Sunday, September 18, 2016

Simply Jesus Pt. 21: “If the World Hates You…”

Colin Kaepernick has caused quite a stir lately. The San Francisco 49er’s quarterback’s refusal to stand during the National Anthem has produced reactions ranging from hate to pride, from disdain to admiration.

I’ve seen and heard many Christians over the last couple of weeks blast Kaepernick and his actions because they feel he should have more respect for the flag. But regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, even if you aren’t moved at all by his actions, imagine for a minute if the federal government arrested him for treason and put him to death. How would you feel about that?

In fact, during the first 300 years of Christianity, countless Christians in the Roman Empire were put to death under the charge of treason for refusing to give what was viewed as appropriate honor to the State.

In Rome, all religions were equally valid as long as they made room for each other and didn’t get in the way of the chief gods: The State and the Emperor. Throughout those first three centuries, Christians were often forced to make a difficult choice.

Lose your job, or salute Caesar and the State. Let your family starve, or salute Caesar and the State. Lose your life, or salute Caesar and the State. Let your friends and family be tortured, or salute Caesar and the State.

There are many explicit examples I could cite, but take a minute to read these two descriptions of the plight of Christians around the Empire in the middle and end of the second century:

We are charged with being irreligious people and, what is more, irreligious in respect to the emperors since we refuse to pay religious homage to their imperial majesties and to their genius and refuse to swear by them. High treason is a crime of offense against the Roman religion. It is a crime of open irreligion, a raising of the hand to injure the deity. …

Christians are considered to be enemies of the State. … We wage a battle when we are challenged to face the tribunals of law. There in peril of life, we give testimony for the truth. … “You do not,” so they tell us, “worship the gods, nor do you make sacrifices to the emperors.” Accordingly, we are charged with sacrilege and high treason. We are publicly accused of being atheists and criminals who are guilty of high treason. – Tertullian: To the Nations (197CE) & Justin Martyr: Second Apology (160CE)

My stomach turns when I read the pages upon pages of the accounts of Christians staying faithful to Christ in the face of unspeakable persecution by the State. At the same time, my faith is strengthened.

Additionally, each time I come across those stories, I’m also reminded of Jesus’ words to His disciples in John:

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 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. – John 15:18-19

In the middle of the third century, a Christian enemy of the State named Cyprian wrote that it should be no surprise to any follower of Jesus that the world hates us.

It was predicted that the world would hold us in abhorrence, and that it would stir up persecutions against us, and that no new thing is happening to the Christians, since from the beginning of the world the good have suffered, and the righteous have been oppressed and slain by the unrighteous. The Lord in the Gospel forewarns and foretells, saying: “If the world hates you, know that it first hated Me. … And again: “The hour will come, that every one that kills you will think that he is doing God service.” – Cyprian 250CE, Volume 1, p. 878 [CD-ROM]

The older I get and the more traveling and research I do, the more I have come to believe that the main rival to Christianity is the religion of the State. After all, who gives you the freedoms you enjoy? Who has given you the land you built your house upon? Who is ultimately to thank for you living in an environment where you can achieve your dreams?

See, the problem is that though these questions should be answered with, “God,” they are all too often answered with, “America.” But America isn't the only culprit, is it? Because if you grow up in Canada, Mozambique or North Korea you’ll probably be brought up to think the same way.

Interestingly, the health of the Church in these places is often tied to how the Church is treated there. For instance, do you know what country has the fastest growing evangelical population in the world?

Iran – the ninth most dangerous place to be a Christian.

There are no free standing, marked Christian churches in Iran because it is illegal to be a Christian in Iran. All of the churches there are house churches, and the leaders are frequently being arrested and condemned.

Christians are truly hated in Iran, yet the kingdom of God is advancing like wildfire. Christianity has long been the dominant religious preference of the majority of Americans, and we are a fat, rich and idolatrous bunch. We have a long, complicated relationship of both using and being used by the State. The result? The kingdom of darkness advances with remarkable ease through our homes and churches.  

It's true that there are many differences between what the early Church went through and the whole Kaepernick saga. However, I strongly believe that we American Christians could learn a few valuable lessons from what has transpired with the young man. If either the State loves us or we’re in love with the State, then perhaps we have lost sight of our mission. And finally, if we feel inclined to do harm to those who we feel are disrespecting the State, then maybe we should ask God to search our hearts.


  1. I wholehearted agree with you regarding how we are to treat those that are standing up to the State. I find it hard to believe that any Christian would even care whether a football player sits or stands during the national anthem. The way I see it is Christians all over the world are still after 2000+ years still at odds with the State. We see it here in America daily. Christians of all denominations need to stand united as One Holy Church and be hated by the world together.