Last Friday morning we were led to pray into a very unpleasant subject. The experience of being “despised” is one you are unlikely to hear expounded in Church today. But the Bible has a lot to say on this subject, some of which is unflattering to the Christian ego. A Christian belongs to a class chosen by God because they are “low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Cor 1:28). Being despised is part of being conformed to the one “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isa 53:3). This is a hard call but one which we must embrace for Christ’s sake. Our aversion to being despised has its root in a terrible exchange in the Garden of Eden
Despise your Birthright
Adam had been honoured by God to hear his direct Word, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Gen 2:17). As long as Adam and Eve treasured this Word they were shame-free because they were living in the field of their Father’s good pleasure (Gen 2:24; Luke 6:45). In wilful disobedience however, Adam despised his status as a child of God and aspired to the adult dignity of the independent and crafty serpent (1 Tim 2:14). He wanted freedom from God’s command. Despising God’s Word and honouring Satan’s challenge, ““Did God actually say…?””, the first couple became children of the devil (Gen 3:1; John 8:43-45; Rom 3:23; Eph 2:2-3). In exchanging the glory of the incorruptible Word of God for the corruptible words of a creature (the serpent) the first couple were stripped of their Father’s good pleasure and fell into a field of shame (Gen 3:1; Rom 1:22-23; 1 Pet 1:23). Through despising God, fallen sinners have been punished with the fear of being despised. No one I know wants to be branded as a “loser”. Jesus alone has lived beyond the dread of ridicule and belittlement.
The Son of God never despised the form of human sonship chosen for him by the “good pleasure” of his Father (Eph 1:5, 9). No one could make Christ feel small because as the uncreated Word he had already exchanged his eternal glory with the Father for the littleness of a human life (Phil 2:5ff). In his humility, Jesus had powerful things to say about despising others. ““See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”” (Matt 18:10). Jesus targeted the most despised of all. Journeying across the sea of Galilee he liberated the Gerasene demoniac, a madman naked and self-harming at the farthest reaches of human society (Mark 5:1-20). We last see this man sitting at the feet of Jesus, resting in the Lord’s joy and commissioned to be the first evangelist to the Gentiles (Zeph 3:17; Mark 5:15-20). But to free all humanity from the dread of being despised Jesus must himself become the ultimate object of ridicule on the cross; ““despised and rejected by men” (Isa 53:3).
Hebrews boldly declares that we should be “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (12:2). Whilst the human mocking that surrounded the crucifixion was of no account to Jesus, the cry of dereliction ““My God…why have you forsaken me?”” exposes a truly horrible dynamic (Matt 20:19, 27:27ff, 41). Jesus has lost sight of the face of the Father for he has been exposed to the judgement we deserve, “those who honour me I will honour, and those who despise me shall be despised.” (1 Sam 2:30; Mark 15:34). In our place on the cross Jesus is brought into the contempt of being treated as a worthless son. This indescribably terrible experience is in total opposition to the true character of his honour as the Word of God. For us however this is the best possible news; since Christ has endured in our place all the worst human fears of belittlement then those who believe in him need never fear being despised; it is part of our glory (1 Pet 4:14).
Whenever we are ridiculed for witnessing to Jesus the good pleasure of our Father is upon us (Rom 12:2). “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matt 10:19-20). As a son of God every Christian has been translated out of the field of shame into a field of divine honour. ““Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”” (Luke 12:32). These are wonderful promises; why then are so many believers fearful of rejection by family, friends and colleagues if they speak up for Christ? Below is an answer we believe God has revealed to us.
The author of Hebrews rebukes his readers; “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord” (Heb 12:5). In a society where smacking a child can be deemed “abuse” it is not surprising that our Church culture confuses the painful discipline of God with something shameful. That the tough discipline of our Father is a sign of his love is an unpopular and strange message (Heb 12:6-11). It is a message that is despised across the churches. The rejection of divine discipline is a sign that we delight in the goodness of created things above the uncreated Word of God (1 Thess 5:20). We have exchanged the joy that comes from the fellowship of the Son with his Father for the joy of finite things; we are despising our sonship (John 1:18). If disobedience to the Word plunged humanity into this mess in the beginning our only way out is unconditional obedience to the Word of the Lord. “be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves…..a doer who acts, will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:22, 25).
All forms of satanic opposition to the testimony of Jesus involve threats to deprive a believer of the good things of life, such as friends, family, finance, fun etc. No one wants to be a “loser”. Fearful of looking and feeling like the little and despised people of this world we turn away from the humility of the Word made flesh, and forget that our most prized property is to share in the pleasure of Jesus’ relationship with his Father (2 Cor 8:9). The kingdom message that the last are first and the least are the blessed grates even on sincere Christians who have grown up in an “age of entitlement” (Matt 19:30; 25:40). No one wants to be despised, but if we want to walk in the way of Christ something must be very wrong if we are not. The old hymn rung out, “Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer; In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, Thou wilt find a solace there.” Today I fear that we are no longer taken seriously enough by the world and the devil to be exposed to despising. This is what we need to take to the Lord in prayer. If the Lord blesses us with a measure of the rejection of his Son, we can be absolutely assured that we will experience our Father’s good pleasure (Matt 5:10-12). Could anything be better?