Are Christians Always Supposed to be Hated?

“Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904), "The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer"
Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904), "The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer" (photo: Register Files)

I’ve got a close friend that I discuss spiritual matters with on a regular basis. For the most part, we see eye to eye on matters of the faith. He’s a lapsed Catholic turned Fundamentalist, which sparks many conversations about the Faith, but our differences don’t stop us from mutual fellowship. We both have a love for Christ, desire deeply to follow his will, and have a love for God’s word.

Recently, I was explaining some personal difficulties in my interactions with others close to us and after some back and forth dialogue he mentioned that, despite all the ways we can analyze the situation and try to engage others in a loving way, we as Christians are not meant for this world and being hated is as much a part of that experience as being loved by some.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard someone refer to this value or opinion. And I don’t disagree with saying it has biblical foundations.

Matthew 5:11-12: Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 10:17-18: Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles.

Matthew 24:9: Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.

John 15:18-19: If the world hates 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, therefore the world hates you.

Certainly, the imminent hate of the world has biblical foundations and history attests to the continual presence of persecution to the faithful. Notwithstanding this, I think there is folly in applying this idea with too broad of a stroke.

I often see this in the online Christian community. Many writers and commenters know the Bible says that if they preach the gospel they will be hated—so when any hatred comes, they think “I must be doing something right,” making them more hostile to their audience and leading people on all sides of the argument to dig their heels in deeper.

I think I’ve fallen victim to this in one way or another as well. In my stubbornness, I’ve prooftexted verses like this in order to encourage myself. In any case, it’s a deep ditch to get stuck in—a sure hazard for all Catholics to avoid. (Speaking in my own personal opinion, I think this is one of the contributing attitudes to the stubbornness of many of our separated brethren.)

In addition to the eventual and perhaps frequent hated Christians will experience, the Bible also depicts Christians as being loved in such a way. First of all, Paul reminds us, “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16) God’s spirit, the Holy Spirit, is host to several fruits which Paul annotates as well: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

Should people of the world hate these fruits? No. These fruits are the very hands and feet of diplomacy to non-believers and those who haven’t come to full communion with the Church! Exercising these fruits of the Spirit are right in line with the Bible verses that tell us to be gentle in correcting others, and to defend our faith with gentleness and reverence:

2 Timothy 2:24-25: And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness.

1 Peter 3:15: Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence

There’s plenty more in the Bible about the importance of demonstrating virtue. Paul instructs Titus on the behavioral virtues of all to be appointed as priests (1:5-9), and more to Timothy on the conduct of bishops (1 Tim. 3:1-7). And Jesus’ words are prominently laid out as well: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Perhaps his words about peacemaking and mercygiving in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:7, 9) demonstrate some reciprocity as well.

Certainly, if loving each other is how we are to be known, and the Bible instructs a number of virtuous behaviors that will build a reputation of blamelessness, Christians should expect, in some regard, to be well thought of. That only makes sense: the world expects Christians—by virtue of these teachings—to hold ourselves to meritorious levels of sanctity, which anyone should appreciate lest they envy or be jealous.

Is there a disagreement, then, on how Christians should expect to the treated? No. There’s not. The fundamental reason Christians should expect to be hated is not for the way we act, but for what we believe: Christ is the Son of God; Christ alone is means to obtaining heaven; Christ instructs us to eat his flesh. Add to this the countercultural values we have for the family, sexuality, education, and the dignity of every human being, and you’ve got the critical recipe for occasional hate, and continued persecution through generations.

But we shouldn’t put the blame on our identity in Christ when people hate us for any number of other reasons. Sometimes we’re not very merciful and have little peace with others. Sometimes we’re downright unpleasant to be around. In my recent run ins with folks, yeah, I think my personality and decision making was more at fault than was my status as a Christian. It’s vital to have that sort of examination of conscience. We should ask ourselves, “Am I being hated for something I could do differently, for an imperfection, or for something that is really hurting other people? Or, have I done everything in my power to remain blameless, to seek peace and goodwill, and am still hated for what I believe?”

St. Peter makes the importance of self-examination abundantly clear when he instructs to “keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Pet. 3:16).