This is for you, lonely Christian web-trawler, whoever you are. I am writing in the hopes of providing you comfort. I want this to be a balm to you. My only warning, however, is that if your heart does not delight in becoming more like Christ, and if you do not actively desire to do this, you might find what follows to be more of a drudge than a consolation. If you are a relatively new Christian and positively delighting in becoming like Christ is a step further into the Christian walk than you feel you’ve got up to yet, try this instead; it should console you better. You have been warned.
Here are five scenarios to which you might be able to relate and ways in which you can use them to God’s glory. Then we’ll conclude with some general remarks.
Nobody will include you in their inner social circle.
If you are in this position, your fear of losing your privileged standing with people should not pose a temptation to sin for you, as you do not have that standing to begin with. The only inner circle in which you are concerned to remain is Christ’s, if it is the only inner circle in which you have standing. If you do not covet or envy, then by patience you will be trained in loving others without hope that they will repay you, and without idolizing social or relational recompense in this life. So you can do Christ’s will impartially, love self-sacrificially and benefit a wider circle of people in the process.
People criticize, judge and take advantage of you.
If you are innocent then know that you are in the shoes of Christ for these things happened to him also, and he bore them in love, knowing that his reward was with the Father. If you endure what he endured, as he endured it, then in this you are proven his disciple and you have made your calling and your election that bit surer.
You have worked hard and self-sacrificially at the more mundane or undesirable aspects of countless projects for people, and yet nobody to date has ever given you any formal recognition, and when the Facebook photos go up, you don’t seem to be on any of them.
Don’t covet this. The Father sees what you do in secret, and your reward all the more is in heaven with him, for the fact that you didn’t seek praise from them or try to make them respect you. If you can resign yourself to the fact that you will never likely be credited in front of other people, and still go on doing good regardless for the sake of Christ and others, then you have less reason to worry about whether you are doing your good deeds for the applause of man, and greater grounds for hope in a more glorious reward. Do not seek mentions in overt, public votes of thanks: do nothing that might spoil the precious deposit that you are storing up! Make a concerted effort not complain or flag up your feelings of neglect, because if you can resist seeking recognition from people for your good works, your reward will be more heavenly than earthly, and in heaven it will be everlasting.
People are harsh to you and especially unforgiving of your sins against them.
Such is the wickedness of the human heart, that it will not forgive, even though it stands in need of grace. You are privileged to have insight into its wickedness. The world, which knows that an appeal to vanity sells as a mirror to the heart does not, would cover up this depravity and lie to you, and make you believe that people are actually good. You are privileged because from this vantage point, you have eyes to see the truth of what a hopeless creature is man: by God’s grace you have escaped the lie that fallen man can be good by his own willing. You can observe that you are such as them, and that they and you are such as all. Thus you can look with compassion and mercy on humanity, because you know what is in man, and that they are acting as their depraved frame disposes them. You need to pray for these unforgiving people, because they are damaging their souls. Scripture suggests that we are forgiven by God to the extent that we forgive others (Matthew 6:12, Matthew 18:21-35). To this extent they put themselves in danger by their actions.
People feign affection for you in public to win the esteem of others and disown you when it suits them – on the quiet if you are liked by those whose esteem they value, or in public if the opinions of those whose esteem they value are not favourable towards you.
So did they to Jesus, and so they do to God. So do they to those who are patient and merciful, who hold to their dignity and rights lightly and look to the Father to avenge them for the abuses they have endured, or to bring the wrongdoer to repentance. Again, you are standing in the shoes of Jesus if you endure patiently and have mercy. This was surely how Christ was received, by the Pharisees and by the crowds, from the Triumphal Entrance where they shouted “Hosannah in the Highest!”, to the trial before Pilate where they shouted “Crucify him!”. If in this scenario as in all others you can prove yourself a peacemaker, then you are blessed.
Such a huge value is placed, in the Bible, on being good imitators of Jesus Christ. Consciously being imitators of him is one thing that can help us to keep our head above the water, because we know that what we are living has an eternal purpose in him. When we see righteous sufferings as a ‘type’ of Christ’s sufferings, it dignifies them and gives them a meaning that truly matters. Our salvation itself is not just brought about by the death and Resurrection of Christ: it is actually modelled on them too. When we die to sin we are united with Christ in his death, and when we enter new life we rise with him in his Resurrection (Romans 6). The early Christians were taught to rejoice in their persecutions for the gospel because Christ was also persecuted for the gospel (1 Peter 4:13), and pretty much all of the book of 1 John is about being recognised as children of God by the way we walk – which is supposed to be like Jesus. Christ likewise authenticated himself as the Son of his Father by his imitation of the Father (John 5:19). We are commanded by Paul to “be imitators of God, as dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1), and by him we are also told, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:9). So there really is something precious about being able to resemble Christ when we endure unfair rejection and inexplicably harsh treatment. Although this does not make us ‘saved’, it marks us out and sets us apart, authenticating our identity as sons and daughters of our Father in heaven. So if we take injustice like Christ, we have reason to be glad, because when we bear his image in the way we walk the path of this life, that image validates our suffering, and our suffering authenticates us as his.