Luke 6:22, 23, 26
22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.
23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.
26 Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.
This is such a foreign way of thinking! Elsewhere, Jesus tells us that we ought to expect persecution. For some, this was (and is today) intense physical suffering. This passage does not describe physical suffering, but still! Here’s something you should count as blessing: People will hate you. They won’t want to be around you. They’ll say horrible things to you and about you. All this because you love and obey Jesus. On the other hand, if people generally speak well of you, that’s a warning sign.
I asked in an earlier post why we weren’t being persecuted. I didn’t intend to limit that to just physical persecution. Verbal abuse, rejection, etc., are real types of persecution. But in my opinion and experience, the periodic op/ed, the occasional movie or TV show, the “documentaries” that challenge the historic authenticity of Christianity – these just don’t rise to the level of “persecution”.
The gospel is offensive. Whether we preach it verbally or with our lives, it is offensive. It begins with judgment and condemnation, and for those who will not receive it, it also ends there. You cannot faithfully preach the gospel without being offensive.
I don’t mean to limit that to pronouncing God’s judgment for man’s sins. This is more than “Admit you are a sinner, Believe Jesus died for your sins, Confess Him as Lord.” The offense of the gospel permeates the message of the gospel. The inherent offense is not “admit that you have done bad things” but “admit that your entire life is wicked.” You have to accept that you’ve lived as an enemy of God. In that sense, even the offer of grace is an implicit judgment. To offer justification and regeneration means one is guilty and needs justification, but – even more significantly – that one is _wicked_ and needs regeneration.
We do not need to go out of our way to be offensive – it is quite possible to be hated and maligned just because you’re a jerk. You do not prove your holiness by being disliked. But Jesus says we will be hated and maligned just for obeying and serving Him, and I think we aren’t being hated and maligned. Maybe there are a few really exceptional cases where some really nasty folks are vicious, but in general we are pretty much left alone.
It might be interesting to speculate on the reasons for this, but I want to focus on just one thing in particular. Jesus told us to expect to be mistreated, rejected, and unpopular. But today, we take popularity as a sign of _success_ and unpopularity as a sign of _failure_. Various strategies for evangelism have told us that what we really need to do is get people to like us. Build relationships. Do things to attract the unchurched. We introduce surveys and marketing strategies to guide our decisions.
I assume the proponents of this have only the purest motives. But the fact remains that Jesus told us we are blessed when we mistreated, but we judge our success largely by our popularity. That’s true for individual relationships, churches, artists, and so on on. We think that the key to being an effective witness for Jesus is to be really nice and moral, have a bubbly personality, and people will like you. An effective church, we’re told, determines what the unregenerate unchurched people in the community want, then cater to that. Otherwise you are irrelevant. If a Christian band can be popular enough to be played on secular stations and even open at Lollapalooza, well, that’s great.
Jesus said that if you are despised, rejected, and persecuted for His sake, you are blessed. And if all men speak well of you, woe to you! And the church has gotten it backwards today.