Paradoxically, the most sublime teaching on the reality of God – that He is the source and spirating substance of Love – provokes many who hear it to hatred. Jesus is hated because His Word powerfully breaks down the worldly and all too human facades that encumber the mystery of God. This is the world which John counts as the enemy of Jesus and of all who keep His words. When Jesus’ Word breaks through our minds for the first time we grasp in a flash what is to be gained by laying hold of Him. That is the gift of faith. As we hold onto His Word we discover the presence of Its enemy: the world.
The Word would bring life to the world, but the world rejects the Word. The world is moved by sin, indifference, indulgence, pride, etc. – and the world is not only an external reality against which Christians struggle, but an internal one. Our own flesh even persecutes the Word sown in our hearts, “the flesh lusts against the spirit – the two are directly opposed.” We welcome the Word to the very core of our existence, to the throne of our hearts, and He begins expelling from His throne therein, every inclination and vestige of the enemy. The disciple of Christ worships the One seated on the throne of his own heart, (“the kingdom of God is within you”) until “all things are brought into subjection under his feet… and God becomes all in all.” Suffering external persecutions for the Word leads to the defeat of our most immediate and dangerous enemy: the worldliness we carry within.
How grave is the case of a Christian if, as a servant, he is unwilling to suffer when his master first suffered! How serious it is that we should be unwilling to suffer for our own sins, when he who had no sin of his own suffered for us! The Son of God suffered that he might make us sons [children] of God, and yet we who are human sons will not suffer so that we may continue to be sons of God! If we suffer from the world’s hatred, Christ first endured the world’s hatred. If we suffer reproaches in this world, if exile, if tortures, the maker and Lord of the world experienced harder things than these.
Let none of you, beloved, be so terrified by the fear of future persecution or the coming of the threatening antichrist that you are not found armed for all things by the preaching of the gospel and its commands—and by the heavenly warnings. Antichrist is coming, but above him Christ comes also. The enemy goes about and rages, but the Lord immediately follows to avenge our sufferings and our wounds. The adversary is enraged and threatens, but there is One who can deliver us from his hands.1
That which is promised to us is already present with you, and the object of your prayers is with you. You are of this world and yet not in this world. This age has held you but has not been able to retain you.2
GREGORY THE GREAT:
For the disparaging of the perverse [toward us] is our praise. There is nothing wrong in not pleasing those who do not please God. For no one can by one and the same act please God and the enemies of God. He proves himself no friend to God who pleases his enemy. And he whose soul is in subjection to the Truth will have to contend with the enemies of that Truth.3
Before blessed Paul, who himself had received circumcision, sent Timothy to teach the Jews, he first circumcised him in order that Timothy, as teacher, might be more acceptable to his audience. So Paul [actually] engaged in circumcision in order to abolish it. He knew why he had circumcised Timothy but chose not to disclose his reasons to the disciples. In fact, if they had known that he had circumcised him with the intention of abolishing circumcision, they would have not listened to anything Timothy had to say, and all the progress he had achieved would have been lost. Indeed, their ignorance was quite useful. As long as they believed that he circumcised Timothy in order to preserve the law, they generously received him and his doctrine. Therefore, by receiving [that doctrine] little by little, and by being taught, they abandoned their old customs. However, this would never have happened if they had known the reason from the beginning. In fact, if they had known, they would have opposed the circumcision and by opposing it they would have remained in their previous error.4
- LETTER 55.6–7. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 179). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CONCERNING VIRGINS 1.9.52. Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 180). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON EZEKIEL 1.9.14 Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2007). John 11–21 (p. 180). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CATENA ON THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 16.1–3. Martin, F., & Smith, E. (Eds.). (2006). Acts (pp. 197–198). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.