The High Cost of Discipleship (Jn 15:18-16:4)

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Hang on. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!

As with anything in life, when we need to make a decision, we typically weigh the positives and negatives. What type of job to get. The placement and neighborhood of a new home. The amenities, size, and cost of a home. A choice of schooling or college. Who to be friends with. And the list goes on.

Let me offer you a rather benign example. In high school I joined the wrestling team. There were some really unpleasant cost involved with being part of the wrestling team. I recall just a couple with certain clarity. I recall having to lose 11 pounds in one day to get down to weight . . . I recall having to carry the heavy weight on my back as I tried to run up the stairs . . . Yet, there were some real benefits as well. I was in good shape. Quite successful. The joy of a win. . .

This is our life. We typically make decisions considering the positives and negatives of such a decision. Interestingly enough, we often do not apply this method to our commitment or acceptance of Christ. As believers, we understand that the Christian life can be really hard, yet when we present it to other people we often only present the positives of the Christian life. The prosperity gospel is a sad and detrimental example of this type of naïve and false presentation.

Jesus had nothing to do with that type of presentation. It is true that Jesus outlines some of the amazing benefits of following him, but he then immediately outlines some of the extreme challenges and disadvantages that come with being a disciple. Jesus describes some of these disadvantages in John 15, specifically hatred and persecution by the world.

Purpose statement. Christ has prepared believers to expect and endure persecution.

Believers are hated by the world (15:18-21).

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. (Jn 15:18–21).

Who or what is the world? The concept of world carries many potential meanings.[1] At times world references everything that has been created in both the heavens and on earth (Acts 17:24). At other times world refers to all people (Mk 16:15) and at other times refers to the planet of which mankind inhabits (Mt 16:26). However, in this context, Jesus intends to communicate a moral understanding of world which describes “mankind as alienated from God, unredeemed and hostile to him.”[2] Used in this sense, world refers to a system or philosophy of thought.

John further describes this concept of world in his first epistle. In the first instance, he exhorts believers to “not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” John goes on to describe that which motivates and drives the world philosophy, “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life.” These are not from the Father but from the world. (1 Jn 2:15–17). On the second occasion, John encourages the believer by reminding them of the love of the Father towards his children, but in contrast, the world does not know us because “it did not know him” (1 Jn 3:1). John offers one final descriptor of the world in chapter 5, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn 5:19).

Therefore, when Jesus informs his disciples that “the world hates you” (Jn 15:18-19), he intends to communicate that a world system and the people that espouse that world system hate those who follow Jesus.

Why does the world hate believers? Because the world hated Christ and continues to hate Christ. Do not expect the world to treat you differently than they treated Christ. Expect hatred and persecution.

In the same way that a crowd of Green Bay Packer fans colored in bay green and cheese gold display their animus for the solo Viking fan in their midst or a crowd of liberals decry a red maga hat, your association and public declaration of identity with Christ will provoke and draw hatred from the opposition. The world hates Christ. They hate his morality. They hate his exclusivity. They hate his demands to surrender themselves and submit to him. And, they hate everyone that associates with him.

Because believers are different than the world. Jesus goes on to explain why the world hates disciples of Christ. Jesus says, “if you were of the world, the world would love you as its own” (Jn 15:19). He goes on to declare that because you are not of the world, the world hates you. The Apostle Peter as well writes to the suffering church in his first epistle. After acknowledging to them that they will suffer like Christ, he encourages them to arm themselves with a Christlike way of thinking and live the rest of their lives “no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Pe 4:2). He then continues to describe the lives of those who are separate from God as “living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you” (1 Pe 4:3–4). The world does not understand how you do not find joy in the same debased living as they, and instead of writing it off as just some mere difference, they are annoyed by many believers and instead choose to malign, slander, and criticize.

Remember the setting of John’s writing. While some believers today live in context in which unbelievers are not as hostile to their belief systems as other historical times or geographical locations, John lived in a time in which a very clear line of demarcation existed. During John’s life, and potentially near the time of this writing, Nero accused the Christians of burning Rome. Tacitus, the first century Roman historian and politician wrote about Christians in his Annals.

Tacitus. Therefore, to scotch the rumour [of the fire being by order], Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judaea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue.[3]

The more and more the world spirals out of control and rejects Christian morality and biblical ethics, unbelievers who perpetuate and live by the world’s secular and godless ethic will become more and more antagonistic to true believers.

Defend the value of unborn lives and our current world system will hate you. Verbalize marriage as biblically defined as the union between one man and one woman and the world will malign you. Advocate for biblical and moral absolutes within our current culture and you will suffer the consequences of our cancel culture, the wrath of social media, and segregated to the “wrong side of history.” Declare that Christ is the only way to God and that all other paths will lead to eternal destruction and experience the harsh and brutal consequences of post modernism and relativism.

Also, the world will twist the content of our words and actions. The first century world accused the early church of being cannibals because they consumed “this body which is broken for you” and the cup which is “the new covenant in my blood.” They considered the early church to be flagrantly immoral due to the “Love Feasts” they would hold regularly in which they greeted one another with holy kiss. They accused the church of destroying families as believers would connect themselves with the church while often experiencing division within their biological families.

The world will hate your biblical morals and ethics and they will twist your belief systems. You may not be covered in tar and burned in Nero’s garden, but you may be socially and publicly destroyed throughout the internet and your social circles.

Because believers have been chosen out of the world. Jesus tells his disciples in John 15:19 that the world hates them because he had chosen them out of the world. Paul acknowledges this choice in his letter to the Ephesians, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself” (Eph 1:4-5).

We find great comfort and appreciation in being chosen by God. We know we do not deserve his particular love and care. We have nothing to offer him. We possess no deserving qualities, and yet in His sovereign care he drew us to himself. We then live eternally appreciative of this divine choosing.

However, many will never experience this divine and effectual call. We have been pulled out of the darkness, death, and away from God’s wrath. But so many remain, and this marked distinction provokes hatred and malice.

Because the world does not know the Father. A couple of verses later, Jesus continues his explanation, “all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (Jn 15:21). Consider once again the flow of thought from the previous couple chapters. (1) God first loves us. (2) We believed in Him. (3) We come to know Him. (4) We love Him. (5) We obey Him. (6) We receive assurance through our obedience and experience joy. If someone never comes to the point of belief, they will additionally never come to the point of a knowledge and love of God. Instead, they remain “alienated and hostile in mind” (Col 1:21).

Those who do not come to know the Father will not love Him or obey Him. The opposite remains true. They hate and disobey God. As well, they hate anyone who loves and obeys Him.

Let me offer an additional thought. Many believers have come to accept the reality that identifying with Christ can result in poor treatment. However, this reality has often led some believers to perceive of any ill will from unbelievers as evidence of righteous behavior. It is true that the world will often hate believers because of what they believe. It is also true that sometimes the world hates believers because believers act like idiots. In those moments, instead of considering our behavior as inappropriate or ungodly, we conclude we must be right because the world is angry with us. Let us be careful that any malice from the world is due to our identity with Christ and not our careless or unduly harsh treatment of others.

Therefore, believers ought not be surprised (16:1-4). I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. (Jn 16:1–4).

Paul as an example. “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women” (Acts 22:4).

I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. (Acts 26:9–11).

The high cost of discipleship. And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23–26).

People stumble due to persecution. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. (Mark 4:17).

The world is left in their sin without excuse (15:22-25).

If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ (Jn 15:22–25).

These verses pose a bit of a challenge. Twice, Jesus states that if it were not for his words and works “they would not be guilty of sin” (Jn 15:22, 24). We would be hard pressed to conclude that if Jesus had not come they would be sinless. Prior to Christ’s coming, the psalmist states that we were “brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa 51:5). Paul warns his readers in Romans 1 that God has made himself known through his invisible attributes, “namely, his eternal power and divine nature.” Therefore, all mankind is “without excuse” (Rom 1:19–20). As well, in Romans 8, Paul writes, “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin” (Rom 7:7). Therefore, the law revealed mankind’s sinfulness.

Therefore, Jesus must mean something other than that these people would not be guilty of any type of sin. Let us allow the context to offer some clarification. The immediate context emphasizes the things Jesus said and did. He declared himself to be the Messiah, and he offered evidence of his messiahship through miraculous sign events. If Jesus had never come, they would never have been able to reject his words and his works. Therefore, Jesus is confronting their rejection of him and their lack of belief in him.[4]

In his Addresses on the Gospel of John Harry Ironside told the story of an African woman who visited a missionary’s cabin. Outside of the cabin, hanging on a tree was a little mirror. In looking at the mirror, she saw her reflection for the first time. She had never personally seen how her face paintings marred her potential beauty. She had never seen how years of anger and bitterness had soured her complexion. She stood in horror at her own complexion and asked the missionaries, “Who is that horrible-looking person inside that tree?” “Oh,” they said, “it is not in the tree; the glass is reflecting your own face.” She refused to believe until she could hold the mirror in her own hands. As a result, she demanded that the missionaries sell her the mirror. Desiring to avoid any trouble, the missionaries sold her the mirror, only to have her smash the mirror on the ground. She said, “I will never have it making faces at me again.”[5]

When Jesus came to earth, he was a light that revealed the darkness of our depraved and sinful hearts. He held up a mirror to our sinfulness. Some people acknowledge their darkness and turn to Jesus. Other’s desire to destroy Jesus for revealing their sinfulness.

Regardless, their darkness has been exposed, and Jesus’ presence demands a decision. You must determine what you are going to do with Jesus. You can accept him and receive life, or you can reject him, remain in your darkness, and suffer God’s wrath.

[1] Synoptic gospel authors only use kosmos a total of 14 times (Mt 8, Mk 3, Lk 3). Paul uses it 47 times throughout all his epistles. James and the author of Hebrews both use the word 5 times. Peter 8 times in both epistles. By far, John uses the word more often than any other New Testament writer. John employs kosmos 78 times in his gospel, 23 times in his first epistle, and only one time in 2 John, for a total of 102 times.

[2] Friberg, Friberg, and Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 235.

[3] Tacitus, Tacitus: The Histories and The Annals: English Translation, ed. G. P. Goold, trans. Clifford H. Moore and John Jackson, vol. 4, The Loeb Classical Library (London; Cambridge, MA: William Heinemann Ltd; Harvard University Press, 1925–1937), 283.

[4] Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Luke & John, 342. Barnes believes the context indicates that it would be appropriate to understand the statement as “they would not have been guilty of this kind of sin.”

Gerald L. Borchert, John 12–21, 157.  “The argument here, therefore, is a reduction of the issue to a basic alternative, which might offer a slight loophole for escape. But since the facts are totally different, even that alternative is not possible. The verdict is absolutely clear. Jesus did come, the Gospel was presented, the people have been disobedient, and therefore they are guilty of sin. Mark this conclusion well because it does not merely apply to Jews!”

Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John, 821–822. “the world’s “sin” comes to expression only in its rejection of him, and consequently of God the Father. Although sin was obviously present long before Jesus came into the world (the devil, after all, was a murderer and a liar “from the beginning,” 8:44), it was somehow not counted as sin until the coming of Jesus brought it “to light,” as it were (see 3:19). In short, there was plenty of sin before Jesus came, but no formal attribution of guilt.”

Carson, The Gospel According to John, 526. “Rather, by coming and speaking to them Jesus incited the most central and controlling of sins: rejection of God’s gracious revelation, rebellion against God, decisive preference for darkness rather than light . . . Rejection of Jesus’ words (v. 22) and works (v. 24) is thus the rejection of the clearest light, the fullest revelation; and therefore it incurs the most central, deep-stained guilt.”

[5] H. A. Ironside, Addresses on the Gospel of John (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1942), 684–85.