7. Suffering and Shame

The Dais or “Judgment Seat”
of God and His Christ

Chapter Seven

SUFFERING AND SHAME are not our portion at the dais. But they are our high privilege at present, in preparation for it. Instead of facing a future “hell” or “purgatory” or “judgment seat,” with punishment as our lot, we may endure evil with the evangel now and, as a reward, we will reign together with Christ in glory.

One of Paul’s latest letters is much concerned with the future and the requital of “that day.” This phrase is found thrice in his second epistle to Timothy (1:12,18; 4:8). In each case it is associated with suffering evil (1:8; 2:9; 4:5). The suffering of the saint is not at the dais, but in view of it. It is not inflicted by God, but man, not for sin, but for faithfulness and endurance. It will lead, not to a second death, but to an abundant life and rare reward. We need not dread suffering at the dais, but endure it now, and enjoy it in anticipation of that day.

Shame, also, is associated with our service in view of the dais (2 Tim.1:8,12,16). The testimony of Paul is not a path to popularity. He exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of His prisoner (1:8). Paul himself was not ashamed, in view of that day (1:12). Onesiphorus was not ashamed of Paul’s chains, and will find mercy in that day (1:16). The Christian ministry is generally supposed to be one of the most honorable and dignified of all professions, as far removed from suffering and shame and evil as can be, yet here we have its greatest exponent suffering as if he were a criminal, an enemy of human society, so that he finds it needful to assure us that he is not ashamed of himself and to beg his son in the faith not to be ashamed of him, and to commend a household that stood by him and was not ashamed. How have the times changed!

I have just heard a story that gives us a hint of the average minister’s attitude since then. A friend heard many a sermon from a clergyman several years ago, but cannot recall anything he said except, on one occasion, when he was inducting another clergyman into the pastorate of a neighboring church. Then he repeatedly expressed the wish that his colleague would have a good time during his term of office! Alas, how sordid has the spirit of Christendom sunk! A pastor true to Paul today is liable to lose his position and his salary and his reputation. Even in those days many of the saints were ashamed of the greatest and grandest exponent and example of God’s glorious grace.

Suffering evil with the evangel is almost unknown. Instead, the “gospel” has often been made the stepping stone to a place of preferment and pelf. Is it not clear that something is amiss? The world has not changed its attitude toward God. Yes, and the saints have not altered their rejection of Paul (2 Tim.1:15). He had gone among them with great success. He had recently written to them of the highest truths ever made known. Would they not cleave to him through thick and thin? Would they not honor him above all men? No! The capstone of grace demands that he suffer shame from the hands of God’s saints, the very ones who owed him all! I take comfort in the fact that I have had a like experience. The Adversary sees to it that slander directed against a follower of Paul is accepted by the saints without a shred of evidence, and even against all the evidence. Where I have excelled I have been condemned.

Let anyone proclaim the pure evangel of Paul today and he will soon learn what it is to suffer evil with it, in accord with the power of God. Even its most elementary feature will cause trouble in the vast majority of churches. Go into them and insist that God saves us with a holy calling, not in accord with our acts, and you will soon be in disgrace. What! Place a premium on being bad! No reward for being good! That is not “Christianity!” Anyone should know that only good people go to heaven and the bad to hell! I once heard an enlightened preacher hint at a great truth in the course of an address to a very high-class congregation. One could feel, as it were, a damp fog fall on his listeners. After the sermon, he said to me, “Now do you see?” His point was that you could not cast pearls before the proud without being trampled.

The vast bulk of Christendom has no inkling of God’s purpose and grace. Indeed, they have never heard that He has a plan. And when they hear that it has no place for good people they are opposed to it, and vent their wrath on those who make it known. Even where this most elementary truth is acknowledged, there is a strong tendency to act otherwise so as not to disturb the religious sinners who form the bulk of our congregations.

Alas! The saints also are far too greatly concerned with their own plans and give too little heed to His. Our rewards at the dais are largely determined by our cooperation with God’s purpose. Nor is it the amount of work we do in “building up the kingdom” that counts, but the suffering we endure on account of our faithfulness in testifying to it. All are out after blessing, especially soulish emotions, and they are exhorted to “count their blessings, one by one, and see what God has done.” But it is not our blessings which will count at the dais, but our sufferings in His service that will give us a special place of privilege in the future.

It takes power to suffer evil in God’s service. This can come only through faith in His Word, especially in an appreciation of His Godlike dealings with us, entirely apart from our own consciousness or volition. The delicious thought that His grace toward us was exercised before eonian times is a tremendous help to lift us out of our own weakness and stand on His strength. The mere fact that, at that time, when we had as yet done nothing amiss that called for it, His grace was given us in Christ Jesus, shows that our sin was well known to Him, and was a vital factor in His purpose, for He could show such grace only to those who deserved the opposite. If He reckoned with our sins then, it is evident that He can cope with them now.

Paul himself is our example in this as in all else. He has the highest titles which a servant of Christ can obtain in this era. He has a triple crown, far more magnificent than that of the Roman pontiff today. He was a Herald, an Apostle and a Teacher of the nations. His parish was the world, including every nation on the inhabited earth. In time, his ministry extends throughout this eon, for he did not only speak, but made his message immortal by his pen. He was the first to herald the abolition of death and to bring to light life and incorruption. None of the apostles before him had such a message. None had the scope of his, either in space or time. His teaching far transcends that of any other either before or after him. I feel sure that every saint will agree that he deserves the highest honors of anyone who ever lived.

And what was his earthly reward? Did they build him a vast cathedral, such as was later erected to honor Peter in Rome? Did they seat him on a jeweled throne with a glittering crown upon his head? Did they come to adore and kiss him as they now kiss St. Peter’s brazen toe? Far from all this! When our Lord was crucified, his disciples left Him and fled. So also, when Paul was imprisoned, most of his followers forsook him and were ashamed to have anything to do with him. Indeed, he was so cut off from his erstwhile friends that it was hard to find him, even by those who were not ashamed of him (2 Tim.1:17).

Why was Paul suffering these shameful indignities? Because he was God’s ambassador to a rebellious world. Because, as the herald and apostle and teacher of the nations he was faithful to the evangel committed to him. Because he made God’s purpose known, and the grace which is ours in Christ Jesus through His crucifixion and burial and ascension and glorification. Because he taught the abolition of death and the vivification of all in his evangel. Because this shameful treatment of God’s most highly honored and supremely blest of all the servants of Christ is essential as a background for the revelation of His transcendent grace, not only to mankind, but to all His creatures in the celestial spheres as well, not only now, but in the eons that impend.

Paul himself knew this, therefore he insists that he is not ashamed (2 Tim.1:12). However, he was not concerned so much about himself as about the evangel which had been committed to him. What would become of it after he was gone? Timothy, indeed, was left, and a few others, but the great bulk of those whom he had reached seem to have forsaken him. Moreover, there were forces at work which turned the saints from him and his teaching. Phygellus and Hermogenes were but samples of the many in the province of Asia, where he had reached such numbers, and to whom he had sent his grandest epistles. But he was not ashamed, because he knew whom he had believed, and was persuaded that He is able to guard what was committed to him for that day (2 Tim.1:12).

One of the greatest miracles of the so-called “Christian centuries” is the continual persistence or revival of Pauline truth. It was almost eclipsed before Paul himself was taken from the scene. We seldom read of it in ecclesiastical histories, as it made little impression on the times. There were feeble flickers among the Waldensians, in Switzerland, and the Hussites in Bohemia. Luther and his helpers recovered a little in Germany. Wickliffe and Darby in England made some advance. But in almost every case there was no clear-cut severance from the Circumcision scriptures, and these dominated and darkened the light. Pardon dragged down justification to its own level. Law-keeping smothered grace.

Paul is entitled to a requital for his written as well as his oral ministry. In this way, the course of his evangel after his personal departure will affect his award “in that day,” even though this was not his first thought in regard to it. He could hardly have envisioned a period of two thousand years for the operation of his evangel, or the millions of men who would believe during this interval, though this, also, is in fullest accord with the character of grace. Few things will so emphasize this as the fact that the great mass of those who are saved in this administration neither know nor appreciate the favor which fashions their fate. Nay, most of them actively disown it and denounce those who seek to reveal it to them. They are saved by a grace which they detest, for it takes away from them the robe of their own righteousness.

Paul’s persuasion is a great comfort to those who follow him today. After an average lifetime spent mostly in seeking to make known the transcendent truths in Paul’s epistles, my experience has been closely parallel to his. I am well aware that his evangel must be rejected by the mass and cherished only by a few, and I am most thankful for those who have embraced it and revel in it. I am not unduly concerned about the future, as though it depended on my unaided efforts, for I am certain that He will guard the truths which He has opened up to my heart and which I have tried to share with my fellow saints.

Paul’s exhortation to Timothy has been much to me. He wrote to him, “You, then, child of mine, be invigorated by the grace which is in Christ Jesus. And what things you hear from me...these commit to faithful men, who shall be competent to teach others also” (2 Tim.2:1,2). This is God’s method of guarding and disseminating that which He had committed to Paul. We seek to conform to it in our work, through our translations and concordances and magazines and other literature. Although we do not confine our teaching to Paul’s writings, we give them the first place, and insist that all the rest must be considered in the fuller light which his epistles cast upon God’s ways and purpose and ultimate.

Those who spread Paul’s teaching must suffer Paul’s treatment. The teaching and the treatment are close companions. The more gain you deserve at the dais the more pain you are likely to bear beforehand. Paul’s case was not due to his person, but his message. The more you think about it, the stranger it seems that he exhorts his successor to suffer evil! How seldom is this note heard today in preparing for the ministry! Is it not because Paul’s message is missing? There is no need to act so as to deserve evil because of our faults, or lack of loving consideration. That should never be encouraged. But when we are faithful to Paul’s evangel, and the inevitable evil ensues, let us bear it and never shrink from suffering with the great herald and apostle and teacher. Rather, let us cherish it as a privilege, the highest honor which this era can confer on the sons of Adam.

In all honesty, I must confess, however, that I failed in this matter on one occasion. Letters from one of my helpers were so cruel and contemptuous, that, added to other distress I was called upon to bear, they totally incapacitated me for my work. So I refused to read them further. Since then I find it necessary to shun correspondence with those whose letters are calculated to lower my vitality and hinder, or stop, my constructive work which, alone, is very trying, as it calls for continuous and exhausting mental concentration.

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I am not a literal soldier or athlete or farmer, yet, figuratively, I am all three, in view of the dais of Christ. This group of figures, which applies to all who belong to Christ in this administration, whatever their station or means of livelihood, is not only most helpful in view of that day, but should assist us in understanding the function of figures of speech, for they are mutually exclusive if we apply them without limitations. No one can be similar to a soldier in all respects and at the same time be altogether like an athlete and resemble a farmer in every way. In each case, the concordance is confined to a single feature. It includes nothing but the suffering of a soldier, the rules of the games, and the firstness of the farmer in partaking of his fruits.

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Timothy was not exhorted to emulate a soldier in every particular. He was not advised to take physical training to build up his bodily strength and learn how to fight and destroy and kill his enemies. Quite the opposite! But there was one phase of the soldier’s life which would enter his experience, and that is suffering. We seldom picture an ideal soldier as a sufferer. We paint him as in the prime of youthful strength and vigor, with martial might, as the song says, “marching as to war.” If I had any idea that it would be accepted, I would suggest that these words be changed to a more scriptural phrase, “suffering as in war.” But who would want to sing about that? Alas, the “Christian soldiers” of today do not take their marching orders from Paul, so have little cause to suffer.

Millions upon millions of men living today have learned that Paul was right. The false glamour of war has been replaced in their minds by the realities of its results. What suffering has followed in its train! Hitherto there seems to have been little recognition of this aspect in military circles. Bravery and success were rewarded with medals and decorations, as they are now, but today wounds and suffering call for stripes and the purple heart. Whatever may be the outward symbols of combat, the most enduring are engraven on the hearts of those who suffered fatigue and hunger, disease and mutilation, nerve shock, and utter spiritual devastation. Such is the picture put before us by Paul. Just as some of the soldiers who suffered severely cheerfully faced their fate, so we should accept the suffering which comes to us with Paul with acquiescent fortitude and thankfulness.

Of course, the true servant of Christ, especially if he is a follower of Paul, will never think of misusing the evangel for his own material benefit. Yet there is the tendency in us all to abuse God’s gracious gifts. If the prime motive in our hearts is to make an easy living by selling the truth, it may not land us in jail now, but, it will seriously affect our reward in that day. It will do little good to preach grace if our acts do not correspond. Devoutness is not capital, and we should not expect to profit by it in a financial way.

In practice, Paul worked at his trade in order to provide for himself and those with him (Acts 20:34). Yet he never was involved or entangled by his business, so that it hindered his work. Even in those days, the demands of business could involve a man to such an extent that he had no time or strength to give to the ministry to which God called him. At one time I was superintendent of a printing plant with about forty employees. I found this so strenuous that I had no vitality left for the work I loved, so I resigned and demoted myself to a common workman at a lower wage. But I had to suffer for this also, as it was misunderstood by those who did not sympathize with my work in the Scriptures. My fellow craftsmen thought I was mentally unbalanced, yet I felt a great relief. But it was a great blessing to me, as it left me time and strength for my main purpose in life, which was not to make a living, but to discover and publish God’s truth.

This figure of a soldier can easily be perverted unless we hold it down to the points mentioned. Indeed, we are not to war with anyone, but to proclaim peace. Literally, it conflicts with that of the ambassador. Only in respect to suffering and involvement does it find any parallel in God’s servants today. Neither does it insist on abstinence from any gainful occupation, for this is expressly implied in the next figure, that of a farmer, and such abstinence directly denounced in some cases. Paul worked night and day, with toil and labor, so as not to be burdensome to anyone, and gave himself as a model in this regard.

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Another phase of the dais, and the one which causes the most perplexity, is figured by the athlete. Paul had used this figure before, to illustrate the subjection of the physical body. Every athlete must observe training. He dare not pamper the flesh before contending in the games. But this phase is not before us here. Rather he adds one point which is closely in line with our present theme. He races and boxes so as not to be disqualified. He must observe the rules of the game. The A.V. rendering “castaway” gives an entirely false turn to the figure. No athlete was ever cast away if he failed to observe the conditions. He is not banished or executed, but disqualified. He loses the race even if he is first over the line. He is not acclaimed the winner in a boxing match if he strikes below the belt. So it will be at the dais. There will be much loss on account of lawless competition.

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The toiling farmer must be the first to partake of the fruits (2 Tim.2:6). Rightly the farmer is entitled to nine-tenths of the fruit (1 Cor.9:7). So it was ordained in connection with the Circumcision. The Levites and priests were supported by the nation. But Paul refused to use his rights, because his was a message of grace. So now he gives the farmer the priority, but not all the fruit of his labors.

Paul’s second epistle to Timothy is concerned with the last days, so applies to us in a very special way, for it is adapted to the conditions under which we live. It is the most perilous period in this administration. The truth is being withstood as never before. Sound teaching is not tolerated and many are turned aside to myths. Disorder is everywhere. Insubjection is rampant and even disguises itself as submission to the Lord. But the trials of the time give us an opportunity to endure suffering and shame, which will win a rich reward at the dais. May we have grace to take advantage of our special privileges, and use them to glorify His Name!

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In some respects, it is more difficult to avoid suffering in these last days than in Timothy’s time. The Scriptures declare that, in these days, men will be selfish, fond of money, ostentatious, proud, calumniators, stubborn to parents, ungrateful, malign, without natural affection, implacable, adversaries, uncontrollable, fierce, averse to the good, traitors, rash, conceited, fond of their own gratification rather than fond of God, having a form of devoutness, yet denying its power. Such we are bidden to shun (2 Tim.3:1-5). Is it possible to live amongst such “saints” and not suffer? Thank God, the Scriptures do not say that all are to be like this. Nor does each one have all of these traits. Yet it behooves each one of us to be aware of this word, and to watch that we are not even tinged with such sins. But we cannot help suffering from their very presence. Until we become acquainted with them we may not even know that they are included in this list. Some sins, such as selfishness, are so prevalent, that they do not impress us at first.

I once thought that, by being gracious, I would avoid most of the suffering that would otherwise come my way. But experience has taught me otherwise. It often makes it much worse, for we feel it far more when grace is recompensed with evil, than when we have done nothing that deserves thankful appreciation. I had failed to reckon with two things. One is that men are not only ungrateful but malign in these days. They not only fail to be thankful for favors received, but do what they can to harm those from whom they received them, especially if their interests seem to demand this, or they become adversaries. Then the grace is either depreciated or denied. A very clever way is to state something which is true, but which leaves a totally false impression. Such things are very painful, but they can be borne in view of that day. Personally, they should be left to the dais, but if they harm the saints or the Lord’s work, especially the testimony to Pauline truth, it may be wise and most gracious to deal with them beforehand.

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Few of the saints seem to be aware of the stratagems of the adversary and the pain inflicted by his fiery arrows in case we are not shielded by faith. If they were more alive to the opposition of the world-mights of this darkness (Eph.6:11-17), they would not so readily yield themselves to their designs, and become his tools in opposing those who are standing in the breach for the celestial truths against which the enemy is arrayed. I once thought that, as soon as the saints realized the place of our work in this spiritual conflict, they would stand with us through thick and thin, and be alert to the stratagems of the adversary to draw them away, or, worse than that, to join his forces, and attack us from the rear. And, indeed, there are many who stand firm with us, facing the foe, and for these we are unutterably grateful. How sad that some have received the spirit of the adversary, and seek to wrestle with us and wound us, tricked by the adversary into opposition, because they fail to see eye to eye with us in non-essential details or on account of personal prejudices.

A. E. Knoch

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