|When Someone Judges You
September 27, 1998 / 1 Peter 4:12-19
There are many forms of hateful, ungodly discrimination in this sinful world. For example, the book Black Like Me is the story of John Griffin. Griffin is a white man who deliberately darkened his skin in an effort to understand what it means to be black in a predominantly white society.
More recently, a 30-year-old woman masqueraded as an elderly woman once a week for three years. She was trying to see how it is to be old in America. She was insulted, robbed, and otherwise terrified in a culture that isnít always easy on its elderly members.
In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi tells of reading the Gospels during his student days and being impressed with the teachings of Jesus. He believed that what Jesus said offered the solution to the terrible caste system that divided the people of India. So one Sunday he decided to attend a church nearby and talk to its minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, an usher refused him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left that church and never went back. "If Christians have caste differences also," he said, "I might as well remain a Hindu."
The unpleasant and unfortunate truth is that stories like these can be multiplied almost endlessly. Racism, sexism, ageism ó all forms of discrimination based on these trivial distinctions among human beings are wrong. They are also obstacles to the churchís credibility in the world. And we must be reminded frequently that it is a betrayal of our Lord Jesus Christ for us to harbor these evil attitudes toward people in our world.
But the point of todayís lesson is to turn this "judgment thing" on its head. Today I want to ask you to make yourself a target for judgment. I want to encourage you to invite criticism into your life. And I want to counsel you about how to handle the criticism, judgment, and discrimination that will come to you.
A Tricky Topic
This sermon is going to be a hard one to preach ó without being misunderstood by everyone hearing it. So let me ask you to pay very close attention.
Let me begin by reminding you that this is the sixth and final sermon in a short series about Christian ethics. I believe and teach that salvation comes only by grace. Nobody will honor God with a life so morally upright that he or she will deserve to be saved. Since all of us are sinners (Rom. 3:23) and since the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), it follows that not one of us can be saved ó except by Godís mercy and love extended to us through Jesus. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith ó and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God ó not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). But people who have been saved by grace are supposed to bear witness to their new relationship to God by exhibiting changed character, what Paul elsewhere calls "new life" (cf. Rom. 6:1-7).
The very next verse in Ephesians 2 ó the powerful text that affirms that salvation is by grace and not by works ó says this: "For we are Godís workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10). Good works donít save us. But good works do validate our salvation, testify to our salvation, and declare the saving power of God to people watching us. What better witness to an alcoholic, gossip, or homosexual that Jesus can save her than the living example of an alcoholic, gossip, or homosexual who is leading a transformed and joyous life in Christ!
Now here is the "tricky part" of todayís sermon: First, if your life becomes living proof of Godís power to save, you will become a target for judgment, discrimination, and persecution. Iíll come back to this directly. Iíll try to make sense of inviting you to make yourself a target of discrimination. Second, when you begin to suffer for doing right, Satan will do everything he can to turn your suffering into pride and destroy you with it. We have a sly adversary!
Suffering for Being a Christian
First Peter is a challenging little epistle that calls believers to take a unique view of ourselves in this world. Peter writes to "Godís elect" (i.e., saints, redeemed ones) who are nevertheless "strangers in the world" (1 Pet. 1:1). The word translated "strangers" is parepidemois, a term that refers to visitors passing through a place that is not their native land. Again, the apostle exhorts his readers to "live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear" (1 Pet. 1:17). The word here is paroikos and refers to a resident alien. Paroikos was a technical term in New Testament times that denoted someone whose legal, economic, and social rights were limited because they were foreigners. They could not participate in certain types of business, couldnít vote, and couldnít marry except within certain restrictions; they had to pay higher taxes than citizens and had no political rights; they were subject to more severe punishments, if they should be found guilty of breaking laws.
Now if Christians are really "strangers" and never more than "resident aliens" in the environment of this sinful world, wouldnít you expect that to cause you some problems? Wouldnít you expect some discrimination? Wouldnít you expect occasional tales of persecution to be told from our ranks? Just think about it. These people knew us "back when" ó back when we werenít Christians ó and are taken aback by the change that has been made in us by Jesus. "For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do ó living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry," writes Peter. "They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you" (1 Pet. 4:3-4). The people from the old places, old relationships, and old habits "heap abuse" on the Christians who are showing that Godís grace has been effective in their lives. Their new lives are unpleasant rebukes to the people still living in their old ways. And that abuse produces persecution and suffering.
Then comes the second "tricky" thing I warned you about. If you do have to pay some price for your devotion to Christ (i.e., discrimination, persecution), you will be tempted either to whine about the unfairness of it or to feel a sort of perverse pride in what is happening to you. See! I told you it was a tricky thing! So how do you handle it?
Here is what Peter said about it later in the epistle Iíve been quoting already:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment 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? And,
"If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?"
So then, those who suffer according to Godís will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good (1 Pet. 4:12-19).
Number One: Donít be surprised that you suffer for being a "resident alien" ó especially from those who used to run with you in pre-Christian days.
Number Two: Be sure you suffer for doing good ó not for breaking laws, not for mistreating people, not for being self-righteous.
Number Three: Commit your new life to God in complete surrender and continue doing right.
If You Must Have Enemies . . .
The Bible has a great deal to say about peacemaking, living in harmony, and getting along with people. But there is this qualifying statement about living at peace with people around us on Planet Earth: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Rom. 12:18). Let me show you how this qualification relates to Peterís teaching about being a "resident alien" and suffering for Jesusí sake.
Do you recall the Old Testament character Daniel? He was among the first wave of captives deported from Judah to Babylon in 606 B.C. He was an Israelite living in Babylon ó a "resident alien" in that foreign place. He appears to have been anything but a surly, uncooperative man who displayed a bad attitude and wore a chip on his shoulder. When tabbed by his captors to be trained as a civil servant, in fact, he immediately rose to the head of his class.
Maybe it was the jealousy of some Babylonian students he had outperformed at school. Perhaps it was the anti-Semitic attitudes of some of his classmates. From the balance of the story, I suspect it was the depth of Danielís spiritual convictions in a nest of young bureaucrats who didnít know Yahweh that got him in trouble. For some reason, he made them feel very uncomfortable (Dan. 6:1-5). Do you think it could have been that he wouldnít "plunge with them into [a] flood of dissipation" (cf. 1 Pet. 4:4) that got him into trouble? I think thatís exactly what happened!
The resentment of the administrators and satraps toward Daniel lay behind a decree they tricked Darius into issuing. It required that no one under Dariusí rule pray to any god or man other than Darius for a 30-day period (Dan. 6:6-9). Daniel went right ahead with his devotional life and daily prayers to Yahweh ó as his enemies were confident he would. Thus the stage was set for Daniel to be thrown into a den of lions (Dan. 6:10-16).
If you must make some enemies in the course of your lifetime, try to let it be for reasons as good as Danielís. Try not to accumulate enemies on account of your bad temper, sticking your nose where it has no right to be, or being too stubborn to apologize when youíve been wrong.
If you must have enemies, let it be for staying drug free and a virgin during your high school and college years, for being truthful among people in the workplace who are dishonest, or for being a person of restraint and moderation when those around you are out of control with their materialism or selfish ambition.
People sometimes get thrown into their own versions of a lionís den for doing right. Look at what happened to John the Baptist, to Paul, to Jesus. But to suffer for doing right is to be numbered among the blessed ones Jesus referred to in his Sermon on the Mount. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt. 5:11-12).
So what should we do when someone judges us for your Christian commitments? How should we react when taunted for a lifestyle that makes us "weird" by some worldly standard? We must remember our heavenly citizenship (cf. Phil. 3:20), our "resident alien" status here, our place as "strangers" in this world ó and continue to honor Jesus.
Many of you know that I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, on the Tuesday following a terrorist bombing in that city the previous Friday. The trip had been planned months before, and I saw no reason to consider abandoning it. Within a few days of my arrival, the United States Ambassador to Kenya called for all the American citizens visiting in that African country to come to her residence.
Ambassador Prudence Bushnell is a petite but strong person. She handled herself that day with great composure and dignity. About 400 of us were on her lawn to be brief about what had happened and how to react to it. For, you see, a lot of anger was being expressed not only toward the terrorist bombers but toward America as well in the aftermath of what had happened ó over 250 persons killed and more than 5,000 injured.
It was the United States Embassy that had been the target of the attack. Thus it was an American presence in Kenya that had ó indirectly at least ó brought death and maiming onto so many of that countryís citizens. There had also been some early reports in Nairobi to the effect that the embassy personnel had helped only their own wounded and had neglected the many Kenyans who were hurt ó reports that were, by the way, untrue.
As I sat in my folding chair among people I otherwise would never have met, my mind began to wander. I thought how like the church our group was. We were a small contingent whose passports registered our citizenship in another country. We had concerns both about our own safety in that foreign place and for communicating facts we deemed important to those people. We were both stunned and hurting for those among whom we were living as strangers. In the midst of it, we were being urged to live up to the best American ideals of integrity, self-control, and compassion.
My feelings in that meeting made me think of this text about Christians in the world. Donít press it too far. American certainly isnít the kingdom of God. Read it simply for its appeal to Christians of all nationalities, colors, and languages to live out the best of our Christian commitment in places that arenít our home. "Friends, this world is not you home, so donít make yourselves cozy in it. . . . Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then theyíll be won over to Godís side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives" (1 Pet. 2:11-12, The Message).
When someone judges you for your Christian commitments and character, take it as a compliment. Be eager to stand for what is right. Be willing to suffer for doing the right thing when others are pressuring you to do wrong. And be humbly grateful that you have been counted worthy to share in the sufferings of your Lord Jesus Christ.
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