The paths we follow largely determine the size of our cup of joy in eternity.
For the last two weeks we’ve been talking about an in-and-out, back-and-forth pathway leading to the fullness of salvation. We follow it into the church as well as outside her walls to find “suitable pasture,” vocations in the wider world. By going in-and-out, back-and-forth, we come into fullness of joy, the fullness of salvation.
But wait. In eternity there’s fullness of joy for all believers. Everyone’s cup of joy will be full. So why concern ourselves whether the paths we’re taking will bring us into the fullness of salvation? Our cups will be full. Yes, but not everyone’s cup of joy will be the same size.
OK, but why concern ourselves with that? In one sense, we shouldn’t. But in another, we should. The marital gospel defines when we should and shouldn’t. Start with shouldn’t.
Jesus our Bridegroom “married” us at the cross. He wants us to enter into his joy. When we’re faithful with what Jesus gave us, we enter into the joy of our lord, our husband. Two become one, even though the size of our cups will be different. Not a concern. Different-sized rewards (different-sized cups) are based on God giving each of us “what our works deserve” (Rev.2:23). Jesus says some will reign over ten cities, others over five.
But here’s what should concern us. Read the entire Matthew 25 passage. It begins with brides who are betrothed but judged to be unprepared for their husband’s appearance. In like manner, we have been saved but “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” to receive what is due for what we did in our body, whether good or evil.
Yikes. Evil? Yes. We can be saved yet bodily do evil things. Evil is carving out our own paths. They’re often based on how we imagine salvation. Many Christians imagine salvation as I’ve been saved, so I’m set. I can do all sort of evil things (porn, adultery, slander, plagiarize, worship mammon, etc.) but be unconcerned since I’m going to heaven. God forgives.
I don’t know what can be done about that sort of attitude. I do know what can be done for those who are concerned, who embrace the marital gospel. An in-and-out, back-and-forth pathway leading to the fullness of salvation requires “receiving a prophet because he is a prophet.” Those who do so “will receive a prophet’s reward” (Mt.10:41). What’s that?
Receiving a prophet means heeding his or her warning. Prophets are like crossing guards. They carry a sign reading Stop on one side, Go on the other. Prophets often flash the Stop sign, warning us that the path we’re taking does not lead to the fullness of salvation.
Exhibit A: The Catholic archbishop of San Francisco says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is no longer allowed to receive Communion because of her vocal support for abortion rights. He recognizes Pelosi is not on a path leading to the fullness of salvation. The archbishop is saving her life, for the Eucharist is the renewal of our wedding covenant with Jesus. It’s nuptial union, Jesus’ body entering his bride’s body. Opening your body to Christ while advocating for the murdering of babies runs the risk of illness and even death.
Of course, most Americans think this is nuts. The archbishop is judgmental. But that’s why Jesus says those who receive a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. I like how Eugene Peterson renders this reward in Matthew 5:11-12: “Count yourselves fortunate when people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You’re fortunate for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”
A prophet’s reward is getting no honor in his faith community, family, hometown. Honor is respect and financial recompense. Prophets typically get neither. True prophets are on a Lay-Away Plan, storing up rewards in heaven. On earth, they get in trouble for railing against the faith community’s adultery, stubbornness, and robbing God in tithes and offerings.
Adultery: Liberal faith traditions are adulterous when affirming same-sex marriage. They’re on a path that doesn’t align with the marital gospel. It’s not a pathway leading to the fullness of salvation. Prophets would say it’s a path leading to the decline of these traditions.
Stubbornness: In Robert Bellah’s prophetic book, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life, we learn that evangelicals (mainly conservatives) cling to errant paths described as expressive individualism. It’s defined as living out your faith on your individual church’s understanding of scripture, rather than yielding to creeds, catechisms, councils, traditions. Prophets would say these churches are on a path to malformation.
Exhibit A: Most evangelicals fail to heed Dallas Willard’s prophetic warning that “the ‘Western’ segment of the church today lives in a bubble of historical illusion about the meaning of discipleship and the gospel.” They stubbornly cling to Enlightenment paths that don’t lead to the fullness of salvation. Prophets would say this is a path to spiritual arrogance, the worst malformation.
Finally, robbing God in our tithes and offerings: According to a recent study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, most Americans are not generous, at least as God measures generosity. Some Christians might self-define their giving as generous, but prophets would say No.
Generous comes from the Latin adjective generosus, referring to one’s birth, or origins. It’s adapted from the Greek genesis, meaning beginning. To be generous in the ancient world meant to make good on one’s promising beginning within a well-born noble family. Prophets remind us that generosity is making good on our promising beginning as Jesus’ bride.
Those who make good do well. “Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:37-38). Everyone’s cup of joy is full in heaven, but some cups will be larger than others, “for the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Mt.7:2). Prophets remind us that generous giving here = a generously large cup of joy in eternity. A lack of generous giving here = a small cup of joy in eternity.
And that’s why God posts gatekeepers, i.e., prophets, at the gate, ensuring that we go in-and-out, back-and-forth on pathways leading to the fullness of salvation.
 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (HarperOne, 1998), 214.