If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you.
The goals of life for many are centered on acceptance by the world. Christ dashed the hopes of His disciples along these lines with these words. Acceptance of the values of the world, or its applause, or its rewards, or anything else in the world, was not possible for a follower of Christ.
Dissimilarity from Christ is not the only characteristic of the world; hatred is the word Christ used. Were it not for the cross and the intense physical suffering He was about to endure at the hands of the world just hours after speaking these words, we would be tempted to say that it wasn’t that bad. But in light of the events of the next day, and considering the centuries of worldly animosity against the followers of Christ, we understand He spoke correctly.
The term “world” refers to the world system made up of fallen humanity acting according to sinful natures, and pushed along by the devil and his demons. Forget the medieval images of demonic imps in red suits, horns, and tritons; the real devil is much more frightening. The world means not merely the physical earth but it represents values and a way of thinking, a perspective on life that does not have the view of God, that is, in fact, annoyed with God and considers Him an intruder. But we have higher potentials and possibilities in Christ than the world offers. We are reconciled with God and brought into His family and into His counsels. God is not an intruder, rather He is the Owner of all that is, and through Christ He is reclaiming that which is His own.
Like David we might experience deliverance from the world while we walk on this earth. We should be careful not to presume that everything bad that happens to us is entirely undeserved or directed to us as followers of Christ. We can react to the world in the wrong spirit, and we regularly need the forgiveness and grace of Christ for our sins. These are the moments that we steady our ship, take stock of our lives, our values, our directions, our attitudes, our habits, and let the Spirit guide us again. David wrote,
He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
He drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
From my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster but the LORD was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
2 Samuel 22:17-20
But the deliverance of God is not given so that we might act toward the world in the same way as it acted toward us, nor that we might get caught up in the values of the world. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. We are not only delivered from hatred as an experience, but hatred as an attitude. Our deliverance is always so that we might continue to follow Christ in His way and for His glory. We are to love those who persecute us and bless those who curse us.
Christ gave us these words for our encouragement. The rejection of the world does not separate us from God, neither do we experience it alone. We have a family of fellow “rejectees” who experience it as well, and we have our Lord who endured the brunt of the rejection. The narrow road that Christ spoke about, the one that leads to life, the road we have chosen to walk in, is misunderstood by the world. They see it as one of darkness and loneliness, they enjoy the broad road that leads to destruction and cannot see how quickly it will end for them. But the narrow road is anything but dark; it is filled with light and life and Christ.
Lord, thank You for calling us to follow You and for the joys of the Christian life. Encourage us when we face rejection, that You faced worse, and that You will be with us to strengthen us and to lift up our hearts. Protect our lives from harm. Amen.