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)
It is essential to remember the context of these words. They were said immediately after Christ gave His well-loved vineyard analogy: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” The first part of John 15 includes some of the most precious and beautiful promises and analogies of the teachings of Christ, promises of His abiding life in us, of His friendship and election of us, of God’s answers to prayer, assurances of living constantly in love and in loving communion with others believers.
Then on the heels of the promise of being called and empowered to bear spiritual “fruit that will last,” is this word of future persecution. We are caught between two loves – the love of God and the love of the world. The love of God is sacrificial, redemptive, uplifting, and positive. The “love” of the world is fallen, convenient, marked by selfishness and anger, and negative. Christian love lifts others up to God. Worldly “love” drags others down to immorality and hardness. The world loves its own because they do not make it look evil, nor speak to the conscience, nor offer the hope and life of God.
It is perfectly logical, of course, that if we are called in Christ into a life of eternal love, if we have an experience of heaven touching us with its compassion and grace, if we are receiving the life of our Eternal Vine, if we are being called out of darkness and into light, then it is only logical to assume that the darkness and spiritual death that we are being called out of will unleash vengeance on us. The Christian experiences these two extremes: loving fellowship among believers and apathy, suspicion, or even angry vengeance from non-believers.
But it is the persistence of life under threat of death that gives its most potent witness to its power. On our balcony in our apartment in Germany, my wife has placed many plants and flowers – the presence of life on the otherwise austere concrete. But in the cracks of the stones have fallen many random seeds and they spring up in the European summer, even after we have repeatedly pulled them out, giving testimony to the potency of life.
Should we expect less from Christ in our life today, that His life in us will empower us to face and overcome all threats. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Wherever God has placed us as believers in Christ, there we are to grow – whether we are planted in the midst of rich Christian soil, surrounded by a loving community, or we are placed in the cracks of the stone-cold hearts of the world, feeling all alone. If you feel alone, remember, as Elijah did, that there are still thousands who also believe. And if you are planted in the midst of a rich and fertile Christian community, do not think too highly of yourself.