Good Friday to you. I know many of you listen to the podcast on your way to school or work, commuting by car or bus or bike or train or on foot. Blessings to you on your day ahead. Or maybe you listen on your way home from work and school. Either way, today’s question hits on that intersection where the people of God live out their faith in a faithless world.
The question is a good one, and it’s from a listener named Andrew. “Dear Pastor John, hello to you! I am writing to ask you about a paradox I see in Scripture. Paul, in 1 Timothy 3:7, says that an overseer, a church leader, ‘must be well thought of by outsiders.’ But Jesus told his own disciples four times that they would be ‘hated by all’ (Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:9; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17). Because ‘if they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household’ (Matthew 10:25). Assuming it’s valid to extend Jesus’s words to his disciples to pastors today, how is it that an overseer must be at the same time expected to be well regarded by outsiders and yet also hated by everyone?”
There are many apparent contradictions in the Bible. My experience over sixty years of loving the Bible, looking at the Bible, studying the Bible, praying the Bible is that apparent contradictions resolve themselves if we are right in our heart, and our mind is awake, and we are patiently studying the context and availing ourselves of the best thinking about the Bible in the last two thousand years.
But the best thing about lingering over an apparent contradiction and penetrating to the root of the unity is that these seemingly conflicting texts almost always reveal something wonderful, something deeper — a better insight for having struggled with the apparent contradiction rather than having given up and called the Bible contradicting. Which is why I think that faithful, evangelical believers in inerrancy over the last centuries have had deeper insight into the reality behind the Bible than liberal scholars who just give up and say, “Oh, but it’s all a bunch of contradictions,” and they don’t even work on it.
What Will Outsiders Think?
So here’s the issue that concerns Andrew in his question. Jesus says to his disciples in Matthew 10:22, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” He says virtually the same thing in Matthew 24:9: “You will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” Again, John 15:18: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” First John 3:13: “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” Those are sweeping statements. “All will hate you.” “All nations will hate you.” “The world will hate you.”
Then Andrew notices in 1 Timothy 3:7, like a good Bible reader would, that one of the qualifications for elders in the church is that “he must be well thought of by outsiders,” the world. So, he asks, how can elders be hated by all and be well thought of by at least some?
Now that’s a good question. That’s the kind of thing I spend my life doing, trying to get to the bottom of such apparent contradictions, texts that are in tension. The way to proceed in answering that question, as with many others, is to make sure we understand what Jesus and Paul actually intended to communicate by those words. We don’t just assume we know and then call it a contradiction. We ask, “Now, in view of other things that Jesus and Paul said, or that writers they approve of (the Gospel writers) said, what did they intend for us to understand?”
Persecuted and Respected
For example, we know Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” So I infer from that that Paul does not mean in 1 Timothy 3:7 that an elder candidate must be well thought of by everyone. He’s going to be persecuted; his godliness is going to make some people angry at him, slander him, persecute him.
So what kind of approval did Paul have in mind that the elder candidate must get from unbelievers outside the church, even if not all of them? Now here’s an example of the way I think Paul was thinking. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12, he says to Christians, “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” Now, that’s one example of the kind of reputation I think Paul wanted Christians to have with outsiders — namely, Christians are good workers. They do not become a burden for other people. In his mind, most non-Christians would find that a praiseworthy trait. In Titus 2:10, he speaks of Christians adorning the doctrine of God by their good deeds and faithful service in social settings, social roles.
So Paul did not mean to communicate by being well spoken of by outsiders that outsiders would approve of the Christian faith per se, or even that they would necessarily like Christians, or even that they would treat them kindly, but rather that there would be enough overlap between what Christians consider good behavior and what outsiders consider good behavior that, in general, at least some outsiders would concede and testify that Christians are acting responsibly in society and contributing to the common good. That’s generally what I think Paul was getting at when he said that the elder must not come into disrepute. He must be well thought of.
Hated and Heard
Now, what about Jesus? What did he mean to communicate by saying, “You will be hated by all”? Well, in Matthew 5, right after saying that his disciples will be persecuted for Jesus’s sake, (Matthew 5:10–12), he said that his followers are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13–14). And then he added that we should “let [our] light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good deeds and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
“Jesus taught that some people are not going to hate us; they’re going to be converted and join us.”
So even though persecution happens, there is also the expectation that by our salty, bright — and in the context, joyful (Matthew 5:12) and loving (Matthew 5:16) — response through it all, people would be converted. In other words, not everyone is going on hating us. So Jesus taught that. He taught that some people are not going to hate us; they’re going to be converted and join us.
And not only that, but Jesus said, “Go . . . make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). So when he said in Matthew 24:9 that we would be “hated by all nations,” the natural way to understand him is that we are going to meet with hate wherever we go among the nations. But that will not be the only response we get, because he said, “Go . . . make disciples.” Hate from all nations, but also disciples made from all nations.
Meaning of ‘All’
Now, way back at his birth, remember, old Simeon prophesied in Luke 2:34, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and the rising of many in Israel.” So not just the fall of many — many will stumble over him and fall — but the rise of many. Not everyone will hate him. He had disciples, and there was a following. There were 120 in the upper room when he was done (Acts 1:15). So how then shall we understand “You will be hated by all”?
Well, consider the use of all in these other phrases from the Gospels. Mark 1:5: “All Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by [John] in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Mark 1:37: “They found [Jesus] and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’” In Mark 5:20, the demoniac told how much Jesus had done for him, and “everyone marveled.” Mark 11:32, “All held that John really was a prophet.” Well, we know that’s not the case in the sense of literal all because there were people who hated John’s ministry. John 3:26: “[John] is baptizing, and all are going to him.”
“Being hated for Christ’s sake is a normal, widespread, general experience among all peoples, but it’s not so constant.”
Okay, in all these uses and more, the word all does not mean every single individual in the group. It means that this is the general, widespread response. And in the case of “hated by all” in Matthew 10:22, we have the parallel text in Matthew 24:9, “hated by all nations.” So we can conclude that hatred will be a widespread, general response to Christian evangelism, and that it will hold true wherever you go among the nations.
So, putting it all together, I would say there is no contradiction between what Paul said about elders being well thought of by outsiders and Jesus saying that we would be hated by all. Being hated for Christ’s sake is a normal, widespread, general experience among all peoples, but it’s not so constant. It’s not so uniform as to rule out that many unbelievers seeing the good lives of Christians and admitting that they are reputable contributors to society is, in fact, the case, which is what Paul had in mind.