So I have the Ravi Zacharias app on my phone. Gosh he’s good. I particularly love his ‘just a thought’ section on it. These are 1 minute ‘grabs’ taken from various parts of his teaching on various topics. Interesting stuff.
I tell you what though, one that I didn’t immediately love was when he said “the Bible says that typically, leaders hate accountability.”
Yikes! I was reminded of the above quote when I recently came across this text (emphasis mine):
Acts 24:25-27 5 As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” 26 At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him. 27 When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.
I guess the more influence you have the more your mistakes and character flaws have huge ramifications. I think deep down, everyone kind of knows this, but some have learned to suppress the guilt.
The thing is though, Paul had enormous influence. In the end he was more influential and therefore in a sense more powerful than the man who was questioning him; the roman Governor Felix. But Paul doesn’t seem to be haunted by the shadow of judgement at all.
His ministry is one of freedom from guilt, freedom from worry and absolute contentment.
I’m going to come clean; mine hasn’t. I have been worried on more than one occasion that I ‘haven’t quite measured up’ to who I should be, not only as a leader but as a Christian. Even as a person.
I don’t think I am alone.
1. The way we often think about final judgement.
I grew up in a Christian home and first believed in Jesus when I was in primary school one night reading the first chapter of 1 Corinthians and thinking; “there’s nothing else in the world like this, weak to shame the strong? foolish to shame the wise? This is amazing!”
Yet despite all the lessons and sermons on the grace of God, for many years the idea of the final judgement to me has been a little bit like when you’ve gone to bed and just as you’re falling asleep; all of a sudden comes the unmistakeable…..eeeeeeeeeeee…of that mozzie buzzing around.
You think to yourself; ‘Do I just ignore this and it’ll go away (or bite me in the night)? or do I get up and do something about it?’
We all know that if you try and ignore it, you really can never sleep soundly at all.
A bit like governor Felix.
So let’s do something about it.
2. The way the Psalms think about judgement and justice.
The book of Psalms is more than just a book of songs or a book of prayers, it’s a Spiritual journal of one in a relationship with God. In other words, it gives us an idea of what to expect and what to look forward to, the more we get to know God. In some way, the Spiritual journal of a Christian should loosely match the pattern of the Spiritual journal of the Psalms. This is why Eugene Peterson can say that “all prayer pursued long enough ends in praise.” -the last 5 Psalms are unbridled worship, regardless of the depths earlier Psalms may have plunged.
So, it’s interesting then to note the prevalence of the idea of vindication in the Psalms. It shouldn’t surprise us really; Psalms deals with reality and the reality is that it is pastorally downright dangerous to simply tell people who have been deeply wronged; “just keep choosing to forgive and hand that person over to God,” without also assuring them that God really sees and cares about sin and injustice and he will not only repay but also one day ensure that the entire universe knows who was in the wrong and who was in the right.
Let’s be honest, it’s not just pain of being wronged that is painful, it is the idea that people are or even may be assuming that we deserve it, when the truth is, we were the innocent victim.
Anyone who works with kids knows this. Kids who have been bullied are often not as cut up about the bullying as they are about how no one seems to believe or listen to them about it.
The Old Testament takes this seriously. For example:
Psalm 35:23-24 wake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord. Vindicate me in your righteousness, O LORD my God; do not let them gloat over me.
Psalm 43:1 Psalm 43:1 Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men.
1 Samuel 24:15 May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.” (emphasis mine.)
All those words above of course are spoken by David, who spent a lot of his life on the run from people out to kill him. He is literally down trodden and he refuses to give up his hope in God as one who will Judge.
To David, God’s judgement = vindication = hope.
Because his hope was in God.
The theme of judgement as hope for the downtrodden is picked up and re-interpreted to its most stark spiritual terms by Jesus himself when he quotes Isaiah 42:3 (in the good ol’ King James version): Matthew 12:20 A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, (We love that bit, but keep reading past the edge of the ‘fridge magnet’) till he send forth judgment unto victory.
Here, we have words of the greatest comfort for the weak, the struggling smooshed right up against the motif of final judgment. Why?
Ultimately, we are all downtrodden by a common enemy, Satan, the ‘god of this world’. Like the Israelite’s running from the pursuing Egyptians thru the parted red sea; our very salvation rests on God’s judgement upon that which pursues us. Let me repeat that:
Our very salvation rests on God’s judgement upon that which pursues us
In that sense, salvation and judgement are the same event, like a sunrise and a sunset are the same event. The only difference is which side of it you are on.
3. The way Paul thought about it.
I am running into people every day who are being controlled by some form of guilt over thier past. Meanwhile, I have said before, aside from Jesus himself the apostle Paul would have to be one of the most influential people in all of human history, let alone the bible. Why? How did he get and stay so effective? What sustained him in situations where it would have been so easy for him to assume that what he was going through was simply God punishing him for past sins?
Here’s a clue:
1 Corinthians 4:3-5 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
It is such a shame that this term ‘only God can judge me’ has become such a t-shirt/bumper sticker phrase. I can just about guarantee that anyone who is wearing/driving around with this on, has completely missed the whole point of what it is saying.
The best way I have ever heard this summarized is by Tim Keller when he says that Paul is saying “It doesn’t matter what others think (and boy do we live in an age that loves to say that) BUT, importantly; it doesn’t matter what I think either.”
For Paul, God’s opinion was more important than anyone’s, even his own.
You can’t be full of worry and humble at the same time.
We wouldn’t even be worrying if we really thought God’s opinion of us was more important than anyone elses’ even our own.
4. What’s left for followers of Jesus.
If you are seeking God through Christ, then you can claim the promise that ‘all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
But then you need to use this truth.
Unless we have a high view of the authority and judgement of God, we will never be able to tell the unnerving internal accuser to shut-up, because the only authority than can transform the human heart is the authority of God.
You’re welcome to test the scriptures on this. Go right ahead and buy all the affirming phrases and bumper stickers you can get your hands on. Feel free to live a life of self-actualization and even ‘baptize it’ in spiritual language….only to realise…that you’ll still feel a deep guilt that you can’t get rid of.
Or, you can learn from the testimonies of so many, and decide for yourself that the word of the LORD is perfect; (not ours) he is faithful in all he does. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. Ps 33:4-5.
The more we trust in God in this life, the more every other ‘voice’ will try to tell us that we’re complete idiots. But look forward to his judgement, for if there is no condemnation for this in Christ Jesus, the only thing left will be, is vindication.