She glared at me for the entire two hours. I didn’t know her and I didn’t know her story, but I knew this high schooler wasn’t happy. Apparently her mother had dragged her to my apologetics seminar at a local church in Oregon and sat her in the front row, leaving me to cope with that scowl. I argued passionately for truth, the reliability of the Bible, and Jesus as the only way to God. She remained unmoved.
After 11 years of speaking for Stand to Reason, I’ve come to expect hostile reactions. People do not love the truth, they resist it. The Apostle Paul says our natural reaction is to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). I’ve seen it time and again. I remember the antagonistic atheist student at a private Christian school in New Zealand. I remember the angry members of S.A.N.E. (Students for A Non-religious Ethos), the student atheist club at Berkeley. I remember the hostile atheists and skeptics in the audience during my debate at Weber State University.
Even Christians will get upset during my talks. There was the Christian parent at a “Who’s Waiting for Your Kids?” seminar, disputing my view of reasonable faith. There were the high schoolers at Hume Lake camp, upset about my views on homosexuality. There was the frustrated young man arguing that inerrancy was essential to the truth of Christianity. These are just a small sampling of the upset reactions I’ve received.
I certainly don’t enjoy having people upset with me. I’d much rather people walk away from a talk feeling encouraged and excited, and of course, many do. However, Jesus’ teaching should create a healthy expectation of conflict when we live for Him and proclaim His name to a lost world.
In John 15:12-17, Jesus instructs the disciples concerning their relationship to one another: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (v. 17). Our relationships with other believers should be marked by love—the kind of love Jesus has for us. And you might expect that if the world looks in and sees that kind of love amongst believers, they would naturally be drawn to it. However, Jesus alerts us to the typical reaction of the world: “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. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also” (vv. 17-20).
According to Jesus, we should expect the world to be upset with us. Yes, even if Christians are the most loving people imaginable. Why? Because the world suppresses the truth in its sin. Unbelievers trip over Jesus because He is “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” Why? “They stumble because they are disobedient to the word” (1 Peter 2:8).
So what should be the response of Christ’s followers to the world’s anger and hatred? First, be gracious. “Let your speech always be with grace” (Colossians 4:6). Second, rejoice! In Acts 5, we find the Apostles in custody, appearing before the authorities. They are beaten and then warned “not to speak in the name of Jesus.” How did they respond? “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:41-42). We return love for evil, but we never stop proclaiming the truth.
In a world that hates the truth of Jesus, we are raising up a new generation of His followers to share the truth, boldly yet graciously. As we train young people to know what they believe and why they believe, they grow in their knowledge of the truth and thus, grow in their boldness. As they know more of the truth of Jesus, they are transformed by that truth and grow in their graciousness. They become ambassadors who look like Jesus, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).