John 15:18-20 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. . . . If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
Persecution takes many forms, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12), wrote Paul. It may take the form of shunning, divorce, demotion or something completely unexpected.
I know a theology student who did not receive his doctorate because his professors did not believe the Bible. He was a brilliant student, who did all his work, but they would not give him what he earned, because he did not share their unbelief. He later earned a doctorate from another school, but the first school cost him thousands of dollars and years of his life. The emotional scar will never go away this side of heaven.
Others bear physical scars. A girl on her way to school had her face cut in half by a man with a machete. Three of her friends lost their heads during the same attack. Others are disfigured by acid, or doused with gasoline and burned. No one welcomes this kind of treatment, but many count it an honor to suffer for their faith. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
John 16:8 When [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.
The world thinks little about sin, righteousness, or the coming judgment. Prisons are filled with people who have done terrible things, who either deny them, or dismiss them with a shrug. Others add to their sins every day and refuse to pray, even when they are dying. But all this changes when the Holy Spirit awakens us to sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment.
I know a man whose vocabulary was so wicked that he likely made the devil blush. Then he heard a preacher say that he would give an account to God for every word he had spoken (Matthew 12:37). He was so shaken by this that he got down on his knees and found his way to Jesus Christ. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Sinners naturally love their sin and want to remain in it. But believers hate their sin and want to turn away from it. Judgment Day is frequently on our minds, and we want to live for Jesus Christ. This is not because we are better than others, but because the Holy Spirit is working in us.
John 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
Eternal life does not come from knowing about God, but from knowing God personally. This is part of the New Covenant foretold by the prophet Jeremiah: they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord (Jeremiah 31:34).
When my son was three years old, he was playing in the back yard with some older kids, who were from a Christian home. Afterward he said to his mom, Those kids are nice! She replied, That’s because they know the Lord. He said, I want to know the Lord too. She said, You’re too young. But he persisted, so she explained the gospel (John 3:16), and led him to Christ in prayer. To our surprise, we saw a genuine change that has never gone away.
His little sister also came to know the Lord, and asked her mom this question: Is it okay that I love God even more than I love you? This was her mom’s delight, of course, and is exactly what God foretold: they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
John 17:18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.
The disciples may have wished for a Christian community, apart from the world, where they could live out their faith in peace. That idea appeals to many, but it’s not what Jesus had in mind. He sent his disciples into the world to make more disciples of Jesus Christ. If we want to be fully Christian, we need the church and the world.
My friend was surprised by the question of a gentleman at work. Everyday we get out of bed, come to work, do our jobs, go home and do it all again the following day. What is the point? he asked. My friend explained that the point of life is to know Christ, and to make him known. It is what gives our lives meaning, direction and purpose. It’s why we get out of bed every day, and go into the world.
John 17:23 [May] they may be brought to complete unity.
The disciples were not always united, even while Christ was with them (Luke 22:24). How would they stay united after he returned to heaven? There are no easy answers, of course, but since Jesus prayed for unity we should do the same. One hundred pianos tuned to the same fork will also be tuned to each other. If the members of a church are tuned to Christ, they will be tuned to each other as well.
Two men argued over politics on their way into church. Their voices were raised enough for others to hear, and they nearly came to blows. But as they received the Lord’s Supper, both became aware that what united them was greater than what divided them. After the service they embraced and put aside their differences.
There are other times when unity must be preserved through strength. [S]avage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock (Acts 29:29), said Paul. Any church that is not prepared to handle wolves should expect to suffer badly. Thankfully, God has given authority to church leaders to maintain unity, so that the flock will not be destroyed.
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them (Titus 3:10), wrote Paul. For this to be effective there must be unity among the most influential leaders. If a wolf can turn them against each other, he has already won. But if the leaders are united, they can put down trouble whenever it arises.
There was a lady in a church I served who was constantly causing problems. She was insubordinate to her director, and disrespectful to others. I went to her with an open Bible and read the word of God: Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.
Then I explained that her behavior was wrong, and would not be tolerated. I also explained that she was welcome to stay, if she would change her ways. But she chose to leave and never returned. Keeping peace is not always pleasant, but it’s what leaders are called to do.
Reflection and Review
How does the Holy Spirit turn us away from sin?
Why do Christians need the church and the world?
Why does Jesus care about unity?