“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. 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.
Just opened up the latest addition to my trove of weekly hate mail. I’m pretty immune by now to the vitriol that arrives on a regular basis. Back before the days of email and social media, few folks would take the time to actually sit down, write a letter, and put a stamp on it. But now, with the ease and availability of electronic response mechanisms, it only takes a second to fire off a list of vulgar descriptive pot-shots at anyone who marches to the beat of an unapproved drummer.
Jesus’ words in John 15 are my mainstay when the inevitable backlash to my unapproved moral, political, or ethical positioning slam their way into my mailbox. They hated Him first.
When one thinks about it we realize that one of the chief reasons men hated Jesus so much was that he failed to follow the prescribed Messianic narrative. The culture of that day was certainly looking for a “messiah.” Their messiah would come with a sword to drive Rome out of Israel and restore the nation to its former glory. Jesus comes along and destroys that narrative. Instead of a sword he brought compassion, and healing, and a gentle spirit. Instead of challenging the barbarism of Rome, he confronted the wickedness of their own hearts. Instead of ascending to the throne, He chose rather to hang on a cross. He just wouldn’t cooperate with the narrative.
A lot of us are feeling the pinch of that whole "follow the approved narrative" these days. Whether it's political, moral, or even medical the "tolerant" generation is notably intolerant of those who refuse to toe the line. You might as well get used to it, because it's probably going to get worse.
Did Jesus get mad when they railed at Him, called Him names, and laughed and mocked Him? Did he get His feelings hurt and lash back with his own hurtful insults? He did not.
Instead, he stood on the hillside overlooking Jerusalem and wept. He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matthew 23:37)
A lot of my brothers and sisters are feeling the sting of criticism and mockery from the world––and they are mad. I follow some of them on social media and to be quite frank, I am often more bothered by the response of some believers to the criticism of the world than I am any of the hate mail that shows up in my inbox.
The Lord says to us, “Be holy, as I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)
To be holy is not to live with an austere countenance, spewing hateful words of condemnation toward those who “persecute” us for our godliness. In the purest sense of the word to be holy is to be “other.” Perhaps the clearest description of our Heavenly Father is that He is always other than us. While we are imperfect, He is perfect. When we are faithless, He is faithful. Our love is often based upon the behavior of others, He loves because He choses to love. He is other.
I am convinced that when God calls us to be holy He is, in truth, calling us to be other. He says “come out from among them and be separate.” When I read these words, I hear the Lord saying come out from among them and be other. Be different. Stand apart from the narrative, but don’t get mad when you are hated for it. Speak truth without demanding respect. Pray for those who call you ugly names and make vulgar characterizations. Be gentle when you are treated callously - to be holy is to be other.
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
I almost never respond to hate mail but when I do, I try to remember that I’m usually addressing someone who is under the conviction of the Holy Spirit because of sin and righteousness and judgment - just like I used to be. I was one of those guys. Men are already under conviction for sin and God does not expect me to pile condemnation on top of that conviction, but to respond like Jesus did. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” This, more than anything else, is a personification of our otherness.
It's hard sometimes. It hurts sometimes. It's almost always unfair. But we need to remember - they hated Him first. In fact, if you think about it –– it is really a compliment that they hate you because you side with Jesus.
To be hated because you are other is much better than being hated because you’re a jerk and demand to be treated differently (better) than they treated the one who gave his life for you.