The Christian and His Enemies

Tuesday: The World’s Hatred of Christians

Romans 12:14-16 In this week’s studies we see that the Bible speaks of suffering and persecution as an expected part of the Christian life.
The World’s Hatred of Christians

Today we come upon the most radical teaching in Romans 12:14-16. Having spoken of the application of Christian doctrine to the way the individual is to think of himself and of the way he is to think of others within the fellowship of the church, Paul moves on to speak of those who are not yet Christians and of how we are to treat them. In fact, to put it even more radically, he moves from how we should treat those who love us (or should love us) to how we should treat those who hate us because of our relationship to Christ. 

How are we to respond to such people? Paul says that instead of hating them back, we are to love them and pray for them, even as Christ loved us and prayed for us. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse,” is his instruction. 

Paul’s words come directly from Jesus’ teaching, of course: first, the certainty of persecution; and, then, the way we should respond to it. 

All through His ministry Jesus alluded to the fact that the world would hate and persecute His followers. But in the last discourses, recorded in John’s gospel, Jesus became explicit in these predictions. He said: 

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. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. 

All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me” (John 15:18-21; 16:1-3). 

These words predict the world’s hatred of Christ’s followers, but they do more than merely offer a prediction. They also explain why the world will hate Christians. 

There are three reasons. 

Christians “do not belong to the world.” There is a natural but sinful tendency among people to dislike those who are different from them. This explains much racial hatred as well as the dislike people of one ethnic background frequently feel for people of another. This can be quite trivial. It can also have stronger motivations. In his “Daily Study Bible” on John, William Barclay tells how Jonas Hanway, the man who invented the umbrella, was persecuted. When he tried to introduce his idea into England, where the umbrella should have been welcomed as a wonderful gift from a rainy heaven, Hanway was pelted with dirt and stones. That is a trivial matter, of course. But Barclay also mentions the great Aristides of Athens, an outstanding leader who was called “Aristides the Just.” He was banished by the citizens of Athens. Afterward, when one of the people was asked why he had voted to banish so outstanding a leader, the man replied only, “It was because I am tired of hearing him always called ‘the Just’!”1 

The world’s people like those who are like themselves. Anyone who does not conform to the pattern, who is different, will meet trouble. But if that is so of people who are basically the world’s type anyway, how much more true must it be of those who have been lifted out of the world and its way of thinking by Jesus Christ. The Bible calls them “a new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). They are truly different. So the world hates them and tries to persecute them, sometimes in open, sometimes in subtle ways. 

Christians have been “chosen…out of the world.” There is probably no doctrine of the Christian faith that is more hated by the world than the doctrine of election. People hated it when Jesus first taught it, so much so that on one occasion they responded by trying to kill him (Luke 4:24-29). People hate it just as much today. They hate it even if they just suspect we believe it, even when we do not teach it openly. 

Christians are identified with Christ. The third reason why the world hates and persecutes Christians is the chief reason and the one Jesus stresses most in John’s gospel. It is because believers are identified with Christ. Moreover, since Jesus is God and since unbelievers hate God— they would murder Him if they could get their hands on Him— their hatred for God, whom they cannot reach, is vented against Christians. To put it in other words, the world does not hate Christians because of what they are in themselves. In ourselves we are nothing. The world hates Christians because it hates Christ, and because we are followers of Christ and stand for His cause against the standards of the world.

1William Barclay, The Gospel of John (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1956), vol. 2, 217.

Study Questions
  1. Why do Christians face persecution?
  2. List and explain the three reasons that the world persecutes believers.

Reflection: Have you ever experienced some kind of persecution for your Christian faith? How did you respond? Did you count it a privilege to identify with Christ and His people in this way?

Key Point: The world hates Christians because it hates Christ, and because we are followers of Christ and stand for His cause against the standards of the world.

For Further Study: Read 2 Corinthians 4:1-18, and then answer the following questions:

  1. What is our ministry?
  2. How do we proclaim the Gospel?
  3. What kinds of persecutions are listed in verses 8-9?
  4. What does suffering demonstrate to the world (vv. 10-12)?
  5. Where does our strength come from (vv. 16-18)?
  6. Why are the troubles light and momentary (v. 17)?

Prayer: Use 2 Corinthians 4 to guide you in your prayer time today. Ask God to give you eyes to see the eternal things more clearly than the physical. Ask Him to show His power through you as you bear up under persecution and learn to bless those who persecute you.

For Further Study: Download for free and read James Boice’s booklet, “The Cost of Discipleship.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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