Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Things NOT Done in the Body

One night in my late teens I found myself facing a temptation that is probably better not described in excruciating detail. Let’s just say it was a temptation common to young men. The other party was ready and willing and very much to my taste, there were no adults around to complicate matters, the situation was intimate and comfortable, and there was every natural reason to carry right on with what was already well underway.

For reasons I was unable to adequately spell out at the time, I didn’t. I’m not sure there’s a heavenly reward for that exactly, but I can tell you without even a shred of doubt that I did save myself a great deal of earthly emotional distress, guilt, ongoing complications and probably several courses of antibiotics.

If you must know, I blame my parents for that one. There’s probably a reward coming for them, if not for me.

Our Heavenly Reward

We don’t think about that often, do we? At least, I know I don’t. We speak regularly about heavenly reward for the “things done in the body”, as the apostle Paul calls them. We do not meditate quite so much on the bad things that are not done, or on the consequences to ourselves and to others of our not having done them. Sometimes these omissions are every bit as significant as the good deeds we do.

When God commends his servant Job to Satan’s consideration, he not only mentions Job’s habitual uprightness of character and his unique reverence for God (“there is none like him on earth”), he adds that Job is “blameless” and that he “fears God and turns away from evil”. That’s a pretty impressive resume, and it consists largely in the things Job didn’t do, rather than the positive things he did. In fact, the whole lengthy book of Job turns on a single very salient question: Will Job curse God to his face, as Satan claims he will? (Spoiler alert: Satan loses.)

Seven Guys Who Didn’t

But Job is far from the only individual in the Bible whose failure to behave predictably and sinfully in the face of powerful natural urges rates a mention. Abram refused the generosity of the King of Sodom. Joseph ran for the hills when Potiphar’s wife showed too much interest. Moses disdained the treasures of Egypt. David turned down Ornan the Jebusite’s offer to pay for what later became the temple site out of his own pocket. Daniel and his three friends declined the king’s meat and became what I figure are probably the first documented post-Flood vegetarians in the Bible. Later, three of them refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol at the risk of their lives.

All are commendable not just for what they did, but for what they didn’t.

Assessing the Harvest

How do we measure our service for Christ? It’s tough, isn’t it? You preach to the same congregation for thirty years, and maybe 15 or 20 people in that entire time really, visibly, permanently change in ways that mean something to the kingdom of God. In the same time period, hundreds or even thousands of their fellow churchgoers come and go, a bunch more fall into sin of various sorts and some outright apostatize. No fun at all. And even with the ones who make significant spiritual progress, you know if you’re honest with yourself that you can’t really take much credit. You’re just one link in a long chain of God’s dealings with them, and it may be the guy or girl before or after you in that chain that really made most of the difference.

But if you think that sort of spiritual calculus is tough sledding, try assessing the eternal impact of the things you didn’t do; or perhaps even the things you encouraged others not to do. You can’t. You’ll never know that until the Judgment Seat. If your message on self-control to the youth group turns out to be the reason a single teenage girl saved her virginity for her husband, how on earth would you ever figure that out? If your own honesty was a model for your son and kept him from cheating on his exams, how would you know? If your marriage was a model of love and faithfulness that made the usual teenage assignations look pathetic, squalid and shabby to your daughter’s Christian friends, how would you measure that exactly?

Stuff That Happens All the Time

And yet I guarantee things like this happen all the time. You’ve changed things for someone you know or love in a major, significant, Christ-honoring, God-pleasing way, and you’ll never have the slightest clue you did it.

The choices I made to resist evil — few and far between though they may have been — were never mine alone. Almost every bit of resistance to sin I have ever managed to muster came in the strength of some biblical principle or some direct word from God that was taught to me by someone else.

Try measuring that if you can. I’ll tell you right now, you can’t.

The Judgment Seat of Christ is going to be an interesting time, isn’t it?

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