Today I’m honoured to host the first ever guest post on my blog. It’s by California-based Joseph Stoll, who has been a regular reader and commenter here for a while. If you enjoy it, why not encourage Joseph by leaving a comment? And even better, go and visit his blog (details follow the post).
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
(1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
This is one of those chapters that makes me ask, “What am I doing with my life?”
It describes the so-called Bema seat judgment. Bema is taken from a Greek word often translated “Judgment Seat.” It’s distinct from the “Great White Throne Judgment” described in Revelation 20, which is for non-believers. If you’re at the Great White Throne, you took a really bad transfer, somewhere. You meant to go to the Bema. A Bema seat gives the image of Caesar presiding over games and presenting awards. And that’s what this judgment is: God’s awards ceremony.
We could argue for ages about the minutiae, but it will look something like this. Jesus will return and gather all those whose names are written in the book of life. We will present the sum total of our lives before Him. A fire will burn through our works and reveal their true composition. And everybody will watch it happen. For some, that day will involve suffering. For others, God will publicly reward the good done in secret throughout their entire lives.
As to the actual form these rewards will take, no one knows for sure, and speculation misses the point of the passage. I believe the gold and jewels are metaphorical, because what value will gold and jewels have in a city that uses them as construction materials? But understand that those rewards, in whatever form, will be eternal and worth more than any treasure you’ve ever seen.
Two thoughts. First, you will not eternally look back in regret. From an earthly perspective, you would have reason to regret wasting parts of your life, but in heaven, your emotional composition will be so fundamentally different as to be incapable of regret.
Second, even people who “escape as through the fire” will know nothing but joy for a trillion years. Awful rewards or spectacular rewards, we all will see His face and feel His love forever, without hindrance.
However, if I take the Bible seriously, which I do, then on that day, when fire engulfs my works, I want precious materials to remain. And the outcome of that day is worth more to me than all the sufferings or pleasures of the earth.
Faith and Works
I love the five solas of the Reformation. But sometimes we get so hung up on justification by faith alone that we have something of a standoffish attitude towards works. Of course we are only saved by faith. Teaching that God has eternal rewards for good works does not ignore that. However, how do eternal rewards and “by grace alone” mesh together?
Well, I’d say that any good work that pleases God must be done through the empowerment of grace. Significantly, as the Holy Spirit is a manifestation of God’s grace, He must empower our good works. “Good works” that we do outside of His leading are often motivated out of pride, which makes them sinful works. You realize, of course, that if I feed a homeless man condescendingly, God’s not impressed. Whatever the outer appearances, I cannot do a good work, from the heart, apart from grace. Put another way, truly good works are sola gratia.
True and false works
And that’s what fascinates me about the Bema seat judgment: how the fire burns appearances from reality, false works from true. I picture a row of houses devoured by the fire of God. Afterwards, we see that the mansion of the megachurch’s pastor was built from wood and straw, because the church existed for his own glory. Meanwhile, the hut of the divorced, single mother had gold for drywall. No one knew just how much she laid her life down to raise her children following Jesus.
It’s that kind of surprise that makes me question how I live my life when I read this passage. I claim that I want to follow Jesus with everything in me. I claim that I write for Him. I claim that I’d give up everything for Him. I do many deeds, but on that day, will I find the rebuke of Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)?
Passages like this are a sword pointed at Christians whose primary concerns are the things of this world: jobs, kids, retirement, and entertainment. Those things are good, but unless used for God’s glory, they are straw. In this context, wood and straw aren’t sins; they’re just things that pass away. Don’t think of adultery. Think of watching television.
Passages like this are also a sword pointed at Christians who claim to live with reckless abandon and surrender all to follow God. Are we really living with reckless abandon for Him, or are we just living recklessly?
How do we do good works?
I want to close with a few thoughts on the characteristics of those good works of which God approves:
– Good works are motivated by love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
– Good works are steeped in humility (Luke 17:7-10).
– Good works are often done in secret (Matthew 6:5-18).
– Good works are empowered by God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:16).
So, what other distinctions do you see between false works and true? In real, practical terms, how do we build with precious metals instead of things that will burn?
[ Image: Waiting For The Word ]
Joseph Stoll lives in San Luis Obispo County, California. He wrote a book about experiences as a missionary in Japan and is finishing up a Christian sci-fi novel. His blog, beexalted.com, contains devotional thoughts, missions resources, and humorous but relevant parables. He enjoys rocks climbing and playing the piano.