The churches in Asia Minor had been infiltrated by false teachers that were leading them astray about the relationship between the believer and sin. The result was that some who were genuine believers became unsure about their salvation.
In addition, these false teachers were not only indulging in their licentious sins but they also were treating members of the body with contempt and anger and even hatred. The scorn was evidently so significant that the genuine believers were left confused — they were loving others in the church body but they were being hated and ridiculed for their faith. “How could that be?” they apparently wondered.
In 1 John 3, the apostle answers that question: “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you” (v. 13). In other words, these false teachers and their deluded followers were demonstrating by their hatred their lack of genuine faith in Christ. They were acting like the world.
So John reminds his readers, “Stop being surprised that the world hates you.” The world, like Cain (v. 12) has always hated God and Christ and it always will.
John’s point is that no believer should ever be surprised (though we almost always are) when the world is hostile to us. And John is not the only biblical writer to make that assertion.
Paul warned us that persecution, as an outgrowth of hatred, would come:
- Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim. 3:12)
- But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… (2 Cor. 4:7-9)
- For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men… (1 Thess. 2:14-15)
Peter also warned us of coming persecution and hatred:
- “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Pt. 4:12–14)
Hebrews demonstrated that it has always been this way:
- “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” (Heb. 11:32–38)
And finally, Jesus promised persecution and hatred from the world:
- “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.
John 15:19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” (John 15:18-21)
- “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:11-12)
Suffering and hatred and persecution are not pleasant. But we are not to be surprised if the world hates us; when we identify with Christ by loving God’s people, we will be hated by the world that hates God, just like Cain hated God and rebelled against Him.
When we love each other, we will be mocked (at minimum) and persecuted and perhaps even killed. Instead of being concerned when the world hates us, we should be concerned when it doesn’t.
Perhaps it might be asked, does a lack of hatred from the world indicate that we have acquiesced to the world and we do not love and care for each other as we ought? Christ’s followers will be hated by the world and the greatest demonstration of our connection to Christ is our love for each other. If we aren’t hated, is it because we aren’t loving each other enough?