“And so, Yahweh raised up Judges for them and Yahweh was with the Judge and saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the Judge, for Yahweh was grieved by their groaning caused by those who oppressed them and crowded them out. But at the death of the Judge, they returned and behaved corruptly (in contrast to their fathers) and went after other gods to serve them and bow before them. They did not abandon their deeds or their impudent ways.”
In some senses, there seems little to say about these verses, though they speak volumes about the nature of man and about the character of God. The reality is that, like the people of Israel, apart from a savior, we are helpless to do anything but to fall into sin. The good news is that unlike the Judges of old, which came and delivered for a season, Jesus promises never to leave nor to forsake us.
Even so, God often allows oppressors to enter into our midst to teach us reliance on Him and not on our own strength. Even as I have often told my children with respect to challenges they face in life, it is typically those things that are difficult that God uses to grow us and to mature us the most greatly.
Moving from the personal to the level of Christ’s church, these verses also highlight the importance that a church have both godly leaders and a godly pastor. For when the leadership of the church fades, the people will pursue sin. History is marked by numerous examples of churches and even whole denominations that have drifted into sin because their leaders have not been vigilant to govern the church according to the Scriptures. And once these institutions fall into apostasy, the people will rarely abandon their wicked deeds or their impudent ways.
“to know him and the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, sharing in the sake kind of death as his —”
What does it mean to be “found in Christ”? It means that in the context of his imputation of righteousness to us, we come into relationship with him — we know him — and that knowledge gives us a promise of the resurrection to come. He who was raised from the dead will also raise us that we may indeed experience the power of that resurrection firsthand.
Yet, the power of the resurrection also comes at a cost. Paul writes of a fellowship of suffering and entering into a death that is “like his.” How are we to understand this death? Certainly, one must not die on a cross to enter heaven? So, what does Paul mean by this? As you continue to read the flow of Paul’s language, he explains exactly what he means by this — Paul means the putting to death of his sins and the things of the world that he might boast in. That means suffering, when God calls him to suffer, that he might be found faithful in service and grow more like Christ.
Yet, this notion of suffering is something that often is difficult for us to hear. We have been accustomed to the notion that we are to seek the comforts of life and that suffering is somehow undesirable. Yet, did not our Lord choose to suffer for us? Did not our Lord choose to die on the cross for us? And did not our Lord enter into glory through the pathway of suffering? If it was good enough for our Lord’s entrance into heaven, is it not good enough for us? Is not suffering often the way that God refines those who are most precious to him? As C.S. Lewis wrote in his Problem of Pain, if we ask for less suffering and not more, are we not asking God for less love and not more?
We live in a world where many Christians are dying for their faith. And, these Christian brothers and sisters count it their privilege to “enter into” our Lord’s sufferings. At the same time, in the west, we live in a world where, while there is comfort for those who believe, people and churches are apostatizing faster than can be counted. While it is quite true that the freedoms we enjoy in this western world have been a great and profound blessing to the church, particularly in the realm of discipleship (formation of Christian Schools, Colleges, Seminaries, Book Publishers, etc…), with that freedom there has also been a fertile seedbed for false teachers and lazy believers. Let us be neither, even at the cost of persecution, that we may guide the church in a way that willingly enters into Christ’s sufferings — internally as we put sin to death and externally as we face persecution.