What is the World? John 15:18-25

In John 15:18-25, Jesus warns his disciples to expect persecution from the world.

If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you… I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. – John 15:18, 19b, 20b

But what did Jesus mean by “the world”? From our modern context, it’s easy to think he meant those who don’t believe in God, in essence the secular world, but there was no such thing as a secular world in Jesus’ day. Atheism, as we think of it, didn’t exist. Jesus own words in the verses above help clarify. “The world” that will hate the disciples is the same “world” that hated and persecuted Jesus.

The persecution against Jesus came forcefully, not from unbelievers, Gentiles, or Samaritans, but rather from his own people. The Pharisees and Sadducees are our prime example. On the outside, they looked like godly men, but on the inside they were greedy, power hungry, and full of selfish ambition. John the Apostle could easily have been describing these groups when he said, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).

The persecution we should be on the look out for can’t be easily divided between the secular world and the “Christian” world. Oftentimes the hearts of those within look an awful lot like the hearts of those without. This helps explain why we see so many prominent “Christian” leaders fall. As it says in James 3:16, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

Unbelief by the unbelieving isn’t really the enemy of the Church. Envy and ambition are far more destructive forces. If we’re to take Jesus’ warning seriously, we must see that love of worldly power and influence leads even insiders to persecute God’s people. Perhaps, as Pastor Frankie mentioned on Sunday, this is why there is so much division within the Church.

Jesus goes on to say, “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.” In other words, those who were witnesses to Christ and yet chose worldly power instead are worse off than those who never knew him in the first place. This is what it looks like to know about Jesus but love the world more.

I want to draw two applications from this passage. First, we must always start by pointing the finger at ourselves. None of us are exempt from the destructive and hate-producing forces of envy and ambition. Self-examination and confessional living are absolute musts for every Christ follower, lest we go down Pharisee road.

Second, we must pay closer attention to faithfulness to Christ than to outward signs of holiness, especially when it comes to those we let speak into our lives. Jesus says that a tree is known by its fruit (Luke 6:43-45). We ought to be wary of self-styled spiritual leaders if their lives aren’t producing the fruit of the Spirit (even if their ministries look successful). And honestly, it’s near impossible to judge this in the lives of famous pastors and preachers if you don’t actually know them. Not that you can’t gain something from their teaching, but true spiritual leadership in your life should come from a pastor or mentor who knows you and who you know well enough to see the fruit of their lives.

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Leadership for Development

We had an awesome update from LFD during Quest on Sunday. Unfortunately, due to the sensitive nature of their ministry, we couldn't record the presentation. However, here are the latest prayer requests:

The coronavirus pandemic continues to present challenges for LFD and their frontline workers. Please pray the LFD frontline workers. Cases of COVID-19 are up significantly in many of the country where these frontline workers are sharing the Gospel. Some even have faced lockdown in their district and several have had to put their community ministry on hold. May our Lord protect them from being infected, grant them peace so that they can continue to spread the Gospel. Praise God the Phase One training started in mid-March, and it went smoothly. LFD field workers participated in hosting the training in many areas, including teaching. Running the training through the online requires extra energy, greater flexibility, and adaptation from both the trainers and the trainees. We ask for God's wisdom for the LFD training team so they can still take care of the trainees; spiritual needs while field visits are still impossible.

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