Human value systems are not the same as God’s. To us, suffering, poverty and rejection at the least make us think we not doing something right, but that is not the case in God’s mind. When He wrote letters to seven churches (in the book of Revelation), only two were not rebuked. One was the church at Smyrna, a church that was poor and in trouble.
He says, “I know your afflictions and your poverty yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
This church was poor when it came to money, afflicted by persecution, and rejected by their “religious” peers, but God called them “rich” and “faithful.” He said they might die under the hands of their enemies, but not to be afraid; their reward would be eternal.
Human beings value greatness in terms of power and public recognition, but Jesus said, “He who is least among you all will be great” and explained that the way to preeminence is by sacrifice and self-denial. That is not our value system.
Human beings also value money. It is well-known that Jesus said we cannot serve both money and God, but I’ve never heard a sermon on what He said after that about our human value system. He reminded His listeners that they tried to justify the things they did before others, but God knew their hearts. Then He made this shocking statement, “What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
Moses had it figured out. The Bible says of him in Hebrews 11, “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.”
Before Christ came, this great leader understood that the sufferings in his life were zilch compared to the rewards of the life to come. After Christ came, the church in Smyrna was given the same wisdom; this life is not all there is. It may be dark and difficult right now, but your reward is coming.
Ecclesiastes says something along the same vein that sometimes haunts me, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by it the heart is made better.” In our house, we often discuss the reality that we learn very little when things are going well. It is through trials and struggle that we grow in character and in faith. That being true, the thing that strikes me is how quickly and how often those who know this truth bring their problems to God requesting He remove or fix the problem. In our human value system, we would rather not grow, but be comfortable. It might not be so in our theology, but it pops up in our prayer requests, or at least it does in mine.
(Note: See Sunday, March 4/07 entry at Words of Grace. We mananged to hit the same topic, but he writes it much better than I!)