Why do they hate us?
In a recent Q & A session, I was asked why Christians often get rejected by non-believers. The questioner sounded surprised or even a bit baffled at the illogic of it all. “People don’t seem to mind when non-Christians are inconsistent or hateful or immoral but they treat Christians with a different standard,” he added.
Persecution or hatred shouldn’t surprise us. After all, Jesus warned us repeatedly that we should expect such treatment. At the end of his list of beatitudes, he changed the tone dramatically with, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). And unlike all the previous beatitudes that were proclaimed without expansion or comment, Jesus added, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (verses 11 – 12).
Many other passages offer the same warning. Perhaps we can better remember these warnings and prepare for the realities of rejection if we consider the theological reasons behind them. In John 15:15-18, Jesus reasoned, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
In his commentary on these verses, New Testament scholar D. A. Carson explains,
“The ultimate reason for the world’s hatred of Jesus is that he testifies that its deeds are evil (see John 7:7). Christ’s followers will be hated by the same world, partly because they are associated with the one who is supremely hated, and partly because, as they increase in the intimacy, love, obedience and fruitfulness depicted in the preceding verses, they will have the same effect on the world as their Master. They, too, will appear alien. The world loves its own: this is not a sociological remark about inborn suspicion of strangers, but a moral condemnation. The world is a society of rebels, and therefore finds it hard to tolerate those who are in joyful allegiance to the king to whom all loyalty is due. Christians do not belong to the world, not because they have never belonged, but because, Jesus avers, I have chosen you out of the world.
Former rebels who have by the grace of the king been won back to loving allegiance to their rightful monarch are not likely to prove popular with those who persist in rebellion.
Christians cannot think of themselves as intrinsically superior. They are ever conscious that by nature they are, with all others, ‘objects of wrath’ (Eph. 2:3). But having been chosen out of the world, having been drawn by the Messiah’s love into the group referred to as the Messiah’s ‘own’ who are still in the world (13:1), their newly found alien status makes them pariahs in that world, the world of rebels.” (p. 525)
Grasping the reasoning behind Jesus’ warnings should help us prepare for rejection. It won’t make it any less painful or difficult – just less surprising or baffling.