuted because of whom they are as believers in Christ and messengers of the gospel. No obnoxiousness required – just be a faithful messenger of the gospel message and a lot of them will run away. They will either run away or avoid you like the plague because to them you are the fragrance of death, reminding them of God and judgment. (See 2 Cor 2:15-16)
A. W. Tozer summed up the situation and our responsibility as believers quite nicely:
“Those first believers turned to Christ with the full understanding that they were espousing an unpopular cause that could cost them everything. Shortly after Pentecost some were jailed, many lost all their earthly goods, a few were slain, hundreds were ‘scattered abroad.’ They could have escaped all this by the simple expedient of denying their faith and turning back to the world. This they steadfastly refused to do.
To make converts, we are tempted to play down the difficulties and play up the peace of mind and worldly success enjoyed by those who accept Christ. We will never be completely honest with our hearers until we tell them the blunt truth that, as members of a race of moral rebels, they are in a serious jam, and one they will not get out of easily. If they refuse to repent and believe on Christ, they will most surely perish. If they do turn to Him, the same enemies that crucified Him will try to crucify them”.
At the same time, there are those who will not run away or avoid you. They are those in whom God has begun a work of grace and to whom you are a fragrance of life. ”
“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor 2:15-16)
What are we to do?
First, don’t invite persecution from the ‘world’, but don’t try to avoid it either. It comes with the territory and it might in fact be a good and true testimony that you are being who you should be as a believer abiding in Christ.
Second and equally important, continue to be faithful in spreading the message of the gospel that includes the topic of sin and the need to ‘repent and believe’.
Finally, remember Paul’s words in the matter:
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)
May God richly bless you as you as you labor for the cause of the Gospel!