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John 15:18-27 and John 16:1-4

You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

The "world" refers to the godless, secular society and systems of thinking that are in opposition to Jesus Christ and His followers. There will always be people in the "world" who hate believers and we need to understand that the root of their rejection comes from the world’s hatred of Christ Himself. As believers, living by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are like Him. We speak His words, love with His love and think with His mind. Hostility is inevitable as we remain in Jesus. If we are no longer of this world, then its lifestyle, its conversation, its aims, its sources of satisfaction and its opinions show the great divide between our new life and the enemy’s domain.

Persecution comes in many different ways

In foreign countries, worship and the meeting together of believers can be restricted or forbidden; distribution of God's word can be illegal; people can be arrested and tortured for their faith in Jesus Christ.

In the Western world, persecution comes in more subtle ways: promotions may be stopped or jobs lost because believers refuse to take part in dishonest practices (such as offering cash deals, stealing, not declaring tax, fiddling the books). Children can be penalised at school (through mockery or a refusal to teach about occult practices) or family members can be ostracised at home. (Matthew 10:33-39; Micah 7:6-10)

Persecution can be expected because:

  • They do not know the One who sent Me.” (John 15:21; 16:2)
  • They have no excuse for their sin.” (John 15:22-24)
  • This is to fulfil what is written in the law: 'They hated Me without reason'.” (John 15:25)

Hatred and persecution

It is so important that we do not confuse true persecution with what is simply a breakdown of relationships caused by our wrong attitude or behaviour. True persecution comes when we are living by the power of the Holy Spirit, showing fruit in our lives and are hated by others because of it. If we have a difficult situation, we have to examine our hearts and make sure that we are “being hated without cause”. If this is the case, there will be a deep, personal satisfaction in knowing that we have suffered (at least a little) just like Jesus.

Advantages of persecution

  • We shall have a reward in Heaven. (Matthew 5:11-12)
  • The glory of God is revealed in us. (Romans 8:17-18)
  • Jesus Himself is revealed in our behaviour. (2 Corinthians 4:10-11)
  • We are "crucified to the world". (Galatians 6:14-17)
  • We become more like Jesus. (Philippians 3:1)
  • It encourages us to look to heaven. (Hebrews 13:13-14)
  • We are following Jesus’ example. (1 Peter 2:21)

Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the Name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you... If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that Name.” (1 Peter 4:12-16)

Reactions to persecution

  • We can satisfy our enemy’s need. (Proverbs 25:21; Romans 12:20)
  • We can love your enemies. (Luke 6:27-36; Exodus 23:1-9)
  • We can pray for those that persecute us. (Matthew 5:43-48)
  • We can rejoice! (Matthew 5:12)
  • We can walk in the light of God's word. (1 John 2:1-11)
  • We can be kind to the ungrateful. (Luke 6:35)
  • We can please God, who will cause our enemies to live at peace with us. (Proverbs 16:7)

As Christians, we are commanded to love our enemies. This is one of the greatest fruits of a transformed life. God gives this instruction in both the Old and New Testaments. (See Leviticus 19:18 and John 13:34-35.)

Using God's word to help us

God gives us many different ways to apply His word when responding to persecution:

  1. We can help our enemies, where the world would look for revenge. We have to give through actions of kindness which run contrary to our "natural" reactions. When walking with the Spirit, we obey His promptings. He shows us what to do and gives us the grace to do it. (Compare Exodus 23:1-9.)
  2. We can love our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48) This has to be a choice before it’s an action. Jesus didn’t feel like going to the cross but He was obedient, through love, even when we were His enemies. (Romans 5:10)
  3. We can feed our enemies. (Romans 12:20; Proverbs 25:21-22) This too can be practical in just helping to provide our enemy’s daily needs. Some may say, “But you just don’t know what that person has done to me.” No, but Jesus does. He knows exactly how we feel - all the different emotions - yet still He says: “Bless your enemies. Pray for them.” (Matthew 5:43-44)
  4. We can stay in the "world". (John 17:18) We can still have relationships with unbelievers. Indeed, we should make a point of doing so. How else are we going to be able to share Jesus with non-believers? Try asking the Holy Spirit to lead your conversation with friends and acquaintances and provide appropriate, natural openings for talking about faith.
  5. We can rejoice! “Blessed are those who are persecuted.” (Matthew 5:10) We are to spin around, laugh and jump for joy, because our rewards will be great! We will inherit a blessing beyond anything we can even imagine now. The things of this world are short-lived, but the things of God last for ever and are glorious. We need to move our focus away from the things of this life and on to the more important ones. Try reading 1 Peter 3:13-4:19 for help.

Forgiveness

Father, forgive these people, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

This has got to be the prayer of our hearts - just like Jesus. When we have problems, He promises: “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) Call on the ever-present Holy Spirit to help you release His love and forgiveness for your enemies. It is God’s love - through testing circumstances - that is such a strong witness to the "world".

John 16:5-16

Jesus has just warned His disciples that they are going to have persecution because they are His followers. Now He encourages them by telling them again about the Holy Spirit. In their horror of losing Jesus, He assures them that they will be all right. (John 16:7) We are not left without adequate resources. We have the "comforter, counsellor, helper, advocate, intercessor, strengthener and standby" to help us in every situation. The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, shows us the future, turns our eyes to Jesus and gives Him all the glory. (John 16:12-16)

His rôle is also to convince the world (every person on the whole planet) of the sin of unbelief in Jesus and to call people to turn around and put their trust in Him. He reveals God’s standards of right and demonstrates that Satan has been judged. With the Holy Spirit, we have all the power that raised Jesus from the dead at our disposal; we are victorious and can overcome any situation. We do not have to fear as we are already winners!


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