Sometimes concepts seem to come together for me all of a sudden. I may be studying one subject, a book of the Bible, say, for a series of messages and at the same time reading another book for personal interest or some other study project. In company with this comes some life experience – an interaction with someone else, a mistake made, a temptation experienced, a victory won, or almost any occurrence of life. As I think about these events, suddenly my studies come together in my mind and I find myself struck by some truth in a more powerful way than ever before.
The subject that struck me recently was wrath and the fear of God.
The first thread of my thinking comes from my work in Romans. I’ve been studying Romans for some time now and have recently come to Romans 13.4:
Romans 13:4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
The commentaries are somewhat divided on the term ‘wrath’ here – some think it is the punishment of men inflicted on wrongdoers in this life. It is a kind of temporal thing, a this-worldly experience of human wrath and judgement of misdeeds. Others think that it is the very wrath of God, dispensed in part by human governments as God’s deacons (‘minister’ = diakonos). An ‘earnest’ of wrath, if you will, a down payment on wrath yet to come. Of course this can fall on believer and unbeliever alike, because believers might break man’s laws as well as unbelievers. I won’t attempt to settle the question here, but let’s keep that idea of wrath in mind, of human punishment dispensed by God-appointed ministers as a kind of wrath.
The second thread comes from a book I’m reading called Inerrancy and the Gospels, by Vern Poythress. The book is on the apologetics of harmonization, but I am finding little spiritual nuggets along the way. Here’s the one that ties into our topic:
Temptations sometimes find a hold because we leave hidden sin in our lives, and this remaining sin becomes a key point of entry for more temptation. (p. 100)
Isn’t this an interesting comment? We sometimes find that temptation overwhelms us because we have hidden some other sin lurking in the background, some sin we haven’t really dealt with, and the presence of that sin bears fruit in more sin. The stuff multiplies like weeds in an untended spot of one’s garden.
The third thread came while thinking about this quote, and a half remembered verse came to mind:
Romans 2:5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
The word ‘treasurest’ here is the word from which we get ‘thesaurus’ (a treasury of words). It is translated “store up” in some other versions. The idea is that men in their wickedness are building up a treasury of wrath that will be fully paid out one day.
But what of those situations in life where someone is brought down in shame and scandal for some misdeed (or a series of hidden, but suddenly revealed misdeeds)? It is as if the whole world comes crushing down on them, their life is shattered, changed in an instant, much wreckage lies strewn around and there is collateral damage to everyone connected with the now exposed sinner. Isn’t that a picture of “stored up wrath” being poured out on the guilty?
When the government, for example, finds someone who has committed a crime, it is quite often only the culmination of a whole series of misdeeds, wrong thinking, and bad choices that culminates in the government dispensing wrath in fulfilment of its ministry from God. That fellow accused of that crime “stored up” all that wrath through his series of misdeeds.
There are other authorities in our lives besides government and these authorities also have powers to administer wrath (though not, perhaps, to the extent of the power of government). One such authority is the church, which can call its members into account for their misdeeds (though they may not be crimes in the eyes of human law). We have all heard of people who have been rightly disciplined by the church. Surely this is another example or picture of stored up wrath suddenly being poured out.
Now, here’s the point.
Are you vulnerable to temptations because there is some hidden sin in your life that makes you vulnerable to temptation in other ways? Something that tends to multiply in your life and produce other sins? Are you tempted, for example, to lie about your hidden sin? Yes, you are. Are you tempted to lash out at others who might question your heart or motives or actions because it gets too close to what you have hidden? Yes, you are. Are there tangential sins that are bred by your hidden sin? Next steps? Logical consequences of the slippery slope you have set yourself on? Yes, yes, and yes.
Well, you might say, it is really a small sin. Nothing big. I can keep it contained, I’ve got it under control.
Think about the scandal that could erupt in your life if your sin bears too much more fruit. If you have a ministry of any kind in the church, would you be able to continue if your hidden sin and its fruit are suddenly exposed? How many people do you know? If they all suddenly became aware of your hidden sins, would it not impact them? Would some of them turn away from the gospel because of your hypocrisy? Would they mock Christ?
Government, the church, the home, other authorities can dispense wrath. Maybe it is in fact the wrath of God they dispense, but certainly it is a picture of the wrath of God.
Can you afford to be vulnerable to the mighty hand of God for the wrath you are storing up?
NO! No, you can’t.
I was surprised by this chain of thoughts that suddenly came together in my thinking, drawn from seemingly random sources. Surprised, and chilled and more than a little fearful… may God keep us in his will. May we eschew every appearance of evil in our own lives. We can’t afford the wrath that will surely come.
Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.