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I love to go to Christian conferences, partly because I love to learn and to see things from fresh perspectives, but I also love to meet new people who are already sisters and brothers in Christ. Even if our opinions on some matters differ, we are all on pretty much the same wavelength. Our beliefs are similar enough that even though we may have never met before, we are like family. Being with them gives me encouragement in my faith, knowing I am not alone. That is not true for us in every environment we enter, and it was not at all the reality for Jesus’ disciples. There were such a small number of people who were followers of Christ while He walked the earth, and so many more who followed the religious leaders of the day or who were heathens, that the disciples faced a lot of doubt, criticism and persecution.

Before Jesus was arrested and crucified, He prayed for His disciples. Jesus knew that because His disciples had believed in Him, the world would hate them. So Jesus prayed that the Heavenly Father would protect them. John 17:15 tells us that Jesus did not ask God to protect them by taking them out of the world, but that He would protect them while they stayed in the world. That did not mean that the disciples would not face physical harm or discomfort. We know that they did, but Jesus' prayer was that their souls would be protected from Satan for eternity. Jesus had a purpose for His disciples to be in the world and not isolated from it. He wanted them to represent Him and His Word to those around them. He wanted them to spread His love, joy, grace and truth to others. That purpose and Jesus’ prayer still apply to us today. John 17:20 includes us if we believe in Him.

I think sometimes we expect that if we follow Christ our lives should be comfortable and full of blessings, and so we are always disappointed or frustrated when the opposite happens. We should not expect life to be easy, but we can expect God to give us the strength we need to face it. Are you being criticized by others for your beliefs? Do those people represent Jesus or the world? If they represent the world, do not try to win their approval. Instead, represent Jesus in a way that will glorify God, and trust Him to protect you from the evil one.

Do you ever feel like nobody likes you? Or maybe you just feel like SOMEbody doesn’t like you? The fact is that we can’t all be liked by everyone all the time. I’ve told many young people that no matter who they are, some people will like them and some people won’t, so they might as well be themselves and know that their friendships are genuine. We all get to choose who we want to be friends with and who we want to be loyal to. Sometimes being friends with one group will mean that you can't be friends with another.

Jesus told the disciples something similar in John 15:18-19. He said that the world (meaning those who don’t belong to Christ) will hate them, because it hated Him first. The disciples should not be surprised that if they stood up for something that was contrary to what the people of the world believed, there would be hatred and persecution. Neither should we. If you profess to be a Christian, some people will hate you before they even get to know you. They may treat you badly or speak unfairly against you simply because you belong to Christ. In North America persecution is mild compared to what it is in some parts of the globe, but you still don’t have to look far to see it—people hurling insults, bullying, unfair stories in the press, acts of violence and vandalism.

We need to make a careful distinction though. Not all people who claim to be Christians behave in a way that resembles Christ. They judge and criticize and give their share of insults. Sometimes their behaviour is rude and obnoxious. Thus an unfavourable reaction might be more accurately labelled a result of provocation rather than persecution. This kind of behaviour is certainly not what Christ stood for. In II Corinthians 6:3, Paul instructs the people to be above reproach—to not do anything that can be criticized or cause offense. Throughout the Bible, and particularly in the passage just before this, Jesus commands His disciples to love. (John 15:12, John 15:17, John 15:10, Luke 6:27) This isn’t just a friendly suggestion; it’s a commandment. This is what it takes to be like Christ. Love even those who hate you.