In This World You Will Have Trouble: The Reality Of Persecution (John 15-17)





John 15:18 – 16:3 “If you find that the world despises you, remember that before it despised you, it first despised Me. If you were a product of the world order, then it would love you. But you are not a product of the world because I have taken you out of it, and it despises you for that very reason. Don’t forget what I have spoken to you: ‘A servant is not greater than the master.’ If they persecute me, they will persecute you… The time will come when they will kick you out of the synagogue because some believe God desires them to execute you as an act of faithful service.”

John 16:32-33  “Be aware that a time is coming when you will be scattered like seeds…In this world, you will be plagued with times of trouble, but you need not fear; I have triumphed over this corrupt world order.”

John 17:14-14  “I have given them Your word; and the world has despised them because they are not products of the world, in the same way that I am not a product of the corrupt world order. Do not take them out of this world; protect them from the evil one.”


Jesus was speaking to his disciples on the night of his arrest. Basically he was telling them, “Expect persecution.” He was right. Hebrews 11 gives quite a list of what happened to not only these disciples but many who claimed allegiance to Jesus: wandered in deserts and mountains, lived in caves, tortured, sawn in two, jailed, flogged, chained, put to death by the sword and stoned. They all were killed but John, who was terribly tortured and imprisoned.

In this specific warning to his disciples we see a broader warning to all who will be his disciples. We may not all experience the exact persecution the disciples or the early church did, but because the Kingdom of God is diametrically opposed to the Kingdoms of the World, those who love the world will despise followers of Jesus; the church can expect to be despised, broken apart, scattered and persecuted. Though Jesus has overcome the world, “in this world you will have trouble.”  “Trouble” of some sort is clearly a reality that has haunted followers of Christ throughout history, including what is happening to the global church today.

The main word translated as ‘persecution’ in the New Testament means “the hunt to bring someone down like an animal.” It is used in ancient and biblical Greek in reference to leaders such as the Roman Emperor Decius (ad 250-251), who killed thousands of Christians who refused to offer sacrifices in his name. ([1]

Persecution is oppression or harassment resulting in punishment for the sake of Christ (Matthew 13:21; Mark 4:17; Mark 10:30; Acts 8:1; Acts 13:50; Romans 8:35; plural, 2 Corinthians 12:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Timothy 3:11). This could take several forms.

This graph from Open Doors shows how this is happening all over the world right now; here’s a good summary from Relevant magazine:[2]

“In Northern Nigeria, Boko Haram has waged a years-long campaign of violence, mass abductions, rapes and village raids against local communities. In many cases, they’ve targeted Christians, as well as more moderate Muslims. Schoolgirls who have been captured have been forced to convert to Islam before being made to become child brides and even suicide bombers.

In parts of the Middle East, where Christianity was first born, faith communities are being eradicated by ISIS and their radical brand of Islam. Even countless peaceful Muslims who do not maintain the same radical ideology of ISIS militants have come under attack…. There have been reports of Christian aid workers being publicly beaten and even made to watch their own children being tortured in an effort to get them to renounce their faith, before being publicly crucified.

There have been some estimates that Christianity could be completely eradicated in Iraq—once home to more than 1 million Christ followers—in just the next five years. This week, Christian churches in an area of Indonesia under Sharia law have been burned and destroyed. In North Korea, people of faiths that the official government does not recognize face imprisonment and even death. According to some estimates, global violence against Christians has never been higher.”

Did you notice a particular nation that was missing in the Open Doors chart and in Relevant's summary?  The United States. We have been fortunate in that we don’t even get noticed at all from organizations that keep track of persecution around the world. However, there is a valid concern about a growing hostility against Christianity here in the United States, so let’s take a moment to clarify what persecution is not, and then we will talk about the trouble we as Christians do face in the United States, and how we should respond.

We are not persecuted when we are stopped from saying “Merry Christmas” at Wal-Mart or forced to endure Starbucks’ changing cups. It’s a sign that our culture is shifting in its understanding of the importance of and accommodation for Christianity, but no one is oppressing us. Nobody in the Middle East is praying that our latte comes in a more Christian container.

We are not persecuted when we are held to a common standard of expected conduct.  If you spend all your time at work preaching instead of working, you might lose your job, and that won’t be persecution. You are failing to do the job you were hired to do.  If you want to wear a T-shirt to school or work with a message about Jesus and your employers don’t let you because they have a “no messages on T-shirts” policy, you aren’t being persecuted. No one in Iraq is praying that Christians in America can wear T-shirts with words on them wherever they want. They are praying that they won’t be decapitated for their faith.

We are not persecuted when we have to defend our faith to skeptics. That’s to be expected, and nowhere does the Bible talk of that as persecution. By the way – it’s important that we do this with grace, or we will think that people are responding with hostility because we are Christians when they are actually responding that way because we are jerks.

There are some popular Christian bloggers and Youtube personalities who post really inflammatory things. It’s no surprise they get a lot of hateful push back. It’s hard to tell how much of that is because they are abrasive and mean vs. how much is because people simply disagree. Disagreement is not persecution. No one in Saudi Arabia is praying that atheists stop trolling your message board. They are praying that their children won’t be beaten to death for attending church.

We are not persecuted when we are offended by anti-Christian messages. The early church lived in cultures that were pagan in ways that are hard for us to imagine, yet the Bible does not claim that the presence of sin and/or gleeful sinners is persecution. It was a source of trials and temptations, but that’s different. We are not persecuted because Hollywood is more corrupt and more powerful than ever. We are not persecuted because advertisements constantly undermine our moral view of the world or because pop music glorifies just about everything but the Kingdom of God. That’s just called a mission field, and we are called to weep for those who are lost and then go to them and preach the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. No one in the Sudan is praying that Bill Maher stop making silly documentaries about religion or that we be spared from obnoxious Hardees commercials. They are praying that, if they make it to a refugee camp, they aren’t killed in front of their children.

By God’s grace, the hostility we can currently expect in the United States is nothing compared to what is happening in the Middle East. At this point, there is no one in the West who can look our Christian brothers and sisters from the Middle East in the eyes and even come close to being able to say honesty, “I feel your pain.”

And yet…

The First Liberty Institute issued a report this year called ““Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America” that “documents more than 1,200 legal cases involving persons who believe they have been discriminated against because of their religious beliefs.” [3]  I’ve been saying “hostility” because a) they use it, and b) it’s a good word for the growing opposition in the West.

  • Christians in the West are increasingly denied promotions or jobs because of their committed walk with Christ;[4]
  • Christians in the West are increasingly sued or jailed for taking a principled, conscientious stand for biblical morality[5]
  • Christians in the West are increasingly paying an academic cost for their Christian principles[6]
  • Christians in the West are increasingly portrayed as dangerous .[7] 

So how does the Bible tell us to respond?

I am going to offer four principles that apply no matter what level of ‘trouble’ we face for our commitment to Christ. Though we don’t face the persecution in the nations highlighted by Voice of the Martyrs, we are increasingly facing trouble, and we have the opportunity to learn how to respond well so that, if and when the more radical forms of persecution come, we have been training ourselves on what to do. So let’s talk about living like Jesus so that we can prepare ourselves to suffer and die for Him if we are ever called to do so. This will be brief, because I want to let some voices of those who are persecuted bring this home.

  • Love our enemies. There is no getting around the biblical demand to forgive and even pray for those who are hostile to or persecute you (Matthew 5:44). If you can’t forgive someone for the emotional pain you felt from that confrontational Facebook quote about how silly you are for being a Christian, it’s going to be really hard to forgive someone when financial or physical pain is inflicted on you or your family. We need to identity those around us we see as being against us and practice loving them as Christ would love them.
  • Don’t seek revenge.  God wants us to surrender the desire for revenge in our hearts, but at minimum we must surrender the desire to revenge with out hands.  We must practice not lashing out and making sure a person or company “gets what they deserve” when there is hostility targeting Christian beliefs of moral stances. It’s one thing to take a principled stand and boycott organizations whose moral offense finally reaches a level where we believe we must take a stand.  It’s also perfectly appropriate to use everything within our legal reach to fight for our rights (I’m thinking of how Paul constantly used his status as a Roman to get out of persecution).  So I’m not talking about  taking a principled social stand or using the protection our legal system provides. If you can write well, write. If you can speak well, speak out. If you can vote, vote. If you can repost and article, repost. Be present and be heard. But we can’t do this out of revenge and bitterness. Do we pray for the salvation and healing of the world even as we boycott? Do we long for their redemption even as we wrestle in the courts for our freedoms? We are going to have more and more opportunities to bold in our defense of justice and truth; we must be equally passionate about doing so with grace, love and humility. [8]
  • Show mercy: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head" ( Romans 12:20 ).  Most commentators agree this was a way of saying that repaying hostility with love is the only response allowed by Christians; in so doing, their righteous response will pierce the conscience of their enemy. Somebody needs to point the way; somebody must break the cycle of hostility or persecution. It should be us. We must learn now what it means to care for those who don’t care for us. Once again, we must figure this out while all that’s coming our way is harsh words and hateful attitudes,
  • Look to Jesus, "the author and finisher of our faith" ( Hebrews 12:2 ).  Rather than explain this last point, I will let some who have gone through persecution explain it.

 “The Nine: Overcoming ISIS” 



[1] Persecution is not a trial or temptation. A trial is “trouble sent by God and serving to test or prove one's faith, holiness, character,”  Temptation is “an enticement to sin, arising from  outward circumstances, within, or from Satan. (Luke 8:13; 1 Corinthians 10:13; James 1:12; 1 Timothy 6:9; Luke 4:13).  (



[4]  Hostility related to jobs

[5] Hostility against a principled, conscientious stand

[6] Hostility in academia

[7] Christians are dangerous

[8] Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek, walk an extra mile and give up one’s cloak is an interesting one (Matthew 5:38-42 ). If you read carefully, a Roman needed to backhand the Jewish person, a form of violence that also involved contempt since they backhanded someone inferior. The Jews were to ask for a punch on the other cheek, asking, in effect, to be struck as an equal. They are subverting the assumptions of their oppressors. By giving them the cloak with the coat, they were stripping themselves of everything, giving a visual to what the oppressor was doing. By going the extra mile, they were getting the Roman who conscripted their service into trouble, because Romans were severely punished for exceeding one mile. They did not lash out, but they did not give up. They responded in a way meant to open the eyes of their oppressors so they could see the hostility and oppression in which they engaged. And if that failed, and they just got beat more and lost all their clothes, James told them to count it as joy (James 1:2); Paul said, “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)