Friday, January 25, 2008

Judgement and Suffering

“For it is time for judgement to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17 NIV

This verse is set in the midst of a passage about suffering and specifically about suffering because we are Christ-followers. Peter tells us that we shouldn’t “be surprised at the painful trial” but rather to rejoice that we “participate in the sufferings of Christ.” He even says that we are blessed if we are insulted because of the name of Christ and that we should “praise God that [we] bear that name.” At this point he speaks of the judgement beginning with Christians and then goes on to tell us that those “who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” So where does judgement come in? How does that fit?

Is suffering part of the judgement? It certainly seems from this passage that there is a definite corolation between suffering and judgement. I generally think of judgement as a negative thing as though judgement and punishment are the same thing but is it? When I look in the Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary I find a surprise. Judgement is “a formal utterance of an authoritative opinion”; “a formal decision given by a court”; “the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing.”

If this is what judgement is then the suffering that comes from being a Christian is part of the judgement. The suffering is a statement that we belong to God; we are part of his family; there is no question regarding which side we are on; we have chosen to side with Jesus Christ regardless of the consequences. It’s a thumbs up from God and the world. No wonder we are to rejoice! No wonder we are considered blessed! No wonder we should not be ashamed but rather praise God that we bear Christ’s name!

But if suffering because of being a Christian is part of the judgement for God’s family, whatever will happen to “those who do not obey the gospel of God?” More than suffering? It’s a frightful thought.

God, I don’t want to suffer but I do want to be so bold in my following of you that it doesn't matter to me how others will respond. I don’t want my life to be lived cowering from those who could fire me or make fun of me or treat me with distain. I want to hold my head up high and be unafraid of saying, in my words and actions, “I belong to Christ.” God help me!

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