Part 1: The Judgment Seat of Christ
by Pastor Paul M. Sadler
In the glory days of American sports, when athletes competed for the love of the game or event, Jim Thorpe stands out as perhaps the greatest all-around athlete our country has ever produced. Born near Prague, Oklahoma in 1888, Thorpe began his athletic career at a small school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania where he established himself as an outstanding football player, both at the college and professional level. But he was probably best known for his remarkable achievements at the 1912 Olympics held in Stockholm, Sweden.
At the Stockholm games, Jim Thorpe, a Native American Indian, became the first athlete to win both the Pentathlon and the Decathlon. The Pentathlon is a one-day event which includes the long jump, javelin throw, 200-meter race, discus throw, and 1,500-meter race. The two-day Decathlon is a rigorous 10-event competition. On the first day, the participants compete in the 100-meter race, long jump, shot-put, high jump, and 400-meter race. On the second day, they compete in the high hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1,500-meter race. Having participated in some of these track and field events years ago, I can say that this was an amazing accomplishment.
Sadly, Jim Thorpe, was disqualified when it was learned that he had played baseball for a small salary some years earlier. The Amateur Athletic Union ruled that he was, therefore, “a professional athlete and ineligible to compete in the Olympic Games.” He was subsequently stripped of his Gold Medals for failing to observe the rules.[ref]Source: World Book Electronic Reference Library—Millennium 2000.[/ref]
The Apostle Paul says that those who participate in these games “do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” What we do for Christ now, which is likened to a race, will echo throughout eternity. The apostle’s great fear was that when he preached to others he would fail to bring himself into subjection to the things of the Lord, and consequently be disqualified at that day. In a nutshell, he didn’t want to be a hypocrite.
A SOLEMN OCCASION
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (II Cor. 5:10).
The themes of redemption and judgment are woven throughout the Scriptures. So it is important to rightly divide the Word of truth to ascertain which judgment pertains to us. Since Paul uses the personal pronoun “we” in the above passage and foregoing context, we can safely conclude that he is addressing the members of the Body of Christ. The Judgment Seat of Christ is a dispensational phrase solely found in Paul’s epistles. It is referred to in his revelation as “the day,” “that day,” and “the day of Christ.” This particular judgment will be a review of the believer’s conduct and service which takes place at the Rapture of the Church. According to I Thessalonians this is a planned meeting that was kept secret since the world began (Rom. 16:25 cf. I Thes. 4:17).
“For we must all appear.” Every believer in Christ has an appointment with the Lord—pastors and members of their congregation, Bible teachers and students, evangelists and converts, faithful and unfaithful, etc. Little wonder the Scriptures warn both leaders and those who sit under their ministries accordingly:
“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth there-on. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon” (I Cor. 3:10).
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).
While Paul makes frequent references to the Judgment Seat of Christ in both his early and latter epistles, he deals extensively with the subject in the Corinthian letters. This isn’t without rhyme or reason; the apostle wanted the Corinthians to understand the gravity of their ungodly conduct. They seemed to be oblivious to the fact that someday they were going to stand before the Lord and give an account of their actions. Some may have even denied this based on the assumption that we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies. Although this is true positionally, the practical outworking of the matter is determined by our present conduct. The Corinthians would one day have to answer for the turmoil they caused in the local assembly, due to their envy, strife, divisions, carnality and immoral lifestyles.
This raises the question as to why God doesn’t simply judge believers when they die. Why wait until the Rapture of the Church? Here we must keep in mind that our lives touch the lives of others even in death. For example, Pastor J. C. O’Hair died in 1958, yet his writings and tape messages continue to bring others into a knowledge of the Mystery. Even though he is dead, he yet speaketh! Conversely, the Christian father who carelessly lives a worldly life influences his children to follow in his footsteps. The long-term effects of such a lifestyle will not be overlooked at that day.
But God has another reason to withhold judgment until the Judgment Seat—a solemn one indeed! Paul says, “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). The terms “every one” and “himself” clearly indicate that each of us will stand individually before the Lord to give an answer for our behavior. But this doesn’t imply that others will not be present at times during the course of this examination. In fact, this will be a necessity to set the record straight. More will be said about this later.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” As the phrase implies, Christ will be our Judge. According to John 5:27 the Father has placed all judgment into the hands of His dear Son. He is the perfect Judge. Even though the Mystery was still a secret when the events of John chapter five occurred, the principle of Christ’s judgeship certainly applies during the administration of Grace.
The apostle says in Colossians 2, “In Him [i.e. Christ] dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” As God, He knows our innermost thoughts and motives and the intent of the heart. On the other hand, He took upon Himself the form of a human servant and dwelt among us. No one will be able to stand before Him at that day and say, “Lord you just don’t understand!” Oh, but He does, my dear friend. Christ suffered in all points as we, yet without sin. As the prophet said, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).
The Greek word for Judgment Seat here is Bema. In biblical times it was a raised platform, with ascending steps, where rulers handed down decisions (Acts 18:12-16). It was also the place where the judges presided over the Greek games. From this vantage point they could see the entire field of events. To be summoned to the Bema meant one of two things; either the participant was disqualified for disobeying the rules or rewarded with a garland for winning a particular event.
When we appear with Him in glory, Christ will hold a position of exaltation. As the righteous Judge, He will be clothed in glory, honor and majesty as we stand before Him. Unlike the Great White Throne, condemnation is not the issue at this judgment. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Since the sin question was answered for the believer at Calvary, this examination has to do with whether or not we have devoted our life to Christ and faithfully served Him. But will our sins be taken into consideration at the Bema? We will have more to say on this later.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”
There has been an ongoing debate if the phrase “the things done in his body” is speaking of the believer’s body or the Body of Christ. It seems clear that Paul has the individual believer in mind. The original dia tou somatos has the idea of the things done “through our body.” In other words, there is a moral accountability insofar as our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. We are, therefore, accountable for its deeds, whether they are good or of no value. For example, we believe Paul’s instructions to the Colossians capture the moral responsibilities of slaves and masters or employees and employers.
“Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye service, as men pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons” (Col. 3:22-25).
In the final assessment, the Lord is going to compensate both labor and management for the good they have done and whatever wrongs they may have committed. Every believer in Christ can expect to receive a reward for good conduct and loss for misconduct. Little wonder Paul adds:
“Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences” (II Cor. 5:11).
While the Corinthians lived as if there was no tomorrow, Paul cautions them regarding the “terror of the Lord.” Some have concluded that the apostle is now turning his attention to the unsaved, but this interpretation does a great injustice to the context in which the passage is set. The terror or fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. But in what sense should the believer fear the Lord? Consider for a moment standing before the Lord with perfect recall of every idle word, thought and deed. We should fear the possible devastating consequences of a misspent life, not to mention the inspection itself.
With this in mind, Paul sought to persuade men as to the gravity of the occasion. Of what did the apostle seek to convince believers? Since the behavior of the Corinthians left much to be desired, Paul is passionately trying to persuade them to walk worthy of their calling. This beckons the question, are we living up to God’s expectations? Paul could confidently say, “But we are made manifest unto God.” You see Paul had a clear conscience concerning his actions among them. Thus, he desired that his manner of life before the Lord would be manifested in his hearers’ consciences that they, too, would be to the praise of His glory at that day. (See II Tim. 3:10,14).
THE PREMISE OF THE JUDGMENT SEAT
“Ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 3:10,11).
As we turn to I Corinthians Paul addresses our service in relation to the Judgment Seat of Christ. Interestingly, as he develops this theme he uses the metaphor of the “temple” in verse 16. While we lay great emphasis upon rightly dividing the Word of truth, we must also recognize that there are connections between the two programs of God. As members of the Body of Christ we are numbered with the household of God and therefore joined to the living temple, which God foreordained before the foundation of the world. This explains why Paul uses the metaphor of a temple when he speaks of us collectively. Hence, Ephesians Chapter 2:
“In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21,22).
God has raised up a new masterbuilder to add an addition to the household of God that was not included in the original plans of the Prophetic Program. It was hidden in the mind of God until the raising up of the Apostle Paul. He is the divinely ordained architect who laid a new section of foundation, which is Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the Mystery (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:1-10). The apostle was very, very careful not to build upon another man’s foundation, nor should we (Rom. 15:20). Of course, he was referring to building upon Peter’s foundation who preached Jesus Christ according to the Kingdom promised by the prophets of old.
Like a father, Paul warns us, “I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon” (I Cor. 3:10). The foundation upon which the Judgment Seat of Christ is based will be Jesus Christ according to His heavenly ministry, as revealed by Paul. So then, as we serve the Lord we must take care to use Pauline materials when building upon our foundation, otherwise we will suffer the consequences at that day!
Part 2: The Judgment Seat of Christ
by Pastor Paul M. Sadler
“Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (I Cor. 3:12,13).
The poet, Friedrich Von Logau, said, “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small.” William Wadsworth Longfellow elaborated and said, “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small. Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness He grinds all.”[ref]The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, by Charles R. Swindoll, W Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee, Page 323.[/ref] The judgments of God are like a fire sweeping across the floor of a pine forest—all consuming. Nothing will escape His eternal presence in the Day of Judgment. Although there have been many injustices in the household of God through the centuries, God has not forgotten. “He stands waiting, with exactness He grinds all.”
Paul begins, “Now if any man,” that is, any pastor, teacher, or evangelist, “build upon this foundation.” While these words are primarily meant for those who hold positions of leadership within the Church, they also apply to every member of the Body of Christ. Consequently, all should take heed to the apostle’s admonition.
BUILDING ACCORDING TO GOD’S PLAN
GOLD AND WOOD
Gold, silver, and precious stones represent our good works and faithful service. On the other hand, the wood, hay, and stubble represent those things that are done in the flesh, which are temporary in nature. Since Paul uses the metaphor of the temple in this context, we are given a hint as to the significance of these particular building materials. Paul assumes, of course, that we already understand what these materials symbolized in the Old Testament. Surely we can never do justice to this subject due to the endless line of thought that each of these images convey. So with God’s help, we offer the following for your consideration.
In the Old Testament gold symbolized deity. The furniture in both the tabernacle and the temple was overlaid with pure gold. When the priest entered the Holy Place, directly before him stood the golden altar of incense, where incense was burned, which portrayed the prayers of the saints ascending to God. This was an act of worship. On his right hand was the golden table of showbread, and on his left stood the golden candlestick with six branches (Ex. 25:23,24,31,32; 30:1,3).
Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people; but not without blood. When he stepped behind the veil he stood in the very presence of God. As he sprinkled the blood on the Mercy Seat—located on top of the Ark of the Covenant—it should be noted that both were overlaid with gold. So then, gold is closely associated with the presence and worship of God (Ex. 25:10,11,17-19).
Today, our worship of God rests upon the revelation given to us by the Apostle Paul. Herein are the commands of Christ that we are responsible to obey. In so doing we are using gold in our construction. But what does God expect of us in regard to worship? Worship is simply service—it means to serve, pay homage. However you cannot serve God, or acceptably pay homage to Him, unless you have a knowledge of His will.
The primary focus of our worship must be the proclamation of the Word of God, with special emphasis laid upon rightly dividing the Word of truth (II Tim. 2:15 cf. II Tim. 4:2). Of course, singing, prayer, giving, and testimonials should complement the preaching of the Word, but never infringe upon it in any way. In the administration of Grace, it is Paul who shows us how to worship. Hence, we must acknowledge his apostleship and message to build that which is lasting upon the foundation, which is Christ Jesus. This impacts every area of our worship.
For example, unlike Israel, we worship the God of all grace who’s doing something new and different among the Gentiles. Unlike Israel, who had limited access to the throne of God, we have full access. Unlike Israel, who sought the forgiveness of her sins through atonement, we are forgiven on the basis of Christ’s precious blood.
An outward expression of worshipping God is our giving. Under the law, God required His people to give ten percent of their earnings. This was known as the law of the tithe. Furthermore, the law was clear that their offerings and special donations were to be given in addition to the tithe. Today, we are to give from our heart as God has prospered us, which differs from person to person (I Cor. 16:1,2).
Everything connected to the tabernacle/temple spoke in some way of the person and work of Christ. As we know, the acacia wood used in the construction of the furniture in the temple was all overlaid with fine gold. The combination of wood, which symbolized humanity, and gold was significant because bothtypified Christ—He was wholly God and wholly human in one person (Ex. 25:10,11 cf. Isa. 53:2).
Wood, then, is closely associated with the flesh. As one of the building materials, it represents those things pleasing to self, and that which is done for appearance sake. Once again, worship is in view since wood and gold correspond to one another. But here we have a refusal on the part of the worshipper to fully acknowledge Paul’s gospel, for one reason or another. Many count the cost, and the cost is simply too high to stand in the defense and confirmation of Paul’s message. They prefer to merely blend in with the mainstream of Christendom, where the music is plentiful and the experience gratifying. These “feel good ministries” thrive on emotionalism, but offer little in the way of substance from the Word of God.
The motto of the Church today is, “Let me entertain you!” Shame on us! Surely we’ve lost our way, and sadly, the uniqueness of our message in the process. When a new family asks a pastor, “What does this church have to offer us?” it is obvious the Church has drifted far from its original purpose. The proper request should be, “Pastor, what can my family do to help further the cause of Christ?”
We have a life-changing message that’s being smothered by compromise. The world is drunk with entertainment. It’s quietly searching for answers to the eternal questions: Where did I come from? What is my purpose in life? Where will I spend my eternal destiny? Think of it, we have the answers to these questions, and more! But the new philosophy of ministry has loftier goals. It says the Church must be more progressive to meet the needs of the community. So while Christian leaders are busy planning the next church extravaganza to outdo the assembly down the street, lost souls are going to a Christless eternity.
Why do we insist upon grieving the heart of God!? We need to rededicate our pulpits and services to the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the Mystery. If we follow Paul’s pattern, the Word of God will stir the hearts of the saints to do the work of the ministry. This is true worship in action! Remember and remember well, we must all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ.
SILVER AND HAY
Silver was another precious metal that was prominent throughout the tabernacle. All the sockets that supported this structure were made of silver. Inasmuch as these sockets were made from the redemption money given by the children of Israel to ransom their souls unto the Lord, it is clear silver speaks of redemption (Ex. 25:1-3; 30:11-16; 36:24; 38:27). It points to the redemptive work of Christ and the need to be saved.
With redemption now a reality, we are to tell a lost and dying world that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their sins unto them. So it is important that we are following the correctcommission. Although many sincere believers are operating under the Great Commission, they are sincerely wrong. This commission, with its baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, and signs, miracles and wonders, was given to Israel under the old economy. Today, we are to proclaim the commission of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:18-21).
So then, as we make known the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, we must again turn to Paul’s epistles in order to present the correct terms of salvation, which are: Christ died for your sins, was buried and rose again (I Cor. 15:1-4). The Bema Seat will declare if we had a burden for lost souls and faithfully shared the gospel of salvation with those around us. It will also be made manifest if we cared enough to follow-up with those we had the privilege of leading to Christ. In short, were we faithful to see that they became rooted and grounded in the truth of the unsearchable riches of Christ?
Hay is a temporal commodity. Since it stands opposite of silver, it represents those who have no interest whatsoever in the salvation of others. Here’s a Christian who doesn’t have a burden for lost souls. He’s too busy for such things, or the fear of men has silenced him. He knows he should be witnessing for Christ and plans to get around to it someday, but the years pass like the flower of the field and his life ends misspent.
All too often the excuse is, “I’m not an evangelist, I leave such things to those who are more qualified!” This may be true, but every believer is responsible to do the work of the evangelist (II Tim. 4:5). You see, we have access to people and places the evangelist can only long for. Stop and think, when was the last time you prayed for the Lord to give you boldness to witness to someone? When was the last time you were concerned about a loved one near to you that is in danger of eternal damnation? When was the last time you shared with someone the truth that God loves them and Christ died for their sins? Remember, the clock’s ticking, not only for them, but for you as well!
PRECIOUS STONES AND STUBBLE
Precious stones also bear a connection to the Old Testament temple. The High Priest was required to wear a breastplate when he ministered in the things of the Lord, which contained twelve precious stones (Ex. 28:15-29). Each stone represented one of the twelve tribes of Israel. They symbolized the glory of God. The breastplate was a constant reminder that the Lord’s people were to be close to the heart of the High Priest as he faithfully ministered on their behalf, and also executed judgment. As a result, God was glorified among them.
When we come to Christ, we are saved by grace through faith alone apart from works. However, after we are saved by the grace of God, we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. According to Paul’s gospel, we are the ministers of God today, and we are to glorify Him through good works. These include raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, volunteering our time at the Rescue Mission, given to hospitality, small acts of kindness, etc. It has been said, “Nobody is going to care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Fred Craddock, in an address to ministers, caught the practical implications of consecration. “To give my life for Christ appears glorious,” he said. “To pour myself out for others…to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom—I’ll do it. I’m ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory. We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table—`Here’s my life, Lord, I’m giving it all.’ But the reality for most of us is that He sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there in little acts of love in service for others. Usually, giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul.”
Our motives and the intent of the heart also have a great bearing on our service for Christ. Allow me to illustrate: Pick one thing you really enjoy doing in life—fishing, traveling, skiing, attending craft shows, etc. Once the date is set, you’re probably like a sweet ant in a sugar bowl. The anticipation is more fun than a barrel of monkeys, and when the day finally arrives, you savor every moment. Now, do we approach the things of the Lord with the same enthusiasm, or do we serve Him out of necessity? If the members of the Body of Christ put half the effort into the Lord’s work that a diehard Green Bay Packer football fan puts into a game at Lambeau Field, we’d make a lasting imprint on the world.
Stubble has little redeeming value. It’s like the chaff that the wind sweeps away from the threshing floor. This is the believer who sows to the flesh. The pleasures and possessions of this world have crowded out any interest in serving the Lord. Like Demas, he has turned his back on the Lord’s work, having loved this world. The loss this believer is going to suffer is immeasurable.
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (I Cor. 3:13-15).
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest.” God is going to bring forth every man’s work for a complete and thorough review. The apostle here is speaking of the body of a man’s work that he produced over the course of his Christian life. We often say concerning someone who devoted his entire life to a particular cause, “this was his life’s work.” In other words, it was the sum total of all he accomplished. The same will be true of the believer, for “the day shall declare it.” What day? The day of Christ when we must all appear before the Bema Seat.
“And the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” Fire is a symbol of the Word of God. Prior to the Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah became very discouraged with the things of the Lord. So he packed his bags one day and essentially said to himself, “That’s it, I’ve had it with this stiff necked people, I quit!” “I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name. But His Word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jer. 20:9).
With our marching orders for the Body of Christ found in Paul’s epistles, we are going to be judged by the Word of God in light of his revelation. As our works are brought under the scrutiny of God’s Word, there are going to be two searching questions at that day: First, did we acknowledge Paul’s apostleship and message to the Gentiles? Second, were we obedient to the commands of Christ taught in his writings? Of course, the Lord will judge the members of His Body on the basis of their faithfulness to the light they had in regard to the revelation of the Mystery. The Word of God, which is sharper than any two-edged sword, will distinguish what s-o-r-t of work it is. It is not a matter of the volume of work done, but what type—the issue is quality, not quantity.
Only those things that were done for Christ in relation to His heavenly ministry will be able to endure the intense scrutiny of the Word of God.
Part 3: The Judgment Seat of Christ
by Pastor Paul M. Sadler
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (I Cor. 3:13-15).
As we have seen, one of the symbols of the Word of God is fire. At the Judgment Seat of Christ it will be applied to our works and purge away the dross. Only those things done for Christ of a permanent nature will endure this Divine review. For those who consistently built upon the foundation with gold, silver and precious stones, their works will abide and they will be rewarded accordingly. While we are not told the nature of these rewards, we should always desire the fullness of what God has provided for us. It is a solemn thought that our present conduct will have a bearing upon us throughout eternity.
Those who carelessly built upon the foundation with wood, hay, and stubble are going to suffer irreparable loss, but Paul adds an interesting statement: “but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” God is always faithful to His Word. Even though a believer may suffer the devastating loss of eternal reward, according to the Word of God he will still be saved, for God has promised eternal life to all who believe (Rom. 6:23). You see salvation isn’t based upon our good works, but rather the finished work of Christ. It is after our conversion that we learn believers “are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Notice we “should walk in them,” which strongly implies not all will see the importance of living for the Lord.
“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (I Cor. 4:5).
Judgment may take the form of discernment or passing final sentence upon someone. For example, we are at liberty to judge or discern the things that differ in God’s Word; however, we have no right to judge others. Those who hastily condemn their fellow man are treading upon Divine ground.
As the apostle says, we are to “judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come.” We simply are not in a position to judge anyone. Who among us can know the motive behind someone’s actions, much less the intent of their heart? Certainly no one can ever say they have all the details needed to make an impartial ruling. Even general observations in life are usually an inaccurate assessment of the actual circumstances. Allow me to illustrate:
Charles Swindoll one time related an experience he had in his own life. He was speaking at a week-long conference in California where, every time he spoke, a certain man would fall asleep after twenty minutes. By the end of the week, Chuck said that he was irritated by it, yet he said nothing about it.
After the last meeting, the wife of the man came up to Chuck and told him that her husband was too embarrassed to come. She went on to share with him that her husband was dying and the medication he took made him sleepy. But she said that he wanted her to tell Chuck how much he loves him, and that his final request was that he be able to attend a conference where Chuck were speaking.
Things are not always as they appear; therefore, we are wise never to judge anything before the time. You may just generate more wood, hay, and stubble than you bargained for when the trump sounds.
Notice in the above passage that it is when the Lord comes, “who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” We are to understand that this is the Lord’s Secret Coming for the Body of Christ, which of course, includes the Judgment Seat of Christ. So Paul is speaking here of the judgment of believers at that day. This raises the question as to whether or not our sins will be taken into consideration at this review, especially in light of the fact the apostle states the Lord will reveal the hidden things of darkness.
Clearly the believer is forgiven in Christ of all sins: past, present, and future. As the apostle says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). We are beyond the reach of God’s judgment as far as condemnation is concerned. With this in mind, if there is to be a fair and impartial hearing it will be necessary for our indiscretions to be brought to light. In other words, the Lord is going to set the record straight, without forgetting we are His children.
Take for example the pastor who embezzles the savings of a godly widow under the pretext that she’s helping the work of the ministry. He may think he’s gotten away with it, but at that day his evil deed will be exposed. Although the widow was deceived, she will be richly rewarded since she gave the gift out of concern for lost souls. Her intentions were as pure as the wind-driven snow! The pastor, on the other hand, will suffer shame and great loss for his actions. Paul warns all those who minister in the things of the Lord in this manner, “some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after” (I Tim. 5:24).
Unsound doctrine is closely associated with ungodly behavior. Usually the premise is that the end justifies the means. Sadly, the motive of some who preach the gospel is not always what it should be. Paul could surely relate to this, for he says regarding his ministry: “The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds” (Phil. 1:16). These types of sinful motives will be brought to light at the Bema Seat, not to mention the harm they caused the Lord’s work.
Those who are guilty of spreading lies and slandering others will have much to answer for when they stand before the Lord. Remember these words and remember them well: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17). Those who have had their reputation ruined at the hands of carnal believers have this promise: God will right all wrongs.
The story is told of the American missionary organization that raised money for property, including buildings, in a country in Europe. When the Chairman of the European Board resigned, a local board member was able to usurp authority, rewrite the constitution of the organization, and declare himself owner. The Christian leader, in effect, stole the property from the Christian organization, expelled its leadership, and put the church and newly built apartments in his name.[ref]Your Eternal Reward by Erwin W. Lutzer, Moody Press, Chicago, Illinois, pg. 66.[/ref] It is hard for us to believe that the Lord would simply overlook such an injustice. Rest assured, those who engage in such behavior will have their corrupt ways laid bare and suffer unbelievable loss in the process.
In this connection the question is often asked, will there be tears in heaven? As sure as the sun rises in the morning, you can count on it! These will be tears of regret and remorse over what could have been if we had only remained faithful to Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. The emotion at times is going to be overwhelming. But the greatest regret of all will be when we see the sorrow on our Savior’s face for how we mistreated one another as members of the Body of Christ. Thankfully these tears will be wiped away at the close of this judgment—there will be no more sorrow or crying. “Then shall every man have praise of God” (I Cor. 4:5). The same will be true of the prophetic saints as they prepare to enter the eternal state (Rev. 21:3-5).
DID YOU KNOW?
Sadly, most believers have little interest or concern regarding the Judgment Seat of Christ. They live as though they will never stand before the Lord and give an account of their life. By the time they take the matter seriously it will be too late. But did you know there are at least three areas that will profoundly affect our walk throughout eternity?
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (I Thes. 2:19,20).
In Paul’s epistles there are three crowns promised to those who faithfully serve the Lord. This particular passage seems to indicate that these are not literal crowns that will be handed out; rather they will behonors bestowed upon those who have earned them. The crown of rejoicing has been called the soul-winners crown. Paul had personally led many at Thessalonica to a saving knowledge of Christ. He rejoiced that they had been delivered from the power of idols, which can neither speak nor reason, to worship the true and living God.
Think of it, if the angels rejoice when one sinner is saved, surely heaven will resound with a shout upon the completion of our redemption. In that day, the Lord is going to publicly acknowledge Paul and all those who had a burden for lost souls. This will be a reward in itself to hear the Savior say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” The rejection and ridicule we experienced at the hands of unscrupulous men will be but a passing memory.
“If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us: If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself” (II Tim. 2:12,13).
Every member of the Body of Christ is said to be seated with Christ in the heavenlies; therefore, we will rule and reign with Christ over the earth. But not all will hold the same position or degree of authority. This will be determined by our willingness to suffer for His name’s sake, here and now. We are going to assume the positions of authority left vacant when Satan and His fallen host are cast out of heaven. Each of these positions represent degrees of authority which have been patterned after God’s orig-inal heavenly order; they are: principalities, powers, mights, dominions, thrones, etc. (Eph. 1:21; Col. 1:16 cf. Eph. 6:12).
If you had a choice, which earthly position of authority would you wish to hold—a Cabinet post in Washington or a Clerk at a small town County Seat who files court records? You see, “if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him,” but if we are ashamed of Christ due to the fear of men, “He also will deny us,” that is, a higher position and greater degree of authority. Bear in mind, there will be no room for advancement in eternity since our position will be fixed by what transpires at the Bema Seat. Perhaps we need to follow the motto of the Army, “To be all that you can be,” but in this case for the Lord. You will not regret the decision!
If we “believe not” that this is true and that He is able to keep us, He abides faithful, even though we are unfaithful, because He cannot deny Himself. In short, He has promised to save us and will honor His Word. The honor of His name is at stake.
Apparently, the degree we are going to be glorified in the resurrection is also determined by our current conduct and service. As Paul develops the theme of the resurrection in I Corinthians 15, he states:
“All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory” (I Cor. 15:39-41).
I have always believed that this passage is clear proof that evolution is the Devil’s lie. “All flesh is not the same flesh.” How true! If we evolved from the lower life forms as the evolutionists claim, then the flesh of fish should be compatible with human flesh; yet one is warm-blooded and the other cold. Nor is it possible to give a transfusion of blood from animals to humans, which you would think could certainly be done since this is farther along on the evolutionary timetable. Of course the point Paul is making is this, terrestrial bodies differ from one another and each has its own glory.
He now contrasts earthly and heavenly bodies. As we look heavenward, the sun has a greater glory than the moon. It sustains life upon the earth. Interestingly, God created the sun on the fourth day of creation to demonstrate that He could sustain life upon the earth apart from the sun. He is sovereign! The very essence of His being is greater in power and glory than the sun.
The light of the moon which graces the night sky has a greater glory than the stars. Its phases during the course of a month are a heavenly demonstration of God’s handiwork. Amazingly the moon’s gravitational pull upon the earth causes both high and low tides that show not only order, but design.
Although the moon has a greater glory than the stars, the apostle adds, “One star differeth from another star in glory.” Man continues to build more and more powerful telescopes to peer into the universe, but with each one he discovers more of these heavenly bodies called stars. He is increasingly frustrated because he’s unable to number them. But consider this: God “telleth the number of the stars; He calleth them all by their names” (Psa. 147:4). We agree with King David, “such knowledge is…high,” it’s infinite!
Astronomers tell us that stars vary in size—some are much larger than others. In fact some, like the North Star, are brighter while others form constellations such as the Big Dipper. Paul would have us understand that in both the earthly and heavenly realm there is diversity and differing degrees of glory. Then he adds, “So also is the resurrection of the dead.” (See I Cor. 15:42).
Thus, there is a major difference between these natural bodies we possess and the resurrected body. One is sown in corruption and eventually will perish, but the other is raised in incorruption never to perish again. One is sown in dishonor due to the Adamic nature while the other is raised in glory. With creation as a backdrop, there will also be differing degrees of glorification in the resurrection, based on whether or not we faithfully served the Lord. This could well mean that the faithful will have greater adaptation to their eternal surroundings and perhaps greater responsibility.
The Judgment Seat of Christ ends the administration of Grace. As we witness the dawn of eternity, wonder of wonders, God is going to “show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). May the love of Christ motivate us to live for Him rather than ourselves. After all, the things around us which we call prized possessions are merely temporal, but the unseen things that we’ve laid up in heaven will impact us for eternity.