Tell most Christians that the world hates them, and they will likely just shrug. The world has always hated Christians. Didn't Jesus tell us that the world would hate us?
We must be doing something right.
It is true that the world has essentially always hated its Christians. It was true at the very beginning, with guys like Saul going about persecuting "the Way." It is true today, in the West, in particular. But it was a very different kind of hate that Saul had for Ananias than the hate that today's world has for us. And Jesus, in His caution, was talking about Saul's kind of hate, not this world's kind of hate.
See, Saul hated Ananias's kind of Christian because these Christians were a threat to Judaism. They were doing something fundamentally right that was drawing people away from the synagogue and into the church. They were generously giving, helping those who were often left out of Judaic aid. They were praying faithfully, singing loud, and loving well. There were a few bugs to be worked out, of course, as is true of all new ventures; the first Christians were not perfect, but they were getting a lot of things right. And they were hated for the way they threatened to turn this world upside-down.
Fast-forward a few thousand years, and this is not the reason that the church is hated today. Sure, there is some of this mentality left. There are some who hate the church for the threat that it poses to the world's order and systems. But by and large, the reason this world hates the church is not because we're getting something fundamentally right; it's because we're getting even our own theology fundamentally wrong.
It's because the world knows we're supposed to be the ones generously giving, but Christians have become the stingiest segment of all society. We have more rules on who we help and how than the world does.
It's because the world knows we're supposed to be praying faithfully, but the world knows we pray only frantically, calling on God because we desperately, urgently, immediately need a token of good luck or good faith and not entering into true relationship with Him.
It's because the world knows we're supposed to be singing loud, but we've locked our doors and windows so tight that no one can hear the music any more. We've cloistered ourselves away, afraid, maybe, or whatever.
It's because the world knows we're supposed to be loving well, but let's be honest - today's Christians are known more for their hate than their love.
This is not what Jesus meant when He said the world would hate us. This is not prophecy coming true. This is not something to be proud of.
We are getting it so wrong that the world hates the joke that we've made of our own religion. This world hates us because it can't honestly hate us any more. This world is mad because we've given them nothing to be mad about. This world hates us because of our failures. That's not how it was supposed to be.
When Saul looked around and saw these men and women worshiping in this powerful new way, he raised a finger and shouted, "You! You call yourself a Christian!" in powerful accusation, in the same tone as the guards around the fire attempted to single out Peter as one of Christ's disciples.
Today, the world looks at us and simply shakes its head. "You call yourself a Christian?"
I'm not saying the world ought to love us; even Jesus said that's not going to happen. I'm not saying our Christian walk should be sunshine and rainbows; we should not be so naive. But I'm heartbroken at the number of Christians who are so darned proud of themselves that this world hates them that they don't see the difference between the hate Saul had for Christians and the hate this world has for them, that they don't see the difference between being hated for their love and being hated for their failure.
Today's church is content to keep failing because it keeps this world hating us. But that's not good enough for me. That's not what I'm called to. That's not what we're called to.
We're called to get things so fundamentally right that we pose a threat to this world, that they hate us because we're about to shake their very foundations, that they despise us because we're going to turn things upside-down. That's the church I want to be a part of. That's the church we ought to be.
Let them hate us because we love. Let them despise us because we're merciful. Let them become intolerable of our grace. Let them say, with both fear and disdain, "You! You call yourself a Christian!"
Indeed, I do.