On September 11, 1792, thieves were out and about in Paris, France. There was little chance they would be caught. King Louis XVI was locked up in prison. In less than five months he would walk up the steps to the guillotine. In late summer 1792, chaos reigned; no law and order during that phase of the French Revolution. No guards stood outside the Royal Storehouse. The thieves were in and out in short order. Their loot, the Crown Jewels, including a large blue diamond known as the French Blue, weighing in at 67 carats, the size of a ping-pong ball.
Most of this most beautiful of diamonds showed up in London in 1812. By that time the stone had been cut down to 45 carats. The diamond bounced around from owner to owner until it finally ended up in the hands of a London banker and collector named Thomas Hope. It stayed in the Hope family for nearly a century and it became known as the Hope Diamond.
Francis Hope sold the diamond around the turn of the century, and it came to America. After WWII, it was purchased by a diamond merchant, Henry Winston, who agreed to house it in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. He sent it to the Smithsonian, wrapped in brown paper, by registered mail. Those were the days.
The Hope Diamond can be seen in the National Museum of Natural History on the National Mall. I have seen it a half dozen times. There is always a large crowd around the display case. The stone has been declared priceless, but it has been insured for 250 million dollars.
Paul writes in I Corinthians 3 that whatever work we do for the Kingdom of God will either be counted as valuable (gold, silver, precious stones), the stuff that will survive the fire. Or our works will be counted as worthless (wood, hay, straw), the stuff that will be burned up in the fire. Notice Paul says the WORKS of a believer will survive the fire if valuable, and consumed by the fire, if worthless. The believer, even the ones whose works are consumed will escape the flames, although they will have the smell of smoke in their hair.
Notice that Paul is talking about works here, not sins. Our sins were erased by the blood of Christ on the cross. It is possible that some of the work we think we do for the kingdom is really a waste of time, and in fact, may be counter productive.
When I was in basic training in the army, I had to pull my share of KP. The worst job was “outside man” whose job was to steam clean the garbage cans. By the end of the shift I would be all wet and smell like a garbage can. The best job was “dining room orderly.” That job was to keep the tables wiped off and sweep up stuff off the floor. I learned that as dining room orderly I could get out of doing any real work by seeming to be working. I would grab a sponge or a broom and walk purposefully from one end of the mess to the other. I always looked like I was on my way to do something important. The work I was doing Paul would liken to wood, hay, and straw, useless and worthy of being burned in the fire.
Many Christians think their hatred and chastisement of certain sinners, people of other faiths, and people who disagree with them on social and political issues is doing important work for the kingdom of God. They see themselves as stalwarts of faith, doing the important work of standing against evil by demeaning those who they see as anti-Christian. I am not so sure this “work” would be likened to gold, silver and precious stones. I’m sure going to battle against these people makes one feel good. It always feels good to be engaged, but is this really the important work Jesus wants from us? Casting insults, mocking others, treating those who oppose us with contempt – these are not the works of Jesus Christ.
But they insult, mock and disparage us, you say. This is true, but we are not they, and the Bible forbids us to act like them. Peter writes in the third chapter of his first epistle, “Do not repay evil for evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongues from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.”
Sowing love in the face of hate, and speaking kindness in the face of meanness is perhaps the Hope Diamond of Christian works.
A book to read: “Love Your Enemies” by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute.