The Goodness of Judgment

As Paul opens his second letter to the church in Thessalonica, he points to the faithfulness of the believers as well as the promise of the judgment of God on the lost. I have some thoughts here, but I want to include the section for you to read with its context.

2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 – 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

My thoughts here are about the judgment of God. Particularly, I am thinking about God’s judgment in contrast with the way that many followers of God speak of his wrath. I believe, as I read this passage, that many of us, if we are not careful, are in danger of speaking of the wrath of the Almighty in a way that is inconsistent with biblical language and biblical emotion.

In verse 5, note that Paul speaks of “the righteous judgment of God.” In verse 6, Paul says, “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you.” Then, after a discussion of the judgment of God in verses 8-9, Paul speaks of how this all should motivate us to obedience. But the motivation is not because we fear being judged in a similar way. Never biblically is the Christian called to fear the fiery judgment of Christ on the lost. No, we are called to obey because we see that God’s justice will be done and our afflictions will be repaid.

Go back to verses 8-9. There we see the fiery judgment of God that will accompany the return of the Lord Jesus. There is nothing in these words of Scripture to soften the picture of God’s wrath. We see a reference to flaming fire (v. 8), to the Lord Jesus inflicting vengeance (v. 8), and the punishment of eternal destruction (v. 9). In all this, we see that it points to the glory of Christ (v. 10) and he pours out the judgment of God on those who are guilty of not knowing God or obeying the gospel (v. 8).

Also, as we read this section, we should see that the Lord gave these words to a persecuted church for their comfort. God wanted the church to understand that his reward for their faith and faithfulness is real. God also wanted them to see that his proper justice for the evils of the world around them is equally real and equally good.

Now, here is the challenge for us all. How are we to feel about these words? Do you regret them? Do they embarrass you as a believer? Do you wish they were not there? Do you tolerate them like you have to tolerate having dental work done? Do you welcome them into the house the way you welcome in that one relative that you would always prefer not to see but whom you have to invite over for a cookout from time to time?

Here is where I think we need biblical help. Our emotions need to mirror the feel of the Scripture. And while we know that the Lord himself tells us he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11), the Lord also makes it clear to us that his justice, even is wrath for those who refuse his gospel, is good; it is to his glory.

Christian, I would never call you to celebrate and laugh over another’s destruction. But, Christian, do not be ashamed of the judgment of God. Do not act as though god is a little lesser in your eyes for the existence of hell. Do not pretend that god is good in general, but if he really did things right, he would not judge.

Our god is holy. Our God sees evil with a clarity that you and I can never grasp before our ultimate and final sanctification leading to glorification. Until the Lord removes all your sin from you, you will never see just how ugly sin is nor how righteous and perfect is the Lord’s wrath.

But, even now, even before you can see with clarity the goodness of the Lord’s judgment, strive to embrace all that the Lord does as good, genuinely, beautifully, perfectly good. As heaven is good, so too is hell. Were this not so, God would not have made either. The Lord, his ways are perfect. Always, always remember this. And when you read of his love and mercy, rejoice. And when you read of his right wrath, ask the Lord to help you see this as his goodness too.

Justice

Justice is quite popular in discussions today. People are crying out for all sorts of things they call justice. But when we look at the word in Scripture, how do we know what it means? After all, it seems like people are strongly disagreeing with one another regarding what justice truly is.

For many people, a call for justice is a call for punishment. For them, to ask God to do justice is to ask God to properly punish the guilty. This is, of course, a part of justice, but only a part.

Others consider a call to justice to be a call to take power or privilege away from one group and spread that power around to those who did not previously have it. Thus, these would consider justice to be fairness. If one group has been hurt by another, the strong group should receive equal or even greater hurt in return.

The question is, when the Bible talks about justice, what picture is drawn? Take a peek at this poetic parallelism and see what it tells us.

Psalm 106:3

Blessed are they who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times!

God pronounces a blessing on those who do justice. This is no surprise. But what does that mean. The second line in the verse goes on to explain. Observing justice, in this verse, is equal to doing righteousness. Doing what is right in accord with the law, the word, the standard of God.

So, if we want to see justice done, we must begin with and remain firmly entrenched in the word of God. What does God say is righteous? That is what we must do.

The reason that justice is often connected to crime and punishment is that the word of God shows us God as the righteous final judge. God will properly punish what opposes him and God will rightly and sweetly reward his followers who are under his grace and obedient to his commands. Heaven and hell are displays of God’s justice and his righteous mercy. And, yes, the law of God shows us clear standards for crime and punishment as well.

But there is more. Loving your neighbor as yourself is righteousness, because such is obedience to the command of God when done for the glory of God. Acting to oppose immorality of all sorts, immorality as defined by Scripture, is doing justice because it is biblical righteousness. Protecting life, preserving marriage, punishing crime, all these are justice.

When you hear a call to justice, ask some important questions. Is the action I am being asked to take commanded in Scripture? Can I conclude that the action being championed is the direct result of proper application of biblical principles interpreted by faithful and consistent hermeneutical principles? Is the action that I am being called to champion going to treat others in an unrighteous way in order to achieve what one group is calling justice? Are there biblical examples of the action others want me to take? Would Bible-believing Christians of all cultures, globally and historically, be able to affirm the actions or standards being proposed?

Christians, we want to observe justice. We want to do righteousness at all times. This honors the Lord. And the only possible way for us to do so is for us to so marinate in Scripture that we think and bleed Bible in all our thoughts. Only the sanctifying word of God will lead us to true justice, to truly doing what is right in all things.

Speaking the Gospel Before the Powerful

How would you speak the truth of the gospel if you knew you were in danger? What would you say if you stood before someone who could hurt you but who gave you an opportunity to share openly? Would you be careful not to offend?

The apostle Paul found himself in a very curious position in Acts 24. After being unfairly accused by the Jews, Paul stood before a Roman official, Felix, and his wife, Drusilla. Felix had the power to release Paul or to abuse him. Felix was a harsh ruler who was guilty of having a Jewish high priest put to death. And Felix was blamed by many for causing the Jewish war from AD 66-70.

Felix’s wife, Drusilla, was a woman who left her husband to marry Felix. She was ethnically Jewish, though she was now a part of the oppressive Roman community. Married to Felix, Drusilla was very dangerous.

One might think that Paul would want to be careful with such a couple. Let’s see what Paul chose to preach when they asked him to deliver a little sermon for them.

Acts 24:24-25 – 24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”

Paul delivered a sermon about faith in Christ. This is no surprise. It is never a surprise to see that a Christian might call on people around him to believe. That is common, and generally acceptable. People like to believe in believing in general. And had Paul stopped there, his message would have likely done him no harm. The Romans like believing in all sorts of deities. Adding one more, Jesus, to the mix should have been no problem.

But then note the three topics in Paul’s little message: righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment. These were dangerous. Righteousness is living rightly, guiltlessly, before the Lord. Paul tells us in Romans 3:10 that there is no one righteous, not even one. Paul tells us in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Did he look these two in the eye and tell them that they too needed a righteousness they personally lacked? That is a dangerous message.

Paul next talked about self-control. And Paul was standing before a murderous official with his adulteress wife. Righteousness would not have been a comfortable topic. Self-control would have been even worse. These two were guilty of great sin because they both lacked self-control.

Then Paul preached on the coming judgment. We know that Paul had a well-developed eschatology, even by this time in his ministry. In 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Paul writes clearly about Christ’s return, the blessing of God’s children, and the wrath of God on the wicked. Paul had to talk about the fact that Jesus would come back and judge. He had to talk about the fact that only those who are covered by Christ’s grace and righteousness will go to heaven. He must have talked about the fact that those who refuse Christ will stand before God and be found wanting for their lack of righteousness and self-control. This would lead back to the preaching of faith in Christ as the only way that any person can be forgiven for their wrong and granted by God the righteousness they need to enter his eternal kingdom.

So, when Paul stood before a dangerous ruler, what did he do? He preached the gospel. He held nothing back. He told an unrighteous man that he needed righteousness that he could never personally achieve. He told a woman without self-control that she was guilty before God. Paul told both that they faced a judgment to come that they could not survive without personal saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

May we be people who are bold enough to tell this kind of truth, in love, to all. May we never hold back just because we want to impress a government official. May we never hold back just because the person we preach to could do us harm. May we honor the Lord Jesus and let his gospel message do its work.