Two Things Jesus will be Looking for

In my days in the college classroom, it was pretty clear that students liked to know what would be used to evaluate them. Simply put they wanted to know, “how do I get an “A” in here?”  They would not buy into the idea that I would arbitrarily give them a grade at the end of the course depending on how I might feel at that moment. Whether it is in the classroom, on the job or a dozen other situations, we like to know what is the criteria for our evaluation. 

Fortunately, the criteria for our evaluation at the Judgment Seat (bema) of the Lord Jesus Christ is clearly given to us in the Scriptures. We don’t have to speculate as to what will be used in our evaluation.  In our previous study we observed the first criterion given by the Apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 3:10-4:5, the first of the criteria was given, and that was: “how closely did our lives align with God’s truth”?  As we served Him and lived for Him, did we do so according to the commands, principles and guidelines found in the Scriptures.  This indicates that there will be a clear, objective standard for us.  As Paul told Timothy, we will not receive the prize unless we play according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5). This certainly suggests something of the importance of being people of the Book. We will now look at the other two criteria that the Lord Jesus will use as He evaluates the lives of His servants.

CRITERION #2: WERE WE FAITHFUL IN SERVING JESUS?

In the New Testament, each believer is said to be a “steward”.  This word is used by Paul as he describes what will take place at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

“Let a man regard us in this matter, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”  (1 Cor. 4:1-2)

A steward is one to whom the master has given many things.  The steward is to diligently work with these things that belong to his master. The issue that is most important is that the steward must be faithful. And because all things have been given to the steward, he is held accountable for how faithful he has been in the use of those things.  Paul further reminded the Christians at Corinth:

“For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7)

Although we are all so very different from one another, each of us is a steward and has been given much by the Lord.  (Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 25:15 that He does deal differently with His servants—there are some servants who are given 1 or 2 talents, while some are given 5). All of us have been given natural abilities and spiritual gifts.  Each has been given a level of intelligence and a level of financial resources.  All believers have been given time and opportunities. Each of us have a role in our families and churches. All these have been given to us by the Lord and He expects us to be faithful in using these things to live for Him and bring honor to Him.  The Judgment Seat of Christ will be the place where our individual stewardship is evaluated. It does, and it will, make an important difference in what we did with all that has been given to us. 

Unfortunately, we often compare ourselves with others and see ourselves as inferior to other believers.  We all too often assume that those prominent Christians (such as, pastors of megachurches or those who are on television or write many books or those who sing wonderful solos at church) will be the ones who receive great reward and have prominence in Messiah’s kingdom.  But that may not be case at all.  The great issue to the Lord Jesus is that of faithfulness.  We are called uponTO BE FAITHFUL, NOT TO BE FAMOUS! Did we “hang in there” and live faithfully for the Lord even in tough times. The Lord Jesus will evaluate us on what He has given to us, not on what He has given to someone else.  This should be a great encouragement to us.  Fellow believers, do not compare yourself with others because the Lord Jesus will not be doing that.  The issue is an individual one.  Were you and I faithful to Him in using what He has given to us?

CRITERION #3: WHAT WERE OUR MOTIVES AS WE SERVED CHRIST?

The Lord is apparently interested in our heart attitudes as we live and serve.  Our motive should be the glory of God and the approval of God.  It would seem that every now and then we should ask ourselves the question “why am I doing what I am doing?”  Our motivations are important even though it is sometimes difficult for us to fully discern our motives.  Again, the Apostle Paul mentioned this matter to the believers at Corinth.

“I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.  Therefore, do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”   (1 Cor. 4:4-5)

It would appear that periodically we ought to try and identify “why” we are doing and living the way we are.  Paul was a faithful, devoted follower of Jesus, and in his life, he observed others who did not live as he did.  He mentions several wrong motives that could be spotted in others.  He noted that some served the Lord because it was profitable to do so.  They merchandised the gospel (2 Cor. 2:17).  They did what they did because of the financial rewards that they got. They put a price tag on what they did.  He also observed believers who served out of personal pride (Phil. 1:15-17).  They were building a kingdom, but it was evidently their own and not Christ’s. Personal fame was the fuel that energized their service. Paul made it clear that it is possible for one to serve Christ because it brings with it prominence, power or profit.  So, for example, we might ask ourselves why we want to be a lead singer in the worship service; or chair a committee; or be an elder or deacon; or have a lead part in the Christmas pageant or Easter cantata? Do we have people over to our house because we want to be known as a person of generous hospitality?  It is sometimes hard to completely determine why we do what we do. But since Jesus will be taking a look at our motives, we should probably do that as well. And it may be that we will need to pray for Him to help us get rid of those impure or suspect motives out of our thinking. We must never underestimate the deceptive power of our flesh, and we need to ask the Holy Spirit (the only One who can defeat the flesh) to assist us in serving Christ faithfully with noble motives.

While all of us as God’s children are equally loved by Him, He will be just and righteous in the manner in which He will deal with His children.  He will evaluate us as individuals and will not compare us with others. His evaluation will not be arbitrary, (depending on He feels at the moment!) but will be objective. If reward is given or if reward is withdrawn, it will be clear to all as to the reasons why.  This can be the greatest day for each of us stewards of Christ. Today does count forever, and what an incredible level of joy there will be. if indeed the King says to you “well done, good steward.”

What Will Jesus be Looking for at the “Judgement Seat”?

Most of us can recall a time when an authority figure required us to come see them. It may have been the school principal or the company boss or the coach of our team or someone else. But as we anticipated the meeting, most likely we became somewhat stressed about it, not knowing what was going to happen and what things would be like after the meeting was over. 

Far greater and far more significant than that meeting with some authority figure will be that scheduled meeting that we have with the Lord Jesus Christ at what is referred to as the “judgment seat of Christ.” Any earthly meeting cannot rival this future meeting which all believers in Jesus will be attending. Now, some of those human authority figures may not have really wanted our best or were interested in treating us fairly. That will not be true of the Lord Jesus. He is loving, merciful, good and gracious. He loves to give good gifts to His children and always desires what is best for His own. But He is also holy which requires that He deal justly with us and evaluate us fairly. He will not overlook the good we have done, but He will not overlook our sin and selfishness.  So, the question we want to address here is, just what will be the basis of Jesus evaluation of us as believers at the judgment seat. When we study the Scriptures, we discover that there are three primary criteria that Jesus will use. 

CRITERION #1: HOW CLOSELY DID OUR LIVES ALIGN WITH GOD’S TRUTH?

There is going to be an objective standard that will be used as Jesus evaluates our lives, and that objective standard is God’s Word.  The Scriptures give us all that we need to know to live well for the Lord Jesus and to serve Him.  The following verses give us a needed reminder of this.

Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Pet. 1:3)

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Because the Word of God gives us all that is necessary to honor Christ and live well for Him, this same Word will be used to evaluate how we lived our lives. This is certainly one reason why it is so important that we are “people of the Book.” The Apostle Paul observed that we will not receive reward if we do not live according to the rules that God has set up.

“And also, if any one competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.”  (2 Tim. 2:5)

In his enlightening discussion of the Judgment Seat of Christ in 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul uses the helpful picture of building a structure.  He notes that all of us as believers are building. We should observe that the question is not “am I building?”  The question for each of us is what kind of building materials am I using?”  

In his illustration, he tells us that all believers are given the foundation on which to build.  The foundation on which we build is the same for everyone.  That foundation is the truth about Jesus Christ, His person and His work (1 Cor. 3:10-11).  Our lives and service are built on our relationship with Christ.  By faith, we have received God’s gift of eternal life and the forgiveness of our sins.  From the moment we are saved, we begin to build on this foundation.

Paul informs us that we have two types of building materials available as we build.  The first are those materials which will not perish when touched by fire (gold, silver, valuable building stones), and second, those materials that are combustible (wood, hay straw).  Again, we must remember that every day we are building, which means that last week you and I built. And the crucial question is what kind of material we used last week.

But what do these materials represent?  The imperishable materials (gold, silver, valuable building stones) represent the wisdom of God which is found in the Scriptures.  The context determines this. The discussion of the Judgment Seat found here in 1 Corinthians 3 has been preceded by a lengthy discussion of the importance of the wisdom of God.  From 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul has been arguing for the critical role that God’s wisdom plays in people getting right with God and with its significance in living life. When we live and serve according to the standards, commands and guidelines of Scripture, we are building with these wonderful, permanent materials.  On the other hand, the perishable materials represent those views, philosophies and ideas that are not part of God’s Word.  Some suggestions will be given on what these things might look like.

Living according to the guiding principles and commands of Scripture is building with gold, silver and precious stones.  For example, in our family relationships each of us have roles and responsibilities as set for by the Bible.  When I, as a husband, love my wife and give her biblical leadership then that is one area that I am building with imperishable materials.  As we guide our fiscal lives according to God’s principles on money and material things, we are building with these lasting materials.  So, whether it is in my vocation, my responsibilities in the Church, my relationship with the unsaved, the way I budget my time, the decisions made related to recreation or a dozen other matters, we can be choosing to live by the appropriate principles and guidelines found in Scripture.  

This, of course, leads to a fundamental issue of whether or not we are spending the needed time in studying the Scriptures to both understand and then apply the truths of God to the various areas of life.  What we do or don’t do will determine the receiving of rewards, or not, at the Judgment Seat.

What might the perishable materials of wood, hay and straw represent in the lives of believers?  These represent any alternatives to the revealed standards and principles of God in His Word.  In the context of 1 Corinthians, in a very fundamental way, this represents the “wisdom of man.”  Believers can and often do make decisions in life based on things other than the wisdom of God.  In order to try and take this out of the realm of the abstract and to see what wood, hay and straw might look like today, several suggestions are given. 

  • EXPERIENCES.  Believers will sometimes make decisions in life or prioritize what is important in life based on some circumstances or coincidence they have experienced. I have known people whose course was charted based on an alleged vision they saw or voice they heard.  Others say they were “slain in the Spirit” and this experience determined choices made in numerous areas of life.  But experiences, though real to a person, must be evaluated by the Scriptures.  Some experiences come from God but others do not. They instead are generated by the human mind and yet others by Satan. The Scriptures alone can determine the authenticity of experience.
  • TRADITION.  Believers can program their lives by their religious traditions. And while some traditions might prove helpful, they might not. As we all know, the traditions of the Pharisees in the days of Christ, brought terrible consequences to many.  Tradition are fundamentally man made, and though they might at times be helpful but it is only the Word of God that evaluates tradition.
  • PSYCHOLOGICAL IDEAS.  Even pastors in their sermons can substitute current psychological ideas for biblical truth. Current cultural thinking is no substitute for biblical thinking.  For example, child raising can be done according to biblical principles or according to current trends in psychology. Some will focus on digging back into a person’s childhood instead of focusing on the present and future (Phil. 3:13-14). The psychological views that come out of the culture are always in a state of flux and are more like quick sand than solid ground. 
  • DOCTRINAL ERROR.  The greatest concern of the Apostles was the influx of false doctrine into the church.  The distortion of biblical truth affects every area of life, and the Apostle John warned that embracing that which is error will bring about the loss of reward in the future (2 John 7-8). In today’s church setting, with the growing influence of “progressive Christianity”, erroneous teachings are growing like dandelions.

Building is going on daily in our lives.  Whether we are building according to the Word, or on other things, will determine the gain or loss of reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ.  It is no small matter.  And it becomes obvious to the thinking person that understanding and applying the truth of God in life is a primary task of ours in the present. And it is the Scriptures that will be the objective basis of our evaluation by the Lord Jesus.

In our next study, we will look at the matters of faithfulness and motivation as the other criteria that Jesus will be using in our evaluation and rewarding at His “judgment seat.” In the meantime, be in the Word and allowing the Holy Spirit of God to instruct us and guide us into truth centered living.