1 Peter 4:17-19
17 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? 18 And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? 19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.
This passage challenges me today. It is a bit of a hard pill to swallow. I looked up the original Greek for the word “judgment” here and its literal meaning is the declaration of punishment. I’ve been challenged recently with some actions of others that I have witnessed in regards to their dealings with “the church” and what has been said about them. They aren’t necessarily bad things, rather they are things I wouldn’t say. Next I begun to question my own theology and knowledge, curious about “who is wrong.” For me, this is always dangerous. I mean, nobody likes to be told they are wrong, but I try really hard to be right. At the same time, I try to acknowledge that it is only in accepting that I may be wrong that I will grow the most, because then I can see things more objectively and be more apt to listen to what others have to say instead of constantly being focused on my defense. So I have now challenged myself with this: why wouldn’t I say those things?
Before God judges the world, He is going to judge the church. Why? Because we know better! Jesus spoke a lot against hypocrites. He doesn’t like people being two-faced, especially when they supposedly represent Him! He used the Pharisees as His case in point. At the last supper, you may recall what Jesus declared about Judas, “21 But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. 22 For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” This is someone who was one of the beloved 12! He followed Jesus closely, but only physically. His spirit was still linked to this world and as Luke depicts it earlier in the chapter, “3 And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot,belonging to the number of the twelve.” As I continue to meditate on this passage today, my heart is drawn to another thing Jesus talked about: millstones.
In Matthew 18, Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven, entering it and others who believe, “3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have aheavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” Why are these things repeated throughout the scriptures? Because they are important!!! Why is Jesus going to first judge the church? Because as the supposed body of Christ, we are becoming stumbling blocks for others to enter the Kingdom of God and have a relationship with Him!
I recall mentioning in the past week that God isn’t subject to technicalities. I maintain this to be true and even if we become a stumbling block to another, they will get the message of God’s Good News. The only thing will be that we will rather have had a millstone around our neck than meet our punishment this day that Jesus and Peter are referring to. I love how Peter words this passage because he indicates something very important that we need to get ahold of. He says, “what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Peter confronts us with the fact that what we do in this life matters; not that it saves us, but that it is part of what we are called to. In other words, we aren’t just to believe the gospel of God, we are to obey the gospel of God! Bonhoeffer would name only claiming to believe in God and His gospel but not acting on it as “cheap grace.” In The Cost of Discipleship, he explains the depth of the Gospel of Christ and the way we are called to respond to it. Here, Peter is telling us what will happen if we don’t respond to it with obedience. We aren’t just saved from something, we are saved for something. If we don’t act upon what we are saved for, then we are merely a stumbling block and would be better off at the bottom of the sea.
I mentioned in the beginning of this post some “rough” things being said about today’s church. The problem is that they are true and we are merely fooling ourselves. We are fooling ourselves if we are using church as a way to justify our worldliness, feel good about ourselves, and sit and wait for Christ to return. We were saved to move! When I was in the Marines, there was a phrase we used that referred to when we would do humanitarian missions, “Winning the hearts and minds of the people.” Are we doing that? Are we winning people to Christ? We cannot save them, but we can surely show them the direction! Are we doing that today? Is your church doing that today? Are you doing that today?
Peter’s words here aren’t to scare us, they are to encourage and remind us. He is discussing persecution and the things we get to suffer for Christ. He is saying that regardless of what we suffer, at the very least, isn’t that big of a deal because at least we aren’t in the “it would be better to have a millstone around your neck” category. So what are we afraid of? Why are we participating in “holy huddles”? Why are we focusing on the “God wants us to enjoy life” messages of the day instead of “there are billions who have yet to meet Jesus” message? Why are we silent and still instead of loud and on the move? It’s better to be refined by fire than it is to become a big ball of rust.