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09.04.16 Our Rush to Judgment 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 et. al Sermon Outline

by on September 6, 2016

“If it bleeds it leads” is a venerable journalistic principle dating all the way back to the Bible. But the Bible has a better story to tell.

Summary Points

  • The popular conception of final judgment
  • The difference between legal justice and biblical justice
  • The example of Psalm 98
  • Paul’s understanding of the final judgment
  • Beginning to live in God’s Kingdom today
  • Questions for Discussion or Reflection

When you ask people about the final judgement in the Bible, they immediately pull up images of “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” of the “lake of unquenchable fire,” and people being devoured by a “worm that never dies.” This winter Dan Brown’s novel by the same name will reignite interest in Dante’s 14th century Inferno with its depiction of hell consisting of levels of horrible creatures and unending torture.

We’re fascinated by gore, suffering, and the misfortune of others. This is why there is rubbernecking at the scene of an accident. It’s partly because of a dark sense of gratitude, largely unconscious, that says, “Thank God that isn’t me.” This is also why Jesus warns us against our rush to judgment of other people. This fascination isn’t healthy for us, it isn’t good for others, and most importantly, it isn’t necessarily the best conception of God.

If one wanted to reduce the plot of the Bible to one line, it might be this: That God is about conquering enemies. Naturally when we hear this we think God is about conquering our enemies. This is because we fall to the original temptation of thinking we can accurately discern the difference between good and evil.

But Bible’s vison is bigger than God conquering our enemies. It’s bigger than the vision contained in many of the words of its authors. Still, the last third of Isaiah glimpses the bigger vision, as do some of the Psalms. Paul’s vision is perhaps the most detailed.

Take Psalm 98, for example. It begins by praising God for his victory over evil. It begins the story in terms of God’s faithfulness to the promises to ancient Israel. But the psalm quickly moves to include the deliverance of all nations. Then of all creation. God’s promises to Israel are actually promises through Israel to all nations and all creation—to deliver from evil so all can worship God. (See last week’s message.)

Here we see the biblical definition of “justice.” One conservative talk radio host often asserts, “There is no such thing as social justice; there is only justice. Social justice is a creation of the left.” He is entirely wrong. I suspect he’s referring to “justice” in the legal sense which means the application of law. But “justice” in the biblical sense means “righteousness.” It refers to the right relationships among all God’s creatures: From person to person; from people to creation; from nation to nation; and of course between God and creation. So we love our neighbors as ourselves, and we consume no more than we need to allow others to live also.

For example, it might be legally just for a farmer to harvest his entire field year after year and then sell his produce at the highest price the market will bear. But biblical justice require him to leave the corners of his field for those not blessed with a farm to glean for their survival, and to sell at a price that sustains society, and to leave the field fallow every seven years for the benefit of the land.

“Social justice” is the term we use to differentiate biblical justice from legal justice. It’s also the standard by which God judges us.

So God’s justice in Psalm 98 is not punishment of the wicked so much as it is deliverance from evil. Deliverance and restoration.

Paul’s most detailed vision of God’s justice is expressed in 1 Corinthians 15. Here he is defending Christian belief in the resurrection. Like most Jews of his day, Paul and early Christianity taught hope in a general resurrection of the dead, after which all people would face judgment and righteousness would be restored. Christians recognized that the general resurrection had begun with Christ’s resurrection. This is why Paul writes that if Christ is not raised, that is, if the general resurrection hasn’t begun, then Christian faith is futile because sin still reigns.

But Christ has been raised. The general resurrection has begun. Sin no longer reigns. So Christian faith is valid. The faith to which Paul refers here is faith in the general resurrection, faith in the triumph of God over sin and death. It is faith in the justice of Psalm 98 when righteousness is restored, when the Kingdom of God rules over kingdoms of earth.

This is why Paul finally envisions Christ handing over the kingdom to God. This is the final judgment of God. Today we live between Christ’s resurrection and this handing over. It is the time of the Spirit, the time of redemption moving towards restoration. All creation is in the labor pains of the new creation being born (see Romans 8). This is what Christians believe, and we act accordingly.

So 1 Corinthians 15 ends: “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” In other words, Kingdom living is not in vain. It endures, it gets “handed over” by Christ to God.

Paul is building on an earlier metaphor he used in 1 Corinthians 3. There he refers to the foundation of Christ in our lives. The basis of Christian faith is Christ and his resurrection, or in other words, the general resurrection and the Kingdom of God. Upon this foundation we build the rest of our lives. And we build either according to God’s kingdom, i.e., with gold, silver, and precious stones. Or we build according to the worldly kingdoms, i.e., with wood, hay, or straw.

Paul describes how, before Jesus hands over our lives as part of the Kingdom, he purges us with fire. Jesus burns out everything that isn’t Kingdom material. Wood, hay, and straw burns away. We survive on the foundation of Christ and are handed over with the Kingdom. But whether our lives come with us depends on how we built.

So look at your life. Are you building with gold, silver, and precious stones? Or are you building with wood, hay, and straw? Does your life reflect God’s Kingdom, or the kingdoms of the world? Are you living with faith in the resurrection of the dead, or as if this life is all that matters? These are the important questions that should govern our lives.

We can also begin to think about our rush to judgment in a new way. The refining fires of God’s judgment prepare us for Jesus’ final handing over of the Kingdom to God. We have a foretaste of those fires already in our trials and temptations. Let us try to welcome these fires as the means by which God is bringing forth virtue and character in our lives today. Our fiery trials and tribulations are somehow God’s working things out in our lives.

In Jesus Christ God has defeated the enemy, and the last enemy is death. And if death has been defeated, then we can live in God’s kingdom—now and when Jesus hands it over on the last day.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • How does the difference between legal justice and biblical justice change the way you think about what it means to live a just life? What difference might it make with regards to our legal system? Or with other social systems like economics, education, foreign policy, etc.?
  • “Christian faith” is often reduced to “belief that Jesus died for your sins.” But if Christian faith is really faith in the general resurrection, begun in Christ, how does that change your Christian faith?
  • Can you share some of the building materials in your life? What are some examples of gold, silver, and precious stones in your life? What materials are more wood, straw, and hay?
  • Can you share some of the “foretaste of fires” you are experiencing today? Where might these be leading you?

 

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