Proof of the Ministry
Tim Temple

Introduction

Bobby Dodd, who was once the athletic director at Georgia Tech, tells the story of a coach who was playing against Georgia Tech with his team leading 7-6 with a minute to go in the football game, and he told his quarterback not to pass under any conditions. He said, “Whatever you do, hold on to that ball; do not pass the ball.” In the next ten or fifteen seconds of play, they moved the ball down to within the ten yard line. As they got down to that position and as the quarterback saw the clock continuing to tick away, he just couldn't resist, and he threw a pass. As things sometimes happen, the pass was intercepted by a player on the other team. He took off, and everyone was dismayed. Everyone really just gave up on the possibility of winning that game when all of a sudden the quarterback who had thrown the interception overtook the player who had intercepted his pass and tackled him and recovered the ball. After the game, the losing coach–Georgia Tech went on to win the game–said, “I will never understand how that quarterback was able to catch up with my player who intercepted his pass and tackle him so quickly.” Bobby Dodd said, “Well, that is very simple. Your boy was running for a touchdown; my boy was running for his life.”

That story really deals with the importance of motivation. Motivation is a very, very important part of life. It is a very important part of Christian life. It can make all the difference in various kinds of situations. That is the subject of the passage to which we come today. What is your motivation in the Christian life? What is it that keeps you going? What is it that causes you to want to live for Jesus Christ? Do you want to live for Jesus Christ? If not, what is lacking in your motivation? The focus of this part of the letter to the Corinthians is on the fact that every Christian is a minister, a servant of Christ. In the last couple of weeks, we have been looking at that concept in chapter 3. In this middle section of chapter 3, Paul is giving a message to ministers, and in verses 13-17, we have a fourth part of the message to ministers. It has to do with that to which we look forward and therefore that which should motivate us in the Christian life.

Motivation for Christian Service

In the verses just above this, Paul has been talking about two kinds of building material–gold, silver, and precious stones and wood, hay, and stubble, two different groups of building materials. As we saw in our last lesson, gold, silver and precious stones represented works that were done with the motive of honoring Jesus Christ, works that were done not to draw attention to ourselves, but to draw attention to Jesus Christ. Wood, hay, and stubble represent works that are just the opposite of that, works that are done with the motive of drawing attention to ourselves or pleasing ourselves. Everything we do in the Christian life falls into one of those categories.

Having said all of that, what is really the difference between those two kinds of building materials? It is possible, you know, to build a building out of wood, hay, and stubble that might look almost as good outwardly as one that is built out of gold, silver, and precious stones. The difference is motivation, isn't it? As we look at Paul's analogy, what is it that makes us build with gold, silver, and precious stones or wood, hay, and stubble? It is motivation. It is a matter of why we do what we do. Therefore, it is very difficult for human beings to distinguish between those two kinds of building materials. In fact, it is almost impossible for you to look at someone else's life and determine whether they are building with gold, silver, and precious stones or whether it is wood, hay, and stubble because it is very difficult to know someone else's motives. It is very difficult to know whether that person is doing that to draw attention to himself or to draw attention to Jesus Christ.

Future Judgment of Works

Because that is so difficult for humans to distinguish, God has arranged for a foolproof method of proving our worth. Notice in verse 13:

I Corinthians 3

13Every 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.

There are several things brought out in this verse that we want to be careful to notice. First, notice the thoroughness of this judgment. The “day” is a reference to a judgment day when the “fire shall try every man's work.” Every Christian will face this time of judgment. This is not just for the super-spiritual; this is not just for the pastors and the missionaries; this is something that will apply to every Christian. It fits in with what we have just been talking about–how all of us are in the ministry in one way or another.

Then notice the time of the judgment. Notice the wording there in verse 13: “…the fire shall try every man's work”. You see, it is future tense. Even though this may seem like a minor point, it is extremely important to keep in mind that this is a future judgment because it is very difficult to distinguish why people are doing what they are doing as Christians. It is very important because it is easy for us to make a mistake if we try to judge all of that right now.

Danger of Judging One Another

In fact, if you turn over to chapter 4, verse 5, Paul is continuing with this subject, and he specifically warns about this. He says:

I Corinthians 4

5Therefore 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.

Think very carefully about this: “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come” For one thing, that tells us when this judgment is going to take place. It is in the future, but more specific, it will be after the Lord comes. It will be when we are all in Heaven. This judgment is not to determine who gets to go to Heaven. It is an examination of the works of those who are already in Heaven. It will come in the future after the Lord comes, and it will reveal those motives that are so difficult for us to determine today. Therefore, the specific word of God is “Judge nothing before the time”

Do you see what this is saying? This is saying that it is a sin for you to look at me and say, “Well, you know, he is just preaching because he enjoys the attention.” That may be true, but it is a sin for you to decide that, and it is a sin for me to look at your life and say, “He is just doing what he is doing because he enjoys the attention.” It may be true, but it may not be. Whether it is true or not, it is a sin for me if you are doing what you are doing just to get attention and not to honor the Lord. I make it all the worse, and I join in that sin and become a sinner myself by trying to determine that. Just because someone is not doing things the way you do them does not mean that he is a false teacher. On the other hand, just because someone else is doing things in a more flashy or more impressive way than you are able to do does not mean that they are building gold, silver and precious stones. This is such a difficult thing for us to comprehend because our tendency is to look around at everyone else and to judge what they are doing and to compare ourselves to them and them to us. It is one of Satan's most powerful tools to get us to focus on each other rather than on the Lord. God says, “Do not do that!”

I am convinced that one of the most damaging things that is taking place in the Body of Christ is this right here. I have personally seen it do great damage within groups of Christians, and I know of second-hand stories that I have heard from others. One of the most damaging tools that Satan uses against Christians is to get us to try to judge what each other is doing and judge the motives of the heart. In fact, in chapter 4, verse 5, notice that this judgment “…will bring to light the hidden things of darkness…” What are those hidden things of darkness? Not secret sins, but the counsels of the heart. You see, it is impossible for you to really know as God knows why I do what I do and say what I do. There may be some outward indications, and it may look to me like you are doing this or that that you shouldn't be doing. We are talking about the motives of the heart–why you come to church as often as you do or why you miss church as often as you do or why you sing in the choir or why you sing a solo or why you go to the jail services or why you go to the nursing homes. If I make a judgment about why you are doing those things, as to what the counsel of your heart is in doing those things, I become the sinner. We are not to question each other's motives. God will take care of that.

Not a Judgment for Sin

There is a third thing to know about this judgment–the topic of the judgment. Notice very carefully that he says there in verse 13 that each one's work will become manifest. This judgment is not a judgment of sin. This is a judgment of works. Remember that the sin question was settled at the Cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ paid for our sins. Paul wrote to the Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” Our sins are forgiven; they are put under the blood of Christ. God has forgotten about them. They are removed as far as the east is from the west never to be remembered again even at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is not a judgment of sins.

Why is that so important? Proper understanding of this judgment can be a tremendous motivating factor in our lives, but a misunderstanding of it can cause us to live in fear and dread. God never intended this judgment to be a source of fear and dread. What will be examined at the Judgment Seat of Christ is not those secret sins. God will deal with you about those secret sins, and God will bring you to the place of confession of those sins, and it may take the severe discipline of God to bring you to that point, but God is not going to bring those out openly before everyone at some kind of a judgment. It is not going to be eternity's greatest soap opera when you get to look in on all the problems that everyone else has. That is not what the Judgment Seat of Christ is. It is an examination of how you and I have used our time. Some of that time may have been used sinfully, but the focus is not on the sin. The focus is whether we have been motivated by honor and glory of Jesus Christ or whether we have been motivated by some kind of selfish motives.

There is a parallel passage to this which gives us further insight on the whole concept. Turn to II Corinthians, chapter 5. I have been referring to this judgment as the “Judgment Seat of Christ”. The reason for that is that that is the name that Paul gave it when he wrote back to the Corinthians later on. Notice verse 10:

II Corinthians 5

10For 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.

Paul is talking about the same judgment. If we took the time to study this verse in its context, we would see that he is talking about the same judgment, and here he calls it the Judgment Seat of Christ. Someone might say, “Now wait a minute. You said this didn't have to do with sin, but it says '…whether good or bad'.” You need to know that the word “bad” is a translation of the Greek word phaulos , from which we get our English word “fallow”. To let a field lie fallow is to let a field be useless in terms of bringing forth a crop. Ultimately it is a good thing to let a field lie fallow occasionally, but in terms of bringing forth a crop, that field is useless at least for that year. So a better translation would be “whether they be good or wasted”, “whether they be good or useless”.

Something else to notice about this verse is that we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Those two words “judgment seat” are a translation of one Greek word, bema , which was the elevated seat that the Olympic judges sat on to judge Olympic contests. That may seem like a small distinction to make, but the importance of it is that this is the kind of judgment that umpires make, a judgment of very clear-cut actions. It is not a judgment bar in a courtroom somewhere. Again, that emphasizes that that is not a judgment of sin. Jesus Christ took care of the sin. “There is no condemnation of them who are in Christ Jesus.” It is an examination of how we have run the race.

Rewards for Service

Going back to I Corinthians, chapter 3, another thing that we want to notice about this judgment is the type of rewards that will be given at the judgment. Someone may be thinking, “Well, if this is not a judgment of sin, if it is just a judgment of our works, then what difference does it make? Why should this matter to me? If it is not going to be a matter of everyone else seeing all my sins, then why do I need to worry about it?” Look at the type of rewards that are going to be given, in verse 14:

I Corinthians 3

14If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

First of all, there is what we might call the “wise worker”, the productive Christian, in verse 14. Here is the Christian who has spent his time for the honor and glory of Jesus Christ. His motivation in whatever he has done has been to honor Jesus Christ or at least some of what he has done has been with that motive. Whatever he has done with that motive will be classified as gold, silver, and precious stones.

What kind of material survives a fire? Gold and silver might change their form, but they would still survive. They would not be destroyed. Precious stones might crack in the heat, but they would not be destroyed. So these are the things that are done for the honor and glory of Jesus Christ.

Five Crowns as Rewards

Notice that he shall receive a reward, in verse 14. Again, let me remind you that this is not talking about salvation. This is an examination that will take place after we are in Heaven when the Lord comes, so it is an examination of the Christian's activities. The only people at this judgment are believers. The only specific rewards that are mentioned in the Scripture are crowns, and there are at least five kinds of crowns listed in the Scripture in the sense of rewards.

In II Timothy, chapter 4, verse 8, there is the crown of righteousness which is given for those who love His appearing. How many times have you thought or said and felt sincerely, “I just can't wait until the Lord comes back. I am so anxious to see the Lord.” God says that is gold, silver, and precious stones. That will receive a reward, a crown of righteousness.

In James, chapter 1, verse 12, there is a crown of life which is given for those who love God and who, because of their love of God, endure temptation and testing. So there is a crown that perhaps all of us as believers will be given.

In I Peter, chapter 5, verse 4, there is a crown of glory that will be given to elders who have in their work of eldering been motivated by the honor and glory of Jesus Christ. This is apparently a special crown for elders–for pastors and elders of churches. Apparently that would even imply that it is possible to be an elder with the wrong motives, to be a pastor with the wrong motives. Remember the key is motivation. But for those elders who have been motivated by the honor and glory of Jesus Christ, there will be the crown of glory.

In I Thessalonians, chapter 2, verse 19, there is the crown of rejoicing, which will be given for soul-winning and discipleship. If you have ever led a soul to Jesus Christ, if you have ever taken a new believer and worked with him and helped him grow, then you are eligible for the crown of rejoicing if your motivation has been the honor and glory of Christ. Let me point out here that it is even possible to lead people to Jesus Christ to draw attention to ourselves. We may give them the truth, and they may accept Jesus Christ, but even in that, it is important what our motivation is.

In I Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 25, is the crown given for those who run the Christian race well, those who have gone by the rules, those who haven't gotten out of their lane, those who have completed the race and haven't dropped out before they got to the finish line, those who have treated the other runners right. There will be an incorruptible crown, Paul says, for those who have run the race well. Again, it does not mean that it is a race, and if we make it to the finish line, we will be saved. This is talking about people who are already saved because Jesus Christ has paid for their sins. It is a matter of how we live, how we run the race between the time we are saved and the time we get to Heaven.

These crowns will be given to believers who have been motivated in the right way. Do you see why I say it is such an important concept? What a fantastic motivation, to know that though we may plod through life day by day and not have a great deal of excitement in our lives or we may go through life in the fast lane and have a great deal of excitement in our lives, but the important thing is that as we live to honor Jesus Christ, we will be given rewards (crowns) of various kinds.

Crowns Presented to Jesus

There is something else we need to think about. Turn to Revelation, chapter 4. Why do we get these crowns? We get them because we have been honoring Jesus Christ, don't we? Well, does that mean that when we get to Heaven we stop honoring Christ and start honoring ourselves? Does that mean you are going to be walking around Heaven with ten crowns on your head while I am only going to have hopefully two or three? Isn't that just going to be more of an ego trip? Revelation, chapter 4, answers that for us. In this chapter, we have John, looking into Heaven; and, as you know, there is a lot of symbolism in the book of Revelation, but in this chapter, he refers to twenty-four elders. These elders represent all Christians both from the Old Testament and from the New Testament. In verse 9, there are some living creatures that give honor and glory and thanks to Jesus Christ who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever. Verse 8 tells us that they said, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” When those living creatures say that, in verse 10:

Revelation 4

10The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
11Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

Do you see what this is saying? This is saying that on the basis of how you live next Tuesday or how you live this afternoon, how you live between now and whatever time you stand in the presence of the Lord, that will be the basis on which you may receive a crown which then you may cast at Jesus' feet and say, “Lord, you are worthy.”

There is a song that is often sung: “How can I say thanks for the things you have done for me? To God be the glory.” Here is how we will be able to say thanks for the things He has done for us. We will have crowns to cast at His feet. Not one of us will keep any of those crowns. It will not be an eternal ego trip, but rather an opportunity to physically demonstrate to Jesus Christ our appreciation for all that He has done for us.

Where do those crowns come from? They come from how we live today, tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday and on until we stand in His presence. That is where the crowns come from. What better motivation could there be for the Christian life than to be able to someday honor Jesus Christ who alone is worthy and to do that in a tangible, physical way? That is the Judgment Seat of Christ.

The Unwise Worker

Go back to I Corinthians, chapter 3, and notice that not only is there the wise worker who accumulates gold, silver, and precious stones based on the motivation of our hearts in the things that we do, but there is also what we might call the unwise worker. Notice in verse 15:

I Corinthians 3

15If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Notice very carefully that it is possible that a person can stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ and discover that everything that he did in his Christian life is totally wasted, that everything he did from the time that he was saved until he stood in the presence of Jesus Christ was only for his own glory or his own satisfaction. It was the easy way out, the easiest thing to do at the time, and none of it glorified Jesus Christ. What a horrible discovery to make, don't you think?

But notice, does it say that that kind of worker will go to Hell because he wasted all that time? Notice the verse again very carefully:

I Corinthians 3

15If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

There will be believers in Heaven evidently who have no crowns to cast at Jesus' feet, nothing to demonstrate any glory to Jesus Christ. But they will be there, in Heaven, for eternity, with all the blessings and joys of Heaven because of God's grace. This doesn't have to do with earning our salvation; it has to do with honoring Jesus Christ Who did earn our salvation for us. There are lives wasted as far as bringing honor and glory to Jesus Christ, yet so as by fire.

Conclusion

As we draw our study to a conclusion, let's remind ourselves that in the context of the first part of this chapter, Paul is saying that a minister is only a servant. You and I are ministers, but even at that, we are servants of Jesus Christ. As we are servants of God, each of us is very significant in God's sight and the things that we do are very important to Him. We are responsible to God for our time and for our efforts for everything that we do in our businesses, in our studies, in our career, in our homelife, in our parenting, in our submission to our parents. Everything that we do is something that can bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ. Other people may not see it; in fact, other people aren't supposed to look for it. But God knows, and it will be revealed at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The day will come when our work is going to be examined, and rewards are going to be given.

Let me conclude by asking the question that I asked at the beginning. Why do you live the Christian life? What is your motivation in the Christian life? Is it to impress other people or is it to honor Jesus Christ? Or is it perhaps maybe even worse that there is no motivation at all, just kind of coasting, knowing you are going to get to Heaven, and that is all that really matters? From an eternal perspective, that is all that matters, perhaps; but what really matters is being able to say thank you to Jesus Christ in a tangible way, based on how we live between now and the day that we see Him.


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