Jesus said that the world will hate those we follow Him. He said that Christians are in the world but not of the world. What does that mean?
Our class had an interesting discussion during Sunday School yesterday. We begin in a large assembly and share announcements and prayer requests. The department includes young and middle aged adults, and one prayer request was a delight; a recently married couple will be having their first child in the spring. Many of the other requests were sad; women with breast cancer, aging and dying parents, and trouble with marriages and children. No one is immune to the disappointments and tragedies of life.
The lesson passage was 1 Peter 4:12-19 and the topic was suffering. The Apostle Peter wrote that book during the early 60s AD, just before a tumultuous decade in the Roman Empire. War with Parthia, the Great Fire of Rome, the Jewish Rebellion, the insanity and suicide of Nero, and the Year of the Four Emperors was soon to convulse the Empire, and Peter’s Christian audience would suffer. While suffering is universal in this fallen world, Peter told these believers in Jesus Christ that they would suffer not only as other men but also simply because they followed Him. Jesus explained that this is because the world, the powers of evil in the universe, hated the children of God (Matthew 10:16-23).
Does this mean that Christians are uniquely despised, more than other men? The Bible teaches that man wanted to be like God and therefore rebelled against Him, disobeying His command (Genesis 3:1-7). Due to that original sin, the whole human race is separated from God, though He is our Creator and Sustainer. All humanity is in rebellion against Him (Psalm 2:1-5).
Some may object “I don’t believe in Genesis and I don’t feel like I am rebelling against God.” Even if we don’t believe in the Biblical account of the fall of man, it is obvious from experience that each one of us is a rebel against the Lord. Why? If God is actually the Supreme Being, the One of whom no greater can be conceived, and the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, then He is rightly the central focus of everything in creation. Every man, every animal, every plant, and everything else in the universe should rivet their attention – their thoughts, words and actions – on Him.
But we don’t. Rather our thoughts, words and actions are focused almost exclusively on ourselves. Although we may say that God is the center of our lives, we live as though He is an afterthought. Even on those rare occasions when we manage to pry our eyes off of ourselves we focus on other people or nature or some other part of creation. Except for a few people, most scarcely consider the Creator. By this implacable centering on anything but God mankind proves that he is in rebellion against Him.
Others may object “But doesn’t the presence of many religions prove that man is not rebelling against but actually seeking God?” The Bible says “no”, teaching that no one seeks after God (Romans 3:10-18). But even if a man rejects the Bible, he must admit that the presence of many religions may only suggest that man is looking for something to explain his existence, his eventual death, and other things outside of his control. Many religions also promise to help people exercise control, such as when the ancients sacrificed an animal to get their god to do their bidding. There are many religions, but they may lead away as much as lead towards God.
It is reasonable to consider that all humans are the children of God by virtue of creation, just as each father and mother physically “create” their children. But the Bible teaches that Christians are children of God by adoption (Romans 8:14-17). We have seen that men, though created by God are nonetheless rebels against Him, but Christians have been both created and also adopted by Him. Believers in Jesus, through no virtue of their own, therefore have a special relationship with the Lord. No longer do we war against God but we now war against the world, the powers of evil in the universe. Christians have literally switched sides in the cosmic battle. The embodiment of evil, Satan himself, hates all men, even those rebelling against God, but he hates the saints of God still more. We are traitors to his cause. Does this mean that Christians live in perfect harmony with the will of the Father, never acting against Him? Unfortunately no, for we all are guilty of selfishness and bad behavior. It takes a lifetime to transform our thoughts and habits away from sin and towards grace, and our battle against our sinful nature is unending this side of the grave. Christians, however, with the indwelling of the Spirit, at least want to be transformed and strive to become like Christ. Others have no such aspiration. They want no relationship with the God of the Bible, and they will get what they desire.
Let us return to our question, are Christians uniquely despised, more than other men? By Satan, his minions, and the other forces of evil in the world…yes. What about by other people? Most of us live our lives in a state of unseen moral confusion, having difficulty differentiating right from wrong yet having a vague sense of distrust for anyone who is not like us (Isaiah 53:6). We are focused enough on ourselves to care little how others believe, or even what they do, as long as we are not affected. Hence moderns are admonished to practice “tolerance”, to “coexist”, and to “live and let live”.
Spiritually, however, these are exactly the things that Christians are forbidden from doing. God wants every man, woman and child to be reconciled to Him (2 Peter 3:9), and has commanded His people to proclaim the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). While believers are not to interfere in the lives of others with violence or evil, and are to tolerate and even embrace differences that are not sinful, we are to care for all men, including those who don’t know Jesus, and try to persuade them in every way to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
So we see that all men are rebels against God but Christians have become traitors to the rebellion. For this we are despised or at best ignored by those who persistently reject God, and loved by those who eventually accept Him. Ultimately those who follow Jesus will be in His perfect presence, sharing in the glory of Him who sits on the throne of Heaven. Those who do not will achieve their goal; to be separated forever from the One who is the embodiment of love, beauty, and virtue. God forbid that anyone meet this terrible fate.