“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11) “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” (Isaiah 53:3) “You will be hated by everyone because of me.” (Matthew 10:22) “What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:15)
Jesus had enemies. Yes, the environment then was challenging and hostile to Christianity – possibly more than it is today. But even decades ago in small towns across America where “Christian” was the only acceptable social status, there’s a problem when everyone likes you. It’s impossible to please all who follow Jesus and all who don’t without compromise. Individuals or churches who don’t have any enemies are doing something wrong, to the degree that it calls into question their commitment to discipleship, and maybe even the authenticity of their faith.
How could imitating Jesus’ humility and love – the essence and entirety of the Father’s character – ruffle anyone’s feathers? Even when those traits are lived out conscientiously by ardent believers, those who’ve declared independence from God often have visceral reactions to the Gospel for deep-seated reasons (e.g. disappointment, guilt or control). Jesus promises that following Him will put us in harm’s way, and not only in nations that jail and kill Christians.
However, there are good and bad causes for having enemies – and friends. To resolve any confusion, Jesus clarifies His beatitude, “blessed are those who are persecuted” by adding “because of righteousness.” (Matthew 5:10) More Christians are hated for being religious than “righteous”. In recent years, Christians have made more enemies than they probably should have – hastening the arrival of post-Christian America and the Age of Decadence.
Making Enemies the Wrong Way
When our faith is about anything other than Jesus, we’re certain to make enemies – for all the wrong reasons. Contemporary American church growth models focused on attracting and retaining members have alienated far too many non-believers by shifting the loyalties and priorities of Christians from discipleship and compassion to…
- Legalism – A sense of moral superiority without the sanctification needed to back it up is a dangerous combination, a prescription for hypocrisy. Jesus never fails but we certainly do, particularly without a sturdy foundation of surrender and accountability. Yet those are burdens few churches concerned about growth or survival would dare expect of those they want to come back next Sunday. Churchgoers then overestimate their own morality by comparing themselves to non-believers who they somehow expect to obey the Bible without knowing its Author, consequently making enemies by pointing fingers.
- Church – To the extent that church became known more as a place than people, Christians felt less personal responsibility for living out the Great Commission. To ease the burden on church consumers and breed loyalty, members were simply asked to share their testimony, invite friends to church, and let the “professionals” handle evangelism. Strategies to attract and retain sowed seeds of superiority and division instead. At the same time, churches scaled back essential practices (like disciple-making and local missions) that would have resulted in Christianity having far fewer enemies.
- Leaders – Centralization around pastors and personalities risks unhealthy dependence and inevitable disappointment when they fail to live up to expectations. Thanks to Jesus, the proverbial veil was torn and all have direct access to the Father. However, reconstructing hierarchies and revering “celebrities” has fueled the rise of the “Dones” (with church) who found other role models when church leaders let them down.
- Politics – Jesus would not have associated with a political party, but most Christians do. He modeled dual citizenship with primary allegiance to an eternal Kingdom. Our affiliation with parties and politicians puts us at immediate odds with those on the other side of the aisle. When we politicize faith, “progressives” make assumptions and assign labels before we have a chance to explain that Jesus was not a liberal or conservative, and that both parties care about the poor (but differ on whether the private or public sector should bear primary responsibility for helping them).
- Country – Christian nationalism contends that America’s founding was Christ-centered and we are “chosen” people, more blessed than others. Regardless of the extent to which any of that may be true, it opens the door to accusations of historical injustice, intolerance and racism that are difficult to reconcile with the values we espouse. Just as favoring a political party can make enemies, emphasizing one nation’s advantages over another rebuilds the barriers between “us” and “them” that Jesus broke down.
The Nones (no religion) are largely a product of division within the Church and judgment of those outside it. As the saying goes, their “problem isn’t with Jesus – it’s His followers they can’t stand.”
Making Enemies the Right Way
No matter how loving disciples of Jesus Christ may be, many will resent them. In fact, the more we practice unconditional (Agape) love the more out of step we become with society’s self-centered definition of “love”, which demands applause for others’ immorality to justify its own. The teachings of Jesus go against nearly every fiber of our being and the core tenets of secular humanism – loving those who hate you, serving expecting nothing in return, and suffering for a cause greater than ourselves. Those who hit the snooze button on God’s wake up calls will reject His teachings – and His messengers as well. But that doesn’t absolve us of our mission and duty to…
- Imitate Christ – Jesus modeled living to please the Father, not fearing those who hate or ignore Him, but faithful obedience will unavoidably offend and threaten prevailing powers.
- Share the Gospel – The mere mention of Jesus’ name is seen as rude today, an attempt to impose unwanted beliefs, but can we remain quiet when eternal life hangs in the balance?
- Address Sin – It’s not “good news” if there’s no bad news, no need for salvation if no danger awaits, but “sin” has been removed from the vernacular of “decent” society.
- Speak Truth – There’s no getting around the biblical characterization of human nature as evil, but it flies in the face of culture’s relativistic tag lines of “being true to myself” and “living my truth”.
- Offer Hope – The hopeless search the world for what it can never provide but refuse to admit their desperation or need for God’s grace, mercy and hope through Christ.
Prayer, Care and Share lifestyles glorify God and bless everyone we come in contact with but engender ridicule and anger among those wishing to continue living for self without remorse.
Making Friends the Wrong Way
Passive, private and pensive believers try to make too many friends or worry too much about having enemies. Yes, Christians should be loving, kind and caring. However, there’s no love without confrontation, kindness without controversy, and caring without concern. There’s no greater act of love and compassion than leading someone toward Jesus, yet no good deed goes unpunished. If everyone likes us when Jesus said the world will hate us, then it’s likely we’re…
- Conforming – Fitting in to keep a job and friendships under false pretenses when Jesus was authentic and countercultural, playing to an audience of One
- Compromising – Keeping up appearances (around churchgoers) without surrendering to Christ, therefore succumbing when tempted to cut corners (around non-believers)
- Abdicating – Leaving evangelism and discipleship to pastors and those more “gifted”, or pious deference to God’s exclusive power to save, to conveniently avoid stepping on toes
- Hiding – Staying silent about our faith if disclosure would threaten our social standing
- Reprioritizing – Measuring “success” around “good” things like family and tithing rather than “great” things like personal responsibility for the Great Commandment and Great Commission
None of this is intended to imply we should be offensive or try to make people upset at us. Our job is live consistent with our values in word and deed, letting the chips fall where they may.
Making Friends the Right Way
Even non-Christians will gravitate to true disciples unwilling to cave to fear and pressure, wanting advice from the unwavering when their foundation is crumbling. When those Gospel opportunities present themselves, Jesus taught us not to see those crying out for help as distractions or interruptions but as life-changing chances for…
- Prayer – Realizing that we can do nothing of eternal value without the Lord
- Love – Pouring out the love we’ve been given so generously
- Hospitality – Being genuinely interested to be interesting; fully engaged to be engaging
- Humility – Confessing our faults to show our dire need for Jesus as well
- Compassion – Serving faithfully, not transactionally, to demonstrate God’s enduring love
Those endearing qualities open doors to deeper relationships that build trust, breaking down the defenses of those who once considered themselves “enemies of the cross of Christ”.
It’s Your Turn
Does everyone like you? Why or why not? Our next post will address the reasons, good and bad, why people like or dislike churches. Please share any thoughts on that topic…