Summary: God prepares his people for persecution so that we will not fall away when proving that there are things in life worth dying for.
Dale Carnegie pioneered work in public speaking and was famous for helping others become successful. In 1936 he published How to Win Friends and Influence People; since then it has sold more than 15 million copies. Two of his most famous maxims are, “Believe that you will succeed, and you will,” and “Learn to love, respect and enjoy other people.”
Today’s sermon title plays on the title of Carnegie’s book. He teaches how to “win friends and influence people”; Jesus seems to tell his disciples how to lose friends and anger people! Of course, the Lord says no such thing; he does, however, warn the eleven, and with them, us, that those who follow him often end up hated. So that we will be prepared and persevere, let us give our attention to Jesus’ teaching in John 15.18-16.4.
[Read John 15.18-16.4a. Pray.]
Back in 2001, Pastor Doug Wilson made a bit of a splash when he wrote: “Within the Reformed world, a phrase which more of us should be aware of is ‘cage stage.’ Whenever someone comes into new-found truth (and this often happens with those first coming to embrace Reformed theology), there is a period of time where the new (and usually young) convert should be locked up in a cage. That period of time is usually about two years…. Ironically, they do much to make the theology they profess to love obnoxious to outsiders. Paul did teach, unambiguously, the doctrine of election. But he also told the Colossians, as the elect of God, to put on tender mercies” (Credenda/Agenda, “Hither and Yon,” vol. 13, issue 5, 2001.)
I was especially interested to find those comments in an issue defending C. S. Lewis. Wilson explains why he writes positively about Lewis: “This is said so that our TRs, the ‘truly reformed’ among us, might be encouraged to learn something they really need to learn…. Someone once made a wonderful point about Lewis: he made righteousness readable. In the same way, he made the doctrines of predestination and justification wash over a sinner with sweet relief….
“This is not to endorse every single thing C. S. Lewis may have written…. But the funny thing was that he was a gracious and edifying writer, even when he is busy arguing some of his errors…. The truths Lewis presents are readable, understandable, and altogether lovely, even when he is wrong. He loved the truths he presented, and was a man of such giftedness that he made what he loved lovely. And in this, many pastors in the orthodox Reformed tradition need to learn this particular lesson. More beauty in word-smithing does not lessen the amount of truth that words carry, but rather increases it drastically. A pearl necklace on a beautiful woman is not extraneous.” (Credenda/Agenda, “A Reformed Appreciation of C. S. Lewis” vol. 13, issue 5, 2001.)
I tell you all of that because I once attended a church with a tract on the literature table with this title: “Did C. S. Lewis go to Heaven?” (John Robbins, The Trinity Review, no. 226, November, December 2003.) The last line of that tract read: “And our answer must be: Not if he believed what he wrote in his books and letters.” In my opinion, that answer demonstrates exactly what Wilson warns of: intentionally making the theology we love offensive.
So before we consider the hatred of those who do not know God for faithful followers of Jesus, let us be aware of the temptation to make the theology we love “obnoxious to outsiders.” There is no honor in offending for the sake of offense. There is no glory in being odious to those less knowledgeable than you. Sometimes Christians seem to wear, as a badge of honor, their ability to stir up anger and ill-will; but such is not condoned by Christ. With that in mind, and in order to understand this passage of Scripture, first notice…
1. We Cannot Avoid Persecution When We Serve the Suffering Servant (John 15.18-25)
Church history has certainly proven this warning true! The men to whom Jesus spoke were exiled, stoned, beaten, burned, cruelly mistreated – in a word, “hated” on account of his name. Nor did the persecution end with these apostles.
Around 1550, John Foxe wrote his Book of Martyrs, testimonies of men and women who found Christ worthy of their devotion, who “loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12.11).
Foxe tells of Ignatius of Antioch’s martyrdom in the Roman Coliseum by wild beasts in the year 107. In 155, Polycarp of Smyrna was burned at the stake. In 165, Justin was beheaded. Later Telemachus was run through with the sword while protesting the bloody violence of the gladiatorial fights. From the death of John (the author of the book we are studying) to the present day, Christians have lived the truth of Hebrews 11: “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”