Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How Should We Live When Suffering for Christ (Part 4 of 6)

Just in case his readers (and us) looked at the first three categories of offenders and they determine that none apply to them, he presents them with one final category—“troublesome meddlers.”

To be a troublesome meddler is to be a person who meddles in the affairs of others that are of no real concern to them. They are agitators—people who live for opportunities to stir the pot, so to speak. They are troublemakers. They are not criminals, per se. So why did Peter include troublemakers in his list of offenses. He did so to teach us that any sin, even sins that may seem minor to us, places us in the position to, for a time, give up the peace and rest the Holy Spirit gives, through a right relationship with Jesus Christ.

The category of troublesome meddler must also include the sin of gossip. And what does gossip often look like in the church? Has someone ever said this to you, or have you ever said this to someone else? “I’m only telling you this so you can pray.”

Knowledge is power. Knowledge can be a drug. Knowledge about other people can be a very addictive drug. When we know something we think no one else knows, our tendency, as sinful people, is to want to share that information with others—not so that we can encourage people to pray, but so that we can show people how knowledgeable we are, or how “in the loop” we are. Disguising gossip in the cloak of spirituality is an ugly thing.

If you are a troublesome meddler who has a tendency to gossip about others and you notice that Christians begin to distance themselves from you, stop sharing confidences with you, or begin to hold you accountable for your gossip; you are not a caring prayer warrior who is being persecuted for your faith. You are a troublesome meddler who is suffering the reasonable consequences for your sin.

Peter wants us to make sure that we recognize the difference between suffering undeserved persecution for the cause of Christ and suffering reasonable judgment and punishment as a result of sinful behavior. Having made the point, Peter reiterates a previous, important point. “But if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (v. 4:16).

I think it’s important to note, here, that the term “Christian” only appears three times in the New Testament. In addition to our passage in 1 Peter, it appears in Acts 11:26 and Acts 26:28.

“And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came about that for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” ~ Acts 11:25-26

“And Agrippa replied to Paul, ‘In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.’” ~ Acts 26:28

In the 1950’s, there was a derogatory term making its way around college campuses. The term was “christer.” The word was used to describe people who, at the time, were known as fundamentalist Christians. Just as the term “christer” was used fifty years ago, terms like “evangelical” or even “evangelist” is used today. And such was the case 2,000 years ago. The term “Christian,” which was first used in Antioch, was a derogatory term used by Jews and other Romans citizens when referring to followers of Jesus Christ.

Peter is saying that even if men hate you because of Jesus Christ, even if they deride you, and mock you, and defame you, and even kill you because of the name of Christ, a sinful, fallen world cannot put the true follower of Jesus Christ to shame. And if God allows such persecution to fall upon His people, then He does so in order to bring Himself glory.

God’s Judgment in Suffering
What Peter says next in verse 17 is not a very popular subject, today, within the contemporary, evangelical church. He writes: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God.”

In determining the context of verse 17, we should look back not to verse 16, but rather to verse 12. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you . . . For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

God’s judgment begins with the church—what Peter calls “the household of God.” This verse is an example of how important it is not to look at an individual verse or passage in a vacuum. We should not try to develop an entire theology on a single verse or passage. Instead, we should look to all of Scripture and allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. It is important we determine what Peter means by judgment, and we’ll look to God’s Word to do it.

What do we know about judgment as it pertains to God’s people—born again followers of Jesus Christ? Here’s what God’s Word says:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” ~ Romans 8:1

“But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world.” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:32

“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.'

“It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” ~ Hebrews 12:4-11

It’s clear from God’s Word that genuine followers of Christ will not face a judgment that leads to condemnation and the just sentence of eternity in hell. God’s judgment of born again Christians will take the form of fatherly discipline. God allows His children to experience fiery trials in order to discipline, deepen, and mature their faith. He likewise allows Christians to experience discipline in the form of negative consequences when we sin against Him—just as a good father disciplines a disobedient child.

That being said, Peter’s use of the word “judgment” in verse 17 should be seen not as the final execution of sentence, but rather as a judicial process. We can see the word this way because Peter says that the judgment of God will begin with the household of God. While God’s judgment begins with the disciplining of His children, it doesn’t end there.

Peter ends his rhetorical question in verse 17 with these words, “What will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Listen, again, to the Word of God.

“Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'” ~ Matthew 7:21-23

I have often said that my heart breaks for those who fall into this category of unbelievers more than any other group of people—people who believe they are right with God because they think themselves religious or spiritual, because they attend church. They wrongly believe they are right with God, having created a god of their own imagination—a god that will not judge sin; a god that turns a blind eye to sin; a god that even looks favorably upon sin; a god whose job it is to do the bidding of created beings like a nameless, faceless doorman standing outside a posh hotel.

Their god will neither save nor destroy because their god can’t. Why? Their god doesn’t exist.

Sadly, churches around our country are filled with such people this morning—maybe there are some here. But a time is coming, and may already be upon us, in which the One True God will begin to purify His Church. He will separate the chaff from the wheat. The wheat will be gathered into His barn. The chaff will be burned away.

As I said earlier, I am not a prophet. But I believe the days of the so-called mega-church are numbered. Even those good mega-churches (albeit too few and too far between) that can boast of sound, biblical teaching and a truly God-honoring philosophy of ministry will not be around forever. Because even good churches that number in the tens of thousands have among their attenders and on their membership rolls false converts—people who go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, as if there are no consequences for sin.

It is important we all understand that although millions of people are packed into churches this morning, the authentic Body of Christ is much smaller than any of us realize. And again, when will the true Body of Christ in America become evident? The real Church in America will become evident when real persecution begins to fall upon the American Church, when it actually costs something to be a Christian in America.

The only sound that will remain in some of these opulent edifices—cathedrals to sinful man’s need for creature comforts in their false spirituality—will be the chirping of lonely crickets. The people will be gone. The genuine followers of Christ will gather quietly and secretly in homes, just as they did two thousand years ago; and the false converts who once played church will simply blend back into secular culture, the place where they were and are most comfortable anyways.

The pastors of some of these mega-churches—pastors who are content with preaching a false gospel in order to keep people in the seats—will be relegated to selling used cars or selling the remainder of their stock of bottled miracle water, anointed prayer cloths, and self-help books to the highest bidder, on E-bay. Their income will no longer come from a church budget that focused the majority of its financial resources on lining the pockets of staff and entertaining and coddling “the peeps” (as my daughter would say).

Lord God, purify Your Church, I pray!

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