1 Cor. 11:23-32
Job’s friends were wrong in assuming that the suffering occurring in Job’s life was caused by specific punishment from God for secret and heinous sin. Their theology told them that the only reason someone suffers is because of this, and so they naturally applied it to Job’s life. As the saying goes, if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. Of course, we know they were wrong in Job’s case, but would they be wrong in every case? Does God ever punish people for sin in this life? If someone's undergoing hardship, can we dismiss out of hand the possibility that it’s because of sin in their life?
No we can’t. In the Old Testament there are several instances in which God punished people for specific sin from which they refused to repent. I can name some examples off the top of my head: Sodom, Noah’s generation, the Egyptian plagues, the Exile in Jeremiah’s time, just to name a few. People sinned, and God punished them for it. He explicitly said so.
But what about the New Testament? Here’s where it gets a little more tricky. There are a few times in which God struck down a non-Christian because of wrongdoing, such as Herod, but they’re not nearly as common (or at least open) as in the O.T.
Before I was redeemed, God dealt with me based upon what I deserved. Of course, I never got what was really coming to me, since I’m not screaming in hell right now. But on Judgment Day, every lost person will finally be given justice for everything they’ve ever done. All of his patience and kindness will be ended.
In the meantime, we see a lot of injustice in this world, and most of the time people seem to get away with it. Regrettably most brutal dictators die in their beds, not like Herod did. The times in which God acts openly and decisively, such as in the passage from Acts, are few and far between. Most of the time, he simply watches and records, and unsaved people are storing up wrath for themselves on the day when he puts an end to humanity’s sinful history. In the meantime he's working--usually in the background--to bring about his ultimate plan.
But what about believers? Here’s where we need to think very carefully. When I was saved, the Lord dealt with and forgave my sins once and for all. If by punishment you mean getting what I deserve from God, then no. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, I'm never going to get what I really deserve from the Lord. But there is such a thing as discipline in a Christian’s life.
Of all the N.T. churches, surely no church was more screwed-up than the one in Corinth. They were condoning sexual immorality, there were lawsuits occurring between believers, there were bitter factions and divisions, abuse of the spiritual gifts, and a host of other problems. Along with this, they were abusing the Lord’s Supper and partaking of it in an “unworthy manner,” and the Lord of the church wasn't standing for it. Therefore, Paul told them that some of them were sick and some had “fallen asleep” (a euphemism for death). This didn't mean that those Christians had lost their salvation, but it did mean that there came a point in their lives in which the Lord brought them home in order to warn others and get the attention of the church as to what was wrong.
Even though I'm saved and forgiven, if I’m involved in sin and rebellion, then he might get my and others’ attention by bringing hardship in my life, and it might even include physical death. This can happen. The way I can avoid something like this is by paying attention to God’s voice as he speaks through his word and through the Body of Christ. If I listen to them, it won’t ever come to this.
Lord Jesus, when you’re speaking to me, please give me listening ears and a soft heart.