Let me begin today’s post by sharing something that happened when I used to work at Subway on a main street in downtown Peterborough, Ontario during my gap year after high school. At this particular franchise location, we would close off the dining area and lock the hallway door to the bathrooms at midnight. From then until we closed at 2 am on weeknights, and 3 am on weekends, we would not permit customers to eat in the dining area, but we’d become a take-out only location. This saved me much cleaning work as my pay ended at 3:30 am regardless of whether I had completed all my chores or not.
Without fail, during those last few hours, people would order subs and either ask me–or just plain demand of me–that I permit them to sit down and eat their food. ”Just this once, I swear nobody will know”. They felt entitled to this privilege. Oh and alcohol was almost always involved, but sometimes sober customers were obnoxious jerks, too.
More often than not, I’d have customers–and non-customers who wandered in without buying anything, thinking we were a public restroom–incensed that the hallway to the public restrooms was locked. They felt for some reason that I should open it “just for them this once” as a personal favor, of course. I sometimes received death threats. Other customers told me they’d never eat at Subway again because of this inhumane maltreatment, not realizing that my boss was entitled to set the rules for her own establishment in whichever way she pleased, and they didn’t have to come eat here if they didn’t want to. I heard it all.
By the way, have you ever cleaned a bathroom after 50 drunk people had used it? That right there is among the reasons we locked it off after midnight.
One night, two guys who worked up the road a few blocks at a pita take-out joint came into my store to order subs. When they had finished ordering their food, they followed the predictable script: they were surprised to learn our seating area was closed off and they would have to take their food elsewhere. But in this particular instance, both of these young men were guys I had gone to high school with and had been complete jerks to me during those years.
I want to use the word bullies, but they never really bullied me. Just a step up from jerk-faces and not much else because I was always bigger than most people my age. The one gentleman in particular had tried whatever he could, unsuccessfully, to humiliate me whenever we were in social situations together. I had thick skin, but when they came into the store this night, I remember being shocked at what came out of his mouth.
So shocked in fact, I laughed in their faces almost uncontrollably.
“Come on Steve–how long have we known each other? I thought we were friends?”
I laughed, and responded incredulously.
“Suuuuuuuure we are–since when?!” I stood firm that not only would I not let them dine in the cordoned-off dining area, but that I thought his attempt to appeal at a non-existant relationship was ridiculous and amusing. A grasp at straws to try manipulating his way into getting something he wanted.
I Never Knew You
Most hellfire brimstone teachers are over familiar with the following passage:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23, English Standard Version)
I’ve heard it taught for years that this was referring to unbelievers. Usually teachers who believe a Christian can’t lose their salvation (“once saved, always saved”) are forced to interpret the passage through their viewpoint despite the problems this poses. However, we know from the story of the seven sons of Sceva, one cannot cast demons out of people by the name of Jesus without knowing Him personally. I tend to not see drunkards and unsaved people prophesy over each other or do mighty miracles in the name of Jesus either. The people who would wander into my Subway after the bars and clubs closed tended to mock me for my faith when they knew about it–I did wear a permitted Jesus necklace at all times.
It’s obvious that this passage is talking about believers, who on the outside had been doing mighty things, including miracles, but are going to be shocked to hear on that day that Jesus never knew them. People who thought they were going to be let in but surprised to find they’re denied access.
How do I know this?
By simply continuing to read the passage, and ignoring the subheadings that consciously make me tune out and think the story is changing.
Build Your House on the Rock
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matt 7:24-27, ESV, emphasis mine)
Both people in this next paragraph heard the word Jesus taught. The difference was that one put into practice what he learned and the other didn’t, but was just a hearer only–who looked at his face in the mirror but forgot what he looked like when he turned away (James 1:19-25). We could make countless distinctions and lists elsewhere in the Scriptures, where sheep are separated from goats (Matthew 25:31-46), wheat from tares (Matthew 13:24-30), but it’s not a world vs the church dichotomy here.
I realize that’s not popular to say in a “your best life now” ecclesiology, but think about this for a moment please.
Many will say to him in that day Lord, Lord, didn’t I do this, didn’t I do that–in your name at that? But the storm will come and test his works and show what is eternal and what is temporal. What are you building? What are you investing your time in? Paul talks about our works being tested by fire (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) and Jesus here talks about building our house on the rock that it withstands the storm.
The emphasis here is not that the very people he’s going to say “I never knew you” to are nonbelievers–we already know that they don’t know him. The point is that many are going to be surprised to hear that response on the day of judgment. What they thought was important, they’ll find out was superficial in light of eternity.
What about you?
Are you building ministry out of wood, hay and stubble?
Are you doing things for Jesus, but lacking intimacy with him?