We will not require that you punish our accusers; they being sufficiently punished by their present wickedness and ignorance of what is right. ~Justin Martyr, c. A.D. 150
Yesterday my son, upon hearing that a fellow student had ignored a teacher’s instructions without consequence, decided that he had been a fool for his own obedience. What reward had he gained for his self-restraint?
I had to get him to pause and look. Do you really want to follow this student? Do you really want to be like them? Every day this person pays for their lack of self-restraint. What Justin Martyr said over 1800 years ago is true. The unrighteous are sufficiently punished by their own wickedness. The flip side is also true. Righteousness is its own reward.
I want to be careful not to label my son’s fellow student as wicked for two reasons. One, I don’t want to speak more negatively about this person than is fair. Two, I want to apply this to you, my dear reader. It is your unrighteousness that is sufficient punishment of itself and your righteousness that is its own reward. This is not purely the domain of the “wicked.” Every day all of us make choices that mark who we will be.
Those who make bad choices stand out by their own words. They describe their own punishment in the complaints that pour from their lips; “People are always saying things about me”; “Nobody likes me”; “I never get to do the things I want”; “There’s no opportunities for me to achieve what I want in life.”
We’re made by God. He didn’t make us to be satisfied by wickedness. What satisfies his heart satisfies ours as well. We are made in his image. It is not “people” that do these things to complainers. It’s their own hearts and consciences that do things to complainers. The closed doors they face are created by their lack of discipline and diligence, not by people who are standing in the way.
For my son, overcoming his own desire for the sake of respect–for the sake of some authority’s desire–is training to acquire a skill. It is the same skill that will be needed to overcome other obstacles that stand in the way of the tremendous satisfaction that comes from being an achiever. Strangely enough, a heart that is capable of self-denial is a grateful and uncomplaining heart. This happens because it is satisfied and happy from living the way it was made to live.