Summary: Four reliable indicators of God’s attitude toward us.
How can you be sure that God is pleased with you? This of course is a perennial question. Every generation as searched for certainty, assurance that God’s pleased with them.
One tribal group in the country of Vanautu, the islands that Leigh and Barbara Labrecque will be moving to as Bible translators in six months, have a unique way of knowing whether God’s accepted them or not. You see, Vanautu is where bungie cord jumping started, but the native Vanautu people use vines instead of cords. The people confess their sins, and then tie a vine to their ankle. Then they jump, and if they don’t die, they can be sure that God’s accepted their confession, but if they die they know that God hasn’t accepted their confession.
People look to different things to try to find assurance of God’s acceptance. One of the most popular indicators of God’s acceptance down through the ages has been our circumstances in life. Historians who study the history of religion call this the principle of retribution. Simply put, the principle of retribution holds that God always rewards people he accepts with prosperity, and punishes people he doesn’t accept with suffering. Sheffield University Old Testament scholar David Clines says, "In one form or another [the principle of retribution] is shared by most human beings, not just religious people, since it is the foundation of most people’s childhood upbringing: certain behavior will earn you rewards, while certain behavior will bring pain or disaster" (Clines cited in Zuck 131). The principle of retribution allows no exceptions, but it claims that all suffering is a sign that God is displeased with people, and that all prosperity is a sign that God is pleased with someone. This principle of retribution lies at the heart of virtually every ancient religion, whether it’s the paganism of the Babylonians and the Egyptians, or the karma of Hinduism and Buddhism.
Lot’s of Christians today unknowingly hold to this principle of retribution. The most obvious example is the "name it, claim it" movement that’s popular on Christian television. These people say if you have enough faith in Jesus you’ll be financially rich, physically healthy, and happy in life. In this view, poverty, sickness, and unhappiness are always a sign that you don’t have enough faith or that there’s some hidden sin in your life. The ancient Babylonians would give a hearty "Amen" to the name it, claim it movement.
But most of us slip into the principle of retribution in more subtle ways. We reason, "God must be pleased with me because my stock went up this month." Or we think, "I know God’s happy with how I’m living because I got a promotion at work." Or the pastor’s version of this: "God must be pleased with my ministry because the church is growing." The other side of this is thinking, "God’s displeased with me because I’m infertile," or "God’s unhappy with me because I was laid off from work." Or the pastor’s version, "God must be displeased with me because the church is struggling."
Now undoubtedly God’s blessings can and sometimes do come in the form of financial gain, job promotions and growing churches. And of course things like sickness, losing a job, and struggling churches can be a consequence of disobedience to God. But "sometimes" is quite different than "always." The principle of retribution claims that our circumstances are always an infallible guide to how God views us.
The Bible rejects the principle of retribution. The oldest book in the Bible is the book of Job, and Job was written to show that the principle of retribution is untrue (Clines). Jesus himself rejected the principle of retribution when he said that God "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matt 5:45). Yet many of us persist in looking to our circumstances in life for assurance of God’s acceptance.
We’ve been in a series through the New Testament books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians called LIVING CONFIDENTLY IN UNCERTAIN TIMES. In this series we’ve been preparing to ring in the year 2000 by having our lives firmly anchored in the certainty that God offers us through His son Jesus Christ.
Paul started the church in the city of Thessalonica during one of his missionary journeys--you can read about it in the book of Acts chapter 16. The city of Thessalonica is in located in modern day Greece. From the city square in Thessalonica you could see Mt. Olympus, the mythological place where all the Greek gods were thought to live. The church there probably consisted of just a few dozen brand new Christians, most of whom had probably come out of paganism. Paul wrote his first letter to them to help them grow, especially in light of the intense opposition they were receiving from the other Thessalonian citizens.