I knew a Christian man who had an employee who did something dumb and illegal without his knowledge. She was caught and arrested at his place of business. The woman had small children at home, a drug addicted ex and her kids would end up in foster care if she went to jail. He had seen what can happen to kids in foster care up close and was sick at the thought of them going through that because of something foolish their mother did. So he prayed over it and decided to take the fall for her. He told the police that the crime was his doing. He plead guilty to an offense he did not commit for the sake of her and her children.
Guess what happened next? Well, I met the woman involved and she had stayed out of legal trouble and was grateful for what this man had done for her. So that was good. And he got involved in a ministry helping people coming out of prison put themselves on the straight an narrow. Which was good. But really, the decision to do something heroic for someone else destroyed this man’s life.
He lost his business, of course. His reputation was trash. Twice he was run out of towns where he tried to restart his business after people found out about his criminal record. He had a hard time even getting employees because all it took was a google search to turn up his past. People would leave reviews for his business online warning others to stay away from this sick criminal, complete with links to the state’s database of criminal records. A couple of individuals took it upon themselves to stalk and harass him to the point of having to get the police involved.
He told me privately that if he had it to do all over again, he wouldn’t have protected his employee. The price had been unbearably high and had negatively affected many other people he cared about. He took some comfort in helping others, but the truth was that all the good which had come out of his action benefited others at his expense. Perhaps there was a great reward for him in the afterlife, but he had to get through the rest of this life first.
This man’s story is pretty extreme, but it illustrates an uncomfortable fact about following Jesus and/or going above and beyond to do the right thing. You see, we all want to think that when we stick our necks out to do something good, the heavens should break open for us and blessings, rewards and praise should shower down upon us. But the truth is that it’s more likely that the world will crush you instead.
This man wasn’t the first person I met who had done something heroic for others and came to regret it. Often people are willing to pay the immediate price for their actions, but do so with the unconscious expectation that at some point, God or karma or the universe will set things right for them. When the price turns out to be much higher than they can bear and there is no reward forthcoming, they lose heart.
While many pastors and teachers have made themselves rich and respected denying the fact, this is exactly what Jesus warned us would happen. In fact, he took a world class ass kicking in part to demonstrate just how much it can cost to defy the powers that be. It’s much safer to listen to those people who have become experts at neutering Christianity to make it safe. Just believe the right things, act the right way and make your wayward neighbor your enemy and you’ll be fine.
Most people know that no good deed goes unpunished. They keep their good deeds simple and relatively unthreatening, lest the price they have to pay gets too high. In many circles this is known as having common sense. Wisdom even.
In a world which works according to the rules of the enemy, anyone who rejects those rules in order to follow Jesus’ Kingdom way becomes a threat to be crushed. You can’t go around showing everyone what real power looks like and the path to humanity’s restoration without paying a price.
Jesus, his disciples and various saints through the ages paid with their lives for threatening the status quo. But for the enemy’s purposes, inflicting spiritual death works just as well. Better even, since destroying someone mentally, emotionally and spiritually avoids making them a martyr who can inspire others. After all, no one’s inspired by some loser who has nothing and is nothing and provides an easily criticized target. Even if they manage to tell their story, no one will believe it.
But the Devil always makes the same mistake. He always pushes his advantage too far. If he had been smart, he would have left Jesus to die as an old man, telling stories outside a fishing shack on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Instead, because Jesus willingly died, he was resurrected. And because Jesus was resurrected, the power of death was broken. Having already passed through death, Jesus becomes the indestructible force by which the world is redeemed.
When we step out and do something truly remarkable and costly for God and our fellow man, we are setting the same sort of trap Jesus used to defeat Satan 2000 years ago. The enemy brings us to the point of spiritual death by condemning us, lying to us, taking away our hope, calling God’s faithfulness and goodness into question and turning the world against us. But once we’ve passed through death, we become indestructible. We’ve seen all the enemy’s tricks and lies and will not fall for them again.
At that point, the sort of person who would go through death without getting anything in return becomes very dangerous. Once the enemy has played all his cards and left you with nothing left to lose, what else can he do to you? What else is there to fear?
Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. ~ Romans 8:17-19