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Archive for Service

The Judgment Seat of Christ (part 1)

Dr. Mark Cambron, one of my first and best mentors, taught me that repetition is theological mucilage. And he repeated that phrase over and over again. I really had no clue at that time what he meant. But God etched the words in my mind, nonetheless. He repeated it so often that I could never forget it (case in point). Doc knew that one day we would figure it out.

I discovered that mucilage is a thick, gluey substance produced by nearly all plants. It is found in seeds and works like a glue to lock food and water in them, causing them to be more capable of germinating. That wise mentor was teaching that repetition is to learning what mucilage is to plants. It causes truth to stick in the mind and ultimately to become productive. Needless to say, he made his point. Therefore, in my effort to teach the Bible, I have purposely repeated myself. Not because I didn’t think that people heard it or read it the first time but to allow the truth of the seed of the word to stick firmly in the mind. Every Bible truth that I have really learned has come as a result of this method. I unashamedly use it to teach others.

God has set aside a special time that will be used for the purpose of judging the works of believers. That time is called the judgment seat of Christ. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). The words “good and bad” could not refer to the judgment of personal sins. Sins were judged at Calvary! The “good and bad” here means good works or bad works, works that are profitable to God or unprofitable to God. The things that believers do as they run their race for Christ that either help or hinder. Specifically, the way that we perform our work of faith.  

That is as it should be. Why? Paul said the body grows “by that which every joint supplies” (Ephesians 4:16). From the day of Pentecost to this very day, generation after generation of the church, God’s construction crew, have come along to help build upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets. God has equipped every believer to have a part.

Observe carefully again Paul’s warning concerning the use of these gifts.  “But let each one take heed how he builds on it” (1 Corinthians 3:10). Take heed means to be very sensitive about something, to examine closely. We are to take our part in this building process very seriously. Paul began his explanation of this judgment by reminding us of our very firm foundation – Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). One of my seminary professors used to say that we are not to build a chicken coop on a foundation built for a skyscraper.

Paul begins his explanation of the judgment seat by mentioning six possible building materials: gold, silver, precious stone, wood, hay, and stubble. These materials vary in the degree of value from gold being the most valuable down to stubble, which has almost no value at all. We conclude from this that God takes note of the quality of work that each believer is doing – from very useful to not useful at all.

Another obvious difference in the building materials is that one category is combustible and the other is not. Gold, silver, and precious stone will not burn, but wood, hay, and stubble will. This gives us the impression that fire is going to be involved in the judgment process. Remember that fire in the Bible is associated with God’s judgment. Fire is used to purify, to purge. The result of the fire is that each one’s work will become clear. Each believer’s work will be brought into sharp focus. The fire of God’s judgment will burn through our works and that which is left becomes the basis for our reward. This emphasizes once again is the quality feature of the building process.

We are to use the gifts that God gives us wisely (1 Corinthians 3:12-13). Either we are making wise investments of our spiritual gifts within the body of Christ, or we are not. God will bring our works to light and expose them. Every believer’s work will be passed through the fire. The quality of our work is not revealed in this life, but it will be made known at a special time when the Lord returns. “The Day will declare it” (1 Corinthians 3:14). Note the capital “D” meaning a special day. One who knows all the facts will be the judge. That’s why we are told not to judge anyone prior to that Day. Another mentor of mine used to say that pie in the sky by and by will not be a good motivator for many – but it is for some. It is the “some” who will profit. Pray this truth sticks. Stay safe and stay tuned.  

 

Personal Relationship versus Personal Responsibility

We are responsible to God as His children to live our lives pleasing to Him. Our challenge is to allow the Spirit of God to glorify (shed light upon) Christ through us. The way to do this is to keep short sin accounts with God. However, we do not always cooperate with the Spirit. We either grieve Him by consciously doing that which displeases Him (Ephesians 4:25–32) or we quench Him by not allowing Him to lead us (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Both will result in God’s discipline.

Always remember that God’s discipline is proof positive that we belong to Him and that He loves us. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we can adjust ourselves to God’s righteous standard by judging ourselves (confession) and enduring God’s discipline (1 John 1:9; 1 Corinthians 11:31). Unbelievers do not have this option. They stand condemned before God because they have not believed in His Son (John 3:18).

Another area of personal accountability other than our personal relationship with Christ concerns our work of faith. Again, the Bible makes it quite clear that we are not declared right before God by our good deeds (Titus 3:5). However, we have learned that God has uniquely gifted every Christian to perform a stewardship responsibility to help build the body of Christ (1 Corinthians12:11;1 Peter 4:10). We are one body in Christ, but we have not been given the same responsibilities (Romans 12:4). If a choir all sang the same parts where would be the harmony? I really like the harmony. But we all have one very important thing in common.

God will one day judge each of us for spiritual productivity, especially the effort we make.  Paul asked a simple question. Why are we quick to judge other believers? As someone said, why do we have umpires’ hearts, or the desire to call balls and strikes on other people. Why are we quick to show contempt for fellow members? After all, we are all going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: “As I live say the Lord, every knee shall bow to me. And every tongue shall confess to God” (REF). Each of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:10–12; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

Judgment seat is the word bema. The bema was a rewarding stand for judges. It was established to reward those competing in the sporting games of the ancient world. Our righteous judge will one day reward believers for the race we have run. This judgment has nothing to do with the sin that condemned us before God. That debt was paid in full on Christ’s cross (John 19:30; Matthew 27:45-46).

Paul connected the basis for this judgment with the grace gifts given to believers. He used three can’t miss symbols to help us understand (1 Corinthians 3:5-15):

We are God’s fellow workers. Paul had the apostles in mind. He is saying that the apostles’ work was not their own. God gave to them this responsibility. The church at Corinth was Christ’s body, not Paul’s or Apollos’s or Peter’s. They were just workers working together for the building of the church.

You are God’s field. The church here is pictured as God’s cultivated field. These people were familiar with agriculture. There must be preparation of the soil, the planting of the seed, the fertilizing, the watering, the weeding, and then the harvesting. That is what ministry is all about! All need the seed of the gospel to be planted in their minds (1 Peter 1:23-25). If germination comes, the plants will need special care. All will need to be taught (watered and fertilized), will need encouragement (the soil loosened around them), and will need mercy (the weeds and vines removed).

You are God’s building. The Corinthian church also understood how a building was put together. Some are just beginning to lay a foundation in the Scripture and are in need of the milk of the word; some have the walls already built, and they are sturdy, and need deeper teaching.  Some are ready for the roof to be put in place and are mature and in need of meat.

First you have those who lay the foundation (the apostles and prophets, Ephesians 2:20), then the framers, the construction crew, the bricklayers, the dry-wallers, and the painters (all the gifted believers) (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Ephesians 4:7-16). Since the servants work on the same team, and since God is the one giving the increase, does the quality of each work make any difference at all? Oh Yes! Take careful note of these words: “each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor, for we are all God’s fellow workers, take heed how you build on it” (1 Corinthians 3:5-15). We may not heed these warnings but there is coming a day when they will matter. Stay safe and stay tuned. 

 

The Ability to Finish Well

When Christians reach spiritual maturity, they will no longer be like children – confused, constantly fussing, and captivated by every false teacher that attracts them with “a new view.”  Instead, they will “speak the truth in love and will grow up in all things into Him who is our head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:13-15). It is from our head, the Lord Jesus Christ, that the whole body fits together! Even though He is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, His life and ministry to this world continues through every joint of His body (Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). He has given to each of us a work of faith. How do we determine this work? As we serve the Lord and observe and receive ministry from others, our own gifts begin to become clear. We see our spiritual strengths and weaknesses in others.

If our gift is Bible teaching, we will observe this gift in others and the Holy Spirit will impress on us the desire to teach.

If our gift is mercy, we will see this gift in others and desire to do the same.

If our gift is helps, we will have the overwhelming desire to help with all the tasks of the church – without being asked. In the process we will teach others what it means to help the body of Christ and we will encourage others with the same gift to become involved.

If our gift is faith, we have the desire to trust God to do what He says He will do. In the process we train others the value of living by faith, and alert others who have this gift. 

If our gift is administration, we become God’s efficiency experts – not in a demanding way but with gentleness and grace. 

If our gift is evangelism, we have the overwhelming desire to share the gospel with the lost and by example teach others to share the message. 

If our work of faith is encouragement, we find joy by encouraging others, and by doing so, we teach others how to encourage. This works equally well with young people. God is the Great Genius, is He not!

As we give and receive these grace works, the church will grow both spiritually and numerically in direct proportion to the quality of the work of each (Ephesians 4:16). This should shout to us God’s prescription for the spiritual growth of the church. Missing is the exclusive role of a pastor to equip the flock alone. Missing are human schemes, gimmicks, or motivational methods of every sort to get the crowd and keep it. Missing is “the show.” Missing are the performers and the audience coming to watch them perform. Every member of the body of Christ will grow based upon the spiritual contribution of every other member in the body. We have all been uniquely gifted to do our part.

The result will be unity of the faith and a strong knowledge of the Son of God. Folks will begin to like each other, and then to love each other. Children of God will grow in knowledge of His Person, His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His return to establish His kingdom. The character of Jesus Christ will pulsate through the body (Ephesians 4:13). We will all come to understand what it means to learn and live by faith within the community of believers (2 Corinthians 5:7). We will all become spiritually mature, strong in Biblical doctrine, and productive.

The body of Christ is alive and well on the earth, but it must be nurtured. Jesus Christ continues His ministry to His body through His body. His body grows—spiritually and numerically—as a direct result of the ministry that every believer performs. When every part does its share, the body matures and grows in love. That is the purpose of every believer’s faith work. This has been God’s prescription for growth in the church since Pentecost. Jesus Christ continues to build His body the same way. There is no other method of church growth taught in the Bible. Peter went one final step showing us the value of knowing and using our giftedness.

Peter’s letter was written at a time when the body of Christ was under great persecution. The church had received word that the Roman authorities had discovered their location. The soldiers were probably on their way. The little flock felt that there was a real possibility that they were going to die. Very similar to anticipating a worldwide pandemic! Peter’s words to them were extremely important, maybe his last.  Notice carefully what he said. He told them first to pray. I get that!  Then to express their love and respect for one another. I get that too!  But finally, he said, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Peter is saying that God had given to each a spiritual work of faith. Finish well (1 Peter 4:7–11). Wow!  Stay safe and stay tuned.

Formula for Church Growth

Some of the most famous words spoken by Jesus Christ are “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Some of the most important words penned by Paul are “Now you are the body of Christ and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:27). So what?  As an individual part of Christ’s body, we are on this earth to help build His church. We are not talking about a physical building made of wood and steel, lined with soft carpet laced with padded pews, with stained glass windows, and of course, the steeple on top. We are talking of a building made of people. We are here on this earth to be used by God to build His people building. God did not leave us here for the task without the proper equipment. Oh no! As Jesus ascended back into heaven, He gave gifted people to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). It was not Paul’s desire here to mention all the gifted. He was teaching why the gifted. He gave each His specific purpose – and there can be no mistake.

Here is his major point. “We are here to equip the saints for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). This is clear! Let’s elaborate on this for a moment. The word equip means “to train or to prepare.” How are we equipped to equip? The Bible is eerily silent on information concerning seminaries or Bible colleges. Well then, who teaches the teachers?  The Bible is not silent on this one. God gave us His Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. Does it really say“all truth?” Yep! (John 16:13-14). He obviously does not mean all truth as in the arts and sciences, but all truth concerning the Bible.

There are many passages that instruct the church to take the gospel into the world, share the gospel, then bring believers to a local assembly to be trained.  Don’t get me wrong! Bible colleges and seminaries have been used of God in very significant ways – my own life included – but only because the church has long since stopped doing a major work of the church. The local church is the school of the Holy Spirit, just as the desert in Arabia was for Paul.  The local church is designed to train Christians. Notice, we are to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

Work is the Greek word ergon. It implies energy being used. Ministry is the word diakinos. It means “to serve.” Paul was not speaking specifically of elders, pastors, or deacons but of the special contribution of every member of the body. Every Christian has a work of faith to do, and they are to be trained in the local church to do it.

Note that the ultimate goal of God’s gifted people is to edify the body. Edify is a combination word made up of oiko, “to build,” and dome, the “top or roof.” Together, the word means “build from the ground floor all the way to the top.” We are to grow believers from spiritual infancy – up to spiritual maturity.

Spiritual maturity is to be measured against the stature of the fullness of Christ. The characteristics of our lives are to reflect the characteristics of His life – love, compassion, servanthood – serving the body.  How will we know when this is being achieved? When church members no longer act like children – fussing, fighting, throwing temper tantrums over little things – just like the world. When we are no longer tossed here and there by every wind of teaching that blows our way. When we are no longer taken prisoner by deceitful teachers and fabricated teaching led by Satan to corrupt our Lord’s ministry (2 Corinthians 11:13-14). Appealing? Yes! Moving compassionate words? Yes! But deadly. We are to be trained until we are solid in what we know to be true – true to the gospel, true to the Bible, true to the doctrines of grace. And we stand firm in them. When we learn to speak the truth in love (not in a condescending way) and grow up in all things into Christ (become mature in Christ).

Here is God’s no-spin formula for church growth: “Speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ. From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.” Please note the words “grow up” and “every joint supplies.”  There are to be no perpetual bystanders or spectators. And now this is it: “According to the effective working by which every part (please note – every part) does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (Ephesians 4:14–16). In summary, every believer knowing their part and faithfully doing their part will always result in growth. It is my opinion that we have totally abandoned this formula and the church of Jesus Christ is reaping the result. We now are left with the entertainers and the entertained. Stay safe and stay tuned.

First Comes the Root, Then the Fruit

As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk you in Him (Colossians 2:6). How do we receive Christ? We receive Him by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8).  The Christian life is to be lived by faith alone. We are to walk (one moment at a time) by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). I’ve often asked God to allow me to see. Faith does not need to see. It is not blind faith, because we trust the One who guides us even in the darkness – one step at a time.

God has given to every believer a special task to accomplish for His glory. This is what James is teaching (James 2:14-20). I call it our faith-work!  James immediately gave two clear illustrations that saving faith will be productive. He used Abraham’s offering of Isaac his son on the altar (James 2:21). Abraham had already received life before God by faith (Genesis 15:6). The object of Abraham’s faith was the Lord Jesus Christ. He believed in Jehovah. Jehovah of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ of the New (John 14:9). Abraham’s faith righteousness becomes the pattern for all of us(Galatians 3:5–13; Romans 4:1–5; James 2:23).

But what about Abraham’s faith-work? God had promised Abraham and Sarah a son. Abraham grew old and Sarah was barren. After trying to help God help them, they finally had to rest all their hope in God. If Isaac was to be, then God alone must make him happen. God responded by miraculously giving Sarah a son. No child could have ever been treasured more.

God then asked Abraham to do something incredible. He asked him to make an offering, not of an animal but of his most cherished possession: his son. What? This seemed completely irrational from man’s view, but Abraham had learned to trust totally in the Giver and not in the gift. He realized that as long as he had the Giver, he could never lose the gift.Abraham rose early in the morning, took Isaac, and departed to do what God had instructed him to do. Evidently there was no reluctance, and there were no second thoughts.

Just before Abraham was to take his son’s life, God miraculously stepped into the picture and spared Isaac (Hebrews 11:17). God said that He knew that Abraham feared Him (Genesis 22:12). In Abraham’s mind, he had actually taken the boy’s life. Abraham’s offering of Isaac was his faith-work. It was the work that God had planned for him to do long before Abraham was born (Ephesians 2:10). Abraham and his son walked together down that hill that day. In Abraham’s mind, Isaac had died and was now alive. What a beautiful picture of the resurrection! Wow! That work confirmed that his faith was genuine (James 2:14). The act of offering Isaac did not justify Abraham before God, but offering Isaac was clear evidence that Abraham had truly learned to trust in the Giver of life (James 2:22; Genesis 22:12). Amazing!

James continued with another illustration: Rahab the harlot (James 2:25). Rahab also illustrated that saving faith is productive faith. The Jews had left Egypt, winding their way to Canaan. They came to a small bump in the road called Kadesh Barnea. There they had a committee meeting. They decided to send twelve spies into Canaan to see what they were up against. In the city of Jericho, some of the spies were discovered and the authorities attempted to capture them. A harlot named Rahab hid the spies, sparing them from certain death. God amazingly used this woman, a harlot of all people, to preserve the entire Jewish nation. This was her faith-work (Hebrews 11:31). There is no written record that Rahab had ever believed in the Lord as Abraham had, but obviously she had. Why? Her faith-work proved it. She hid the spies because she had believed in the Lord. Her work revealed that her faith was a living faith in the living God. The seed of the Word of God in her had produced fruit after its kind.

Both James and Paul were right! Personal faith in Jesus Christ is the root of our salvation, our faith-work is the fruit. God leaves us in this world to produce fruit for His glory. First comes the root, then the fruit. God’s faith-work is proof that the seed of the gospel has been germinated in us. God has foreordained it to be so. Our work may not be giving to the poor, as in James’s day. Attempting to recognize the faith-work in our life or in the life of others is futile. We are never given the responsibility to become fruit inspectors. God alone knows when, where, and how our faith will become productive. We see this divine formula being played out through the list of faithful believers found in Hebrews 11. The writer of Hebrews said that faith is the substance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1). This hope becomes the evidence of things not seen. Stay safe and stay tuned.