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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Do You Want to Go Out?

That’s what we used to ask back in the day.

Yeah, I know that was a hundred years ago, before the era of shacking up and then the era of hooking up, and today’s era of everything’s up.

Bear with me: I’m old.

Well, old-er. I’m not giving up my happy delusions of youth just yet. And I’m not so old that I can’t remember what it felt like to ask a girl out. Oh, yes: it was misery … the obligatory lump in the throat and sweaty palms, the tension in the air and the vertiginous moment when she made up her mind … and then … the answer.

That moment of asking wasn’t actually the end of the suffering. We didn’t really know each other. The question was supposed to let us get to do that, a sort of permission to get past the gate of distant familiarity and to make a foray into the guarded and possibly hostile territory of intimacy.

It was gonna hurt. But without it, nothing good was going to happen.

So we “went out”.

Afraid to Go Out

We don’t really go out anymore.

I’m not talking about dating now: I’m talking about Christians. We don’t reach out to our neighbours and colleagues, or participate as Christians in any number of public situations. Sure, we stay cordial with everybody and engaged with a select group, but we’re not much for stepping out into the cold winds of public opinion.

And let’s face it: life’s not too hard right now. We’re pretty much able to carry on as regular members of our society. Sure, we may not participate in all of its excesses, but we still get to work, play, entertain ourselves and generally circulate unimpeded. And apart from some selectivity in these things, we pretty much look like everyone else.

We know we’re Christians. We’ll even maybe tell people if they happen to ask. Some of us may go further, and consciously look for times to identify ourselves or witness a bit, but most of us don’t push that very hard. We don’t want to upset the environment at our schools, workplaces or neighbourhoods, and we sure don’t want to create much of a political stir. And though we see a fair amount of scorn heaped on Christians in the media, and though we read stories about some putatively dangerous “religious right” of which we’re supposed to be part, and though we hear people make all kinds of nasty quips about “fundamentalists” and “religious loonies”, really, we aren’t much of a problem for the world around us.

Sure, we may not vote their way, and we may chirp a bit when they legislate something we don’t like, but at the end of the day, we’re pretty manageable. We’re quiet, cooperative, generally good citizens, predictable voters, uncontentious neighbours, reliable consumers — in other words, generally unobtrusive and inoffensive to our society.

And so we don’t suffer much. Yes, we do get a bit of slander, we do find the moral climate a bit difficult and we do experience a sort of mild, legislative persecution in which our values are slowly expunged from public life, but it’s really pretty tame stuff … at least at the moment.

Because honestly, we don’t put ourselves “out there” much.

Uh-oh

And then we read about “the reproach of Christ”. We read that we ought to expect the world to have issues with us. We read that the life of faith is that of a pilgrim and alien, and that persecution automatically comes to the faithful, and that a comfortable position in this world is a sign of unfaithfulness and it makes us a bit uneasy.

I wonder if we should think about that.

How is it that we aren’t a problem? Do you ever wonder if we should be bearing more reproach for Christ?

Bad Reproach

The biblical answer to this turns out to be, “What do you mean by ‘reproach’?”

If we mean should we make trouble for ourselves, the answer is no. If we mean should suffer as meddlers, hypocrites and evildoers, the answer is also no. We should do all we can to stay on good terms with everyone.

But all that’s quite different from what the Bible calls, “the reproach of Christ”. That’s the reproach you get for being genuine, for sticking to principle, for standing for the truth, and for doing the right thing. It’s nothing you actually deserve to get, but it’s the kind of thing you’re sure to get if you’re the real deal.

Let’s take a look at what the Word of God says about the good kind of reproach.

Right Reproach

Firstly, “the reproach of Christ” is going to be based on a slander you just do not deserve. Take the case of Elizabeth, for example. You remember her? The wife of Zacharias? The mother of John the Baptist, eventually? Nice lady. But before all that, she had a pretty tough time.

You see, the common belief in Judaism was that there was some automatic relationship between being law-abiding, on the one hand, and prosperity, on the other, and between being a sinner and having bad things happen. And what could be a more important signal of prosperity for a woman than fecundity of the womb?

For Elizabeth, as for Hannah earlier, the suspicion would have been that she was childless because she had some secret sin, something she was not admitting, and hence God was judging her and exposing her dishonesty. When she speaks of this, she calls it her “reproach”. That is, that there was an accusation hanging over her head.

It wasn’t even a bit true. But it didn’t matter to the world. She was under their reproach. And the fact that she didn’t deserve it didn’t make it hurt her any less.

Reproach just hurts. No wonder we’re inclined to avoid it if we can.

Falling Into Reproach

Secondly, reproach is also a kind of trap. The world uses it as a) a reason to disregard our message, and b) an excuse to hate and abuse us. For that reason, we must be careful not to incur it if we can avoid it.

The concept comes up in regard to elders shepherding the church. When selecting, the church is to pay attention to the possibility of reproach falling on a leading person. Note that this is specifically to do with those “outside the church”. The word here means the leader’s “witness” or “testimony”: he must be a testimony to Christ to the external world.

Now, this is different from the word normally translated “reputation”. The world may or may not like him — that would be unimportant, since the reproaches of the world so often come undeserved — but his testimony must be judged by the congregation to be right in spite of whatever reproaches the world may or may not have.

Absent that, the potential elder would merely provide an opportunity for the Enemy, a “snare” he could use. Who would be caught in this snare, and how, are left unsaid: but it clearly would just not be a good thing to give him such an opportunity.

So the impulse of Christians to get along with the world as much as it rests with them to do so is not entirely bad; but it takes great discernment to know when that desire to please has to end. Because sometimes you just have to stand up.

Not Your Reproach

The reproach of Christ is pure. It comes not because of our personal failures or human mistakes, it comes because of our association with the Lord.

In his own example as Head Human Being, the Lord modeled this for us. He was innocent entirely. And yet he was bearing reproach. The world esteemed him struck down by God, since he was so clearly not prospering but being judged. Earlier, they had said, “We know this man is a sinner”, though they knew no such thing. They hated him without a cause.

But we see in Psalm 69:9 who was really being reproached. It was God the Father himself. People who hated God were hating his son: and the Son was pleasing not himself, nor serving his own interests by bearing this reproach, but was rather bearing the reproaches that wicked men are all too willing to heap upon the Holy One.

That’s what makes the reproach “pure”: that the real reason people are hating us is the One who is behind us. In all of this cloudy world, it’s not always obvious what right and wrong are. Good things sometimes get called evil, and evil things get celebrated as if they were good. But when the issue is Christ, the lines get perfectly crisp.

To confess his Name, and to be associated with him is pure delight. To despise him, and therefore to reproach those who love him, is pure evil.

Worthy of Reproach

The really encouraging thing is that ending up on the right side has nothing to do with our adequacy. We don’t need to be perfect in order to be the bearers of the testimony of Christ. In fact, reproach and abuse from the world is a very real possibility for anyone who loves God. Even flawed people like us can suffer for his name.

However, something incredibly wonderful happens when we do. We make an exchange. The reproach and hatred we experience here is translated by God into a far better and more lasting possession when we hold confidently to the faith. Endurance is met with an eternal reward of great value. Not only that, but fiery trials are the refiners of the Christian person, preparing him or her for glory; so even here we benefit from the revilement we experience from men.

Bearing his reproach is good for us. On so many levels.

Reproach as Treasure

So our human frailty and failings are not stop to God's plans for us. Just as Christ bore the reproaches directed against his Father, so too we bear a reproach not our own. Our reproach is truly his reproach.

But something amazing is said in this passage. Reproaches are called “riches”.

Not just “riches”, they’re a “reward”.

No, more than that: they’re “a treasure” to be “esteemed” above all the treasures of ancient Egypt.

Get that? If someone reproaches you in the name of Christ, they are heaping the glorious rewards of heaven on your head. They are piling up for you treasure beyond measure. You should be singing and dancing, for great is your reward in Heaven.

Cha-ching!

The Choice We Must Make

So now we must ask: how long can we live within the camp of the unrighteous? How long can the children of light walk at pace with a world that ultimately is headed down to death? How long can we remain manageable for those who despise the message we have been sent to bring? How long can we keep silent when we have been charged with the only good news? How long can we stay acceptable to those who ultimately hate our Lord?

Outside the camp is the loss of comfort.
Outside the camp is alienation.
Outside the camp is rejection.
Outside the camp is slander.
Outside the camp is abuse.
Outside the camp are persecution and death.
Outside the camp is truth.
Outside the camp is righteousness.
Outside the camp are the faithful and true.
Outside the camp is an eternal weight of glory.


So now the question:

“Do you want to go out?”

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