April 22, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from John 15:18-25.
“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me also hates my Father. If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But in order that the word written in their law might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’”
John was writing at a time of persecution of the early Christians. He was always of the mind that there was a stark division between followers of Jesus and opponents, not just non-followers. For John there was no in-between place.
Barclay writes, “There is bound to be a cleavage between the man who regards God as the only reality in life and the man who regards God as totally irrelevant for life.” On the one hand our culture pressures me to conform to its values and customs. It doesn’t tolerate easily those who are different. And as Barclay says, “The world acutely dislikes people whose lives are a condemnation of it….[T]he world always suspects nonconformity. It likes a pattern; it like to be able to label a person and to put him in a pigeon-hole….The basic demand on the Christian is the demand that he should have the courage to be different. To be different will be dangerous, but no man can be a Christian unless he accepts that risk, for there must be a difference between the man of the world and the man of Christ.”
I grew up in the middle of the country in the middle of the century in the middle class. Conformity was the rule of the day; that’s how one got ahead in life. So, I learned not to be different. I learned not to be like Jesus. Instead I learned to be intolerant, to be judgmental, to be exclusive, to be unforgiving, to be hateful. I learned to be like everyone else and not like Jesus.
I always admired those who were independent thinkers and actors. I envied their courage to be themselves, to live life on their own terms un-dictated by society. However, I remained in the prison of conformity; I belonged to the world as John puts it. Reading and reflecting on the gospels so intently these past two-and-a-half years has enabled me to begin to break loose of the world’s hold on me. And now I have no excuse for my sin, of behavior that Jesus abhors. I have come to love God through His Son Jesus. That has given me the capacity to begin to love myself and to try to love others as God does. It’s hard and it’s not my accustomed reflex, but at least it’s a beginning so that I can more often be a follower of Jesus than a man of the world. I know now that I am chosen out of the world.