Meditations in 1 Peter : 57: The Church Judged
1 Pet 4:17-19 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 God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good
Talk about judgment coming on the church might send us into a nervous breakdown! Surely we say, Jesus has died to deal with all our sins and so there is no condemnation, no guilt and no punishment. Well, absolutely right in eternal terms but Scripture is clear that Christians still have to live with the consequences of what they do or don’t do. Paul’s declaration that “A man reaps what he sows,” applies to us as much as to the world. We should be sowing righteousness and reaping its rewards.
If we are foolish and doing silly or wrong things, we will reap the same things as the world. A good example would be a young Christian who gets swept up with the mentality of the world and so has sex with a number of partners, as is common behaviour in the world. That Christian should not then be upset when they catch a sexually transmitted disease. Similarly a person who does not allow the Lord to deal with their unrestrained anger should not be surprised when that anger breaks loose and ends up with them in a fight and in police cells. The same is true of the Christian who is unrestrained in their drinking habits and likewise ends up in police cells. These are all simple and obvious examples of silly Christians who have not realised that Jesus will not cover up their ongoing sin, but will in fact, deal with it.
‘Judgment’ is simply an act of God to remedy a bad situation. At the extreme end (in our view at least) it may involve death. At the other end of the spectrum it may simply involve corrective discipline that makes the sinner face up to their foolish behaviour and then change it. In the New Testament, the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira would fit the description of judgment. Did they lose their eternal destiny? There is no indication of that; simply that they were taken home prematurely. The apostle Paul had to chide the church in Corinth for their behaviour at communion and concluded, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep,” (1 Cor 11:29,30) which was a gentle way of saying that some of them had died because of their behaviour! He was saying, you have brought God’s corrective action on yourselves!
So now we come to Peter speaking prophetically about what is about to happen in the church: “it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.” Things are about to happen which are at the instigation of God to bring about a fresh sense of righteousness and holiness in the church. God is coming to do a cleaning up in the church! (And that is nothing to do with dusting the pews!) The Lord is about to draw a marker in the sand and say, there are standards to be adhered to if you call yourself a Christian! Live accordingly! Some commentators point out that the preposition is actually ‘from’ not ‘with’. i.e. judgment starts from, but I can see no difference in the outcome. The Lord brings correction and works outwards from the Church.
A little later, he confirms this viewpoint with the words, “And, If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,” which seems a quote from the Greek Old Testament, “If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner!” (Prov 11;31) but it is still a warning about what is about to start with the Church. Yes, it is also a warning to the world for, “what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And …. what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” If God is going to discipline and make an example of His Church, what will He do to unrepentant unbelievers? World, you need to think about this!
But then he brings it back to the subject of suffering through persecution: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” It would seem that the discipline to bring cleansing and purification is, in fact, going to come in the form of persecution. One has to admit, observing the church around the world, that those countries where persecution of Christians prevails seem to have a healthier church. It is a sad thing if the church can only be holy, righteous and pure when persecution and opposition are experienced, but that so often seems to be the case.
Does God bring the persecution? No, He simply steps back and allows the sinfulness of mankind and the work of Satan, to prevail unrestrained. He uses that persecution to purify the church; that much is obvious. How much better it would be if we had the sense to put the house in order ourselves, without having to be pressurized into it by the Lord’s corrective processes.