Many years ago, I was bemoaning my social situation (which wasn’t nearly as bad as it seemed at that time; it just didn’t look exactly the same as other people’s). My mom wisely pointed out, “I think that you’re the kind of guy that a girl would want to bring home to her parents”. At the time, I said, “Mom, I don’t want to impress her parents.”
On the other side of things, we learn a little about Jesus in the following short verse, which I think can sometimes be overlooked in our transition from the Christmas story and Jesus’ childhood, to John the Baptist’s path-preparing ministry:
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
Luke 2:52 NIV
In some ways, this makes sense: obviously, there needed to be a transition from Jesus being born (as a baby) and His recorded ministry as an adult (starting in earnest when he was around 30 years old). So, it makes sense that He grew in stature. And, I think that those who have studied Jesus’ teachings – including His discussions with other learned experts – can appreciate His wisdom.
However, the second part of this verse tells us that Jesus was looked upon well by both God and man. That may seem impossible, but He pulled it off. It makes sense that He – being both the Son of God, and God Himself – would live in a way that was correct and pleasing to God. He was not just sinless; in addition, it is clear that He had a close relationship with God the Father.
What is noteworthy is that Jesus also grew in favor with people. People followed Him (probably some for the food and some for the miracles, but also some for His message). People were friends with Him. People invited him over for parties and meals.
Yes, there were some detractors. Jesus’ purpose wasn’t to be liked by everyone, and when the truth of God collided with pride of man, Jesus had to remain faithful to the truth. However, He reached out to people who were hurting, and offered both healing and grace, prior to offering Himself as a sacrifice: the cure to the problem of sin that otherwise condemned each of us to death.
In modern environments where there is opposition to the message of Jesus (more so in some places than others), one might think that having favor with God cannot happen at the same time as having favor with man. However, when it comes to the appeal of Jesus’ message, and the need for healing that He provides, our world today is not that different from the first-century Middle East. Some groups may be very vocal in their attacks on Christians, and others act out on their hate with violence. Still, the message of salvation and love, as well as the reality of the consequences of sin, resonate with those who find “success” (when defined by money, things, and status) to be hollow and empty. Living like Jesus – whether loving the marginalized or demonstrating generosity – is still attractive, even to those who may have pre-conceptions about what “Christians” are like.
For followers of Jesus, who strive to follow His example of righteousness, note the order of who Jesus found favor with in the verse above. He didn’t charm people and become popular, and thereby become recognized by God as a “nice guy” or a “good person”. Instead, the rest of Scripture confirms that Jesus lived to serve God first, and that His popularity flowed from the superior way that He behaved and related to other people. (Yes, some also followed Him because of the expectation that He would overthrow the Roman Empire. However, He offered something even more important, as His sacrifice did ultimately offer freedom.)
So, despite the challenge of walking through the broken shards that litter a fallen world, Christians don’t have to be outcasts or hermits. In fact, they don’t have to always be the unpopular group, nor unsuccessful or awkward. It’s OK for them to be well-liked, rich in friends, and sometimes even downright famous. Yes, some are socially awkward (even myself, at times), but that’s just part of the rich variety of people that God brought together into the Body of Christ.
Still, some will hate Christians. Sometimes, this is because individual Christians are acting quite unlike Jesus, or just continue to struggle with their own sinful natures. However, for those who are faithfully following the direction that Jesus gave them, the reason is a hate for God (or authority, humility, restraint, or other expectations of acknowledging a sovereign God), and not something to be taken personally by followers of Jesus.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
John 15:18-19 NIV
May our lives (in the wisdom that is mentioned in the verse at the start of this article) reflect the grace, love, and sanctification that Jesus showed. So many people in this world need to see that level of caring and consideration, and hear the truth in love. If we can choose to emulate the example and teachings of Jesus, the Savior of the world, what is there not to like?