Sunday, August 24, 2014

Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

            “And throw the worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (Matthew 25:30)
            “The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (Matthew 13:49-50)

            I used to wonder about the “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Where does this happen and who gets thrown there?  It sounds like an awful place to be, and I always assumed that it happened in hell.  But what I couldn’t figure out is why the “servant who hid the talent” in Matthew 25 is thrown there, too.  It makes it sound as if a believer (a lazy one) ends up in a place with weeping and gnashing of teeth.  But how can that be if “weeping and gnashing” happens in hell, as seen in Matthew 13?  How can a believer end up in hell? 

            But I think I see the difference now.  The Matthew 13 passages say that the wicked are thrown into the “fiery furnace,” whereas the Matthew 25 passage says “out into the darkness.”  These are two different places and times where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  One is the final judgment when unbelievers are thrown permanently into hell.  And the other is at the rapture when lazy, unprepared believers are left behind in the “darkness.” 

            As seen in the parables in Matthew 24 and 25, they were not ready for the Lord to come back again and so they were left behind.  This doesn’t mean they are eternally condemned to weeping and gnashing of teeth, but that they missed the first coming of Jesus when He takes with Him those who were prepared for His coming (Matthew 24:44), who “longed for His coming” (2 Timothy 4:8), and who were busy doing His will (Matthew 25:14-30).  These are the ones taken out at the rapture, while the rest on earth go into the tribulation.  (I talk more about the end times in the May 2015 post, “ISI 19: The End Times.”) 
            So why should this passage matter to us?  If I am right, it should matter because it means that there are believers of God (servants) who will be left behind to face the tribulation because they were not ready and were not doing what they should be doing.  How we believers live makes a difference if we are taken out in the rapture or not.  And if this is true, it should greatly affect how we live our lives.  If we took this warning seriously, it would cause us to strive for righteousness, to remain vitally connected to Him, to prioritize our lives as God wants us to, to focus on eternal things and not temporary things, and to get busy discovering and doing the Lord’s Will.  This is how we get ready for the Lord’s coming.

            “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!’”  (Matthew 7:21-23)

            There are those who will think they are believers because they are doing things in the name of the Lord.  But in reality, they are not.  They are not really living God’s Will.  They are following their own will and plans, for their own glory.  And although they claim to know Jesus, Jesus doesn’t know them.  Those Jesus does know are the ones who do the will of God, who hear His words and put them into practice.  (Matthew 7:24)
            And then there are those who are believers, servants of the master.  (Matthew 24 and 25)  They are working right alongside other servants.  The difference is that some servants are doing what the Lord wants them to do, ready for Jesus to come back at any moment.  The others are lazy, not doing the Lord’s work, and have fallen asleep on the job. 
            In the Matthew 7 passage, Jesus didn’t “know” those who were not doing the Father’s Will.  They were not true believers and they are not allowed into the kingdom of Heaven.  Yet even among true believers, those who are not doing the Lord’s work in preparation for His coming are left behind in the darkness after Jesus comes to take those who are ready for His coming. 
            So the big question is, are you living like you are ready for His coming?  Are you busy doing His Will and His work?  Because this will make a huge difference in whether or not you are taken up with Him or left behind in the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
            Considering this seriously begs the question: What is the Will of God and how can you know it?  (I also wrote about this in the “Understanding God’s Will” series on this blog.)  Here are a few passages which talk specifically about the things that are part of God’s Will.
            1 Peter 2:15-17:  “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.  Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.  Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”                     
            1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:  “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

            1 Thessalonians 4:3-7:  “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable . . . For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”

            Colossians 1:10:  “And we pray [that you are filled with the knowledge of God’s will] in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,”

            I think that many Christians have gotten soft, lazy, selfish, comfortable, and sleepy.  We are much more concerned with our happiness on earth than with eternity.  And we think that we can coast through life, accomplishing the things God wants us to accomplish while we go about doing whatever we want to do. 
            But Romans 12:1-2 shows us that we have a lot more responsibility than we think we do in finding and living God’s Will.  (I’m not talking about finding a particular “next step” that He wants us to take, but about finding His general Will for how we live our lives.)

            “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

            Out of thankfulness for the mercy that God has shown us, we are to live holy and pleasing lives as God calls us to (this is seeking righteousness or living righteously).  We are to sacrifice our desires and plans for His sake and for His kingdom, offering our bodies to be used by Him and for His purposes.  And this includes our minds, which we are to transform and renew by the power of the Holy Spirit. 
            We need to get our hearts and minds in line with Him.  And this can only really happen when we choose to stop conforming to the world.  We can’t do both: have our minds conformed to the world and transformed by the Holy Spirit.  But when we choose to let go of our worldly pursuits and mindsets - when we seek to be holy and pleasing and submissive to God - we give the Spirit room to come in and transform us.  And it is then that we can discern God’s perfect Will for our lives, what He wants for us and from us and the ways that He wants us to walk.  (And then, it’s up to us to obey!)
            Proverbs 4:7 tells us “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom.  Though it cost you all you have, get understanding.”  
            And Proverbs 2 tells us to seek wisdom diligently.  And when we do, we will “understand what is right and just and fair - every good path.”  (Proverbs 2:9)  Wisdom is necessary to figure out the “good paths” that God wants us to take.  He doesn’t just do what He wills or what He wants to have happen in our lives.  We have to be walking in wisdom to figure it out. 
            But how many believers are living this way?  How many will be ready when Jesus comes back again because they have lived these passages?  How many will be left behind because they were soft, lazy, selfish, comfortable, and asleep?   
            Now, when I look up verses that relate to us concerning God’s Will, I mostly see that His Will is a more like a verb, not a noun.  The Bible talks about doing the things that God wills, things that He desires us to do.  It does not as often talk about waiting for His Will or trying to find it as though it is a pre-set path or plan. 
            Matthew 7: 21:  “‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. . . .’“
            John 7:17:  “If anyone chooses to do God’s will . . .”
            Psalm 143:10:  “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.”
            Ephesians 5:17, 18:  “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. . . . be filled with the Spirit.” 
            1 Thessalonians 4:3:  “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified . . .”
            1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
            And a line in the Lord’s Prayer says, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:10)  I used to read this as “May Your plans come to pass,” as though we had no real responsibility for that happening and that it would happen no matter what.  We were simply acknowledging that we wanted His plans to happen.  But I’m beginning to wonder if it really means, “May Your Will be obediently done by us on earth, as it is done up in Heaven by your angels.  May we do what You want us to do, and may what You want to have happen, happen; by our obedience and prayer.”          
            It seems that, in general, His Will for us is how He desires us to live, in obedience to His Word.  And doing this will lead us in the paths He wants us to take.  Therefore, it’s up to us whether His Will gets done or not.  He doesn’t force His Will or have some pre-made plan that we have to find.  (Yes, He has a best plan for us, but we don’t have to follow Him in it, if we’d rather rebel.) 
            For some reason, we skip the parts of the Bible that talk about our responsibility, our need to seek righteousness and transform our minds and lives.  Most of us don’t want to put the “Romans 12:1-2” kind of effort into our Christian walks.  Because it is too disruptive to our lives, our priorities, and our happiness.  And so, instead, we hope that we will stumble into God’s Will, that He’ll guide us in it as we go about our lives, and that our “good enough” is good enough for the Lord.  We hope that this will earn us our ticket out of here when Jesus comes back. 
            But the Bible repeatedly and strongly warns us to not fall asleep, to be prepared, and to be found doing the will of God when Jesus comes back again at a time we do not know.  If I am right in what it means to be “thrown into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth” (that lazy believers will be left behind in the rapture) then how we live our lives today will have a huge impact when Jesus comes back.        

            When it comes to finding and staying in the Lord’s Will, I think there are several other verses which are excellent guides for shaping our lives.  This is how we should be living in order to be prepared for when the Lord returns: 
            “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Matthew 22:37, 39)    
            “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”  (John 14:21)   
            “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:33)  
            “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:5)    
            “ . . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  (1 Corinthians 10:31)
            “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  (Psalm 46:10)
            Love God and others with all you’ve got!  Obey His commands!  Seek His kingdom and seek righteousness!  Remain in Him always, through prayer and His Word!  And if you are living for His glory, your life will be fruitful and God-glorifying!  And we don’t have to know everything; just be still in Him, for He is God!  He will be exalted! 
            (And if I may say, for many of us and in different seasons of our lives, His Will is nothing huge and grand and public.  It is simply abiding and delighting in Him, and faithfully and thankfully doing the little, daily monotonous jobs that He gives us – like washing dishes, raising kids, making meals, loving those we come into contact with – to the best of our ability and for His glory and to show His love.  This is always God’s Will for us!)
            May God be with you and bless you on your journey with Him.  May you be found ready and busy doing the Lord’s work when He returns.  And may you hear the words that every faithful servant of God longs to hear:
            “ . . . ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness.’”  (Matthew 25:21)
            Do you long – really, truly long - to hear those words?  Are you waiting for Him to return, prepared for Him to come back at any moment?  Your priorities and how you live your life will testify “yes” or “no.”  They will determine if you will hear “Well done” or if you will experience “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Don’t let these warnings go unheeded while there is still time!