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 what I told you: ‘A servant is not 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. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin…’ (John 15:18-22NIV)
Recently I watched a YouTube video of some members of Westboro Baptist Church being interviewed on a talk show, and while I abhor their manner of holding so-called ‘peaceful demonstrations’ near funerals, and disagree with much of their theology, there was one thing that caught my attention – their absolute certainty about what they believed to be the truth. Such fearless certainty and conviction have become so rare in modern religious discourse that they stood out.
There was no obfuscation or defensiveness when challenged about – and even insulted for – their beliefs. They presented their message simply, clearly and confidently. Their confidence was evidently not in the power of their personalities or achievements or in any talent or ability that they possessed, rather it lay in the ‘truth’ or what they believed to be the truth of their message. The truth, they recognised, might be unpalatable for many, but they were convinced it was an act of love to offer it to even unwilling hearers and a dereliction of duty to withhold it.
They were certain that the world needed what they had to offer and were not worried about coming across as a bunch of crazies. The anger and insults directed at them by the interviewer and members of the audience were like water off a duck’s back. Nothing could detract them from delivering their message. They had no fear of possible consequences, for they relied on the Almighty’s protection. Surely, there is something that we can learn from them as we go about presenting the gospel.
So what should be our attitude and approach as we obey the ‘Great Commission’?
1. We are merely messengers, witnesses to the truth, and the ‘message’ is considerably more important than the messenger. Since the message and the One who sent us to deliver it, are both perfect, we should not worry too much about our personal imperfections.
2. We should never be ashamed of the gospel or its absolute claims, which may sound intolerant in our politically correct age.
3. The only thing we need to worry about is presenting the message – its unvarnished truth – as accurately as possible. We must take special care not to sugar coat it or dress it up to the extent that it becomes almost unrecognisable.
4. We should expect to be hated, insulted or worse, because of the message we bear. Jesus warned us that we would be unpopular, to put it mildly, so we should not be shocked when the world reacts unkindly to our act of love.
5. Being despised and ridiculed can be painful unless we are truly convinced about the greatness of the message we carry, and the privilege of being called to declare it abroad.
In regards to how we ought to conduct ourselves as messengers and witnesses, Paul exhorts us to remember that it is vain to talk of the cross or even give our body to the flames, if we are not motivated by love. It is true that if we do not witness, we show a lack of love or concern for our neighbour’s eternal destiny. But it is equally true that when we love, we will take care neither to compromise the integrity of the message and nor to put off our hearers by our arrogance or boorishness.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).
Gentleness and respect. Not silence – though the powers that be, might demand silence of us – but meekness and humility as we present the truth. In all possible circumstances, we should be ready to ‘respond’, ‘articulate a defence’ or to ‘give an account for the hope that is in us’. Like Paul we ought to pray that doors for effective witness will be opened to us, and for boldness in declaring the truth. We must actively seek opportunities to bear witness to Christ’s work on the cross, and to warn people to escape the coming wrath. Like Peter, and his company, we must thank God that we are considered worthy to suffer for the gospel.
Father, help us to be faithful witnesses of Jesus in these perilous times. Help us declare Your truth in gentleness and respect, but also boldly and without compromise. In Jesus’ name.