"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. -2 Corinthians 5:10
THE judgments of Scripture are both interesting and important. In the New Testament three, major judgments are indicated. They are the judgment seat of Christ for believers only, the judgment of the living nations, so graphically described by our Lord in St. Matthew's gospel, and the judgment of the Great White Throne for the wicked dead.
In the verse above the word " we " undoubtedly refers to Christians. The Epistle is addressed to believers, and elsewhere in it the " we " always refers to them. This judgment then is for believers only.
For the believer there are what may be termed three personal judgments. The first is at Calvary. The cross reveals to a man his sin, by the Holy Spirit it brings conviction and the realisation of condemnation. He acknowledges that condemnation to be just. By faith he sees that the Cross that condemns him also rescues him from judgment and thereby he enters into the joys of reconciliation. "Verily I say unto you, he that heareth my word and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." (John 5: 24). Through faith in Christ the believer passes finally from the judgment of condemnation, from death unto life.
The second judgment for the believer is indicated by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (11: 32) " But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." That is a daily and hourly ministry of the Holy Spirit whereby we are rebuked and exhorted and so separated from the world. He reveals the things in us that grieve Him, the things in us that are lacking in a full obedience and where His judgment is accepted without hesitation it results in complete separation from the world, and therefore deliverance from condemnation with the world.
The third judgment is yet future at the judgment seat of Christ. The Corinthians understood by this judgment seat something akin to the umpire's stand at the festivals. There it was that after the contests, the victors went to receive the laurel wreaths so dearly prized. None of the contestants was, by his participation, dishonoured before the umpire's stand, but for the victors there were rich rewards. God has His rewards for His people and at the judgment seat of Christ they will be conferred. "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give everyone according as his work shall be." (Revelation 22: 12).
There would seem to be sufficient ground for the belief that this judgment seat of Christ will be set in the heavenlies immediately after the rapture, and before the Lord comes with His saints in visible glory. The saints are to share with the Lord in the judgment of the world, and therefore one may assume that their rewards will already have been indicated. Indeed for some, part of the reward will be thrones of administration on the earth. While, therefore the world is passing through the great tribulation under Antichrist, the Church will be before the tribunal of its Lord for reward.
Our Lord had much to say upon rewards for faithful service. The pulpits of today are almost silent upon a subject so frequently in His thoughts. The only rewards men understand are material and financial, originating and ending in this life. To so many the rewards yet to be, are evanescent, but to our Lord and His apostles they were very real. They are part of the invisible stimulus without which there is no sufficient explanation of the wonderful enterprise and energy of the early Church. Certainly in the New Testament there are, at least, seven specific rewards. Two are mentioned by our Lord, and five by the apostles.
The Reward of Faithful Stewardship is assured in the parable of the nobleman who left talents with his servants, recorded in Luke 19:12. He went away to receive for himself a kingdom and having received it he returned. The stewards who had rendered faithful service were rewarded in the ratio of responsibility exercised, with the rulership of cities. The talents left with the stewards gave them power, and it was the exercise of that power in the supreme interests of the coming King that clearly proved their ability to be rulers over cities in His kingdom. Many and varied are the talents the absent King has left with His children. Health, wealth, education, leisure, and sometimes exceptional powers of song and speech, are testing the loyalty of His people, while He delays His return.
It is a difficult task to keep wealth so completely at the disposal and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, that it never becomes a medium for one's own personal satisfactions. Not more easily does one keep a gift of voice entirely at the disposal of the Lord without pride in oneself or disdain of others. For the discharge of faithful service it is necessary we obliterate the sense of superiority over our fellows by remembering our highest place is low at His feet. It is clear that it is consummate folly to long for wealth or to envy the man of great capacities. Each bears a terrible responsibility to be realised to the full only on that day when the King returns.
Our Lord also mentions the Reward for Open Confession. "Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of Man confess before the angels of God." This is man's day and not God's day. It is the day in which Christ is despised and rejected. Men pay lip service to Him as a good man, but they will not have Him as Saviour and Lord. The man who stands out boldly for the Lord Jesus Christ must endure unpopularity if nothing worse. But those who make their testimony faithfully in the day of His rejection will receive an abundant reward in the day of His glorious appearing. When Absalom rebelled against David and the latter was compelled to leave Jerusalem, there was a company of loyal people who went with him. They were the faithful followers who endured hardship and privation with the king, but who returned with great joy with him in the day of victory. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a pilgrim and stranger in a land that is hostile to its Redeemer, but in the day of His glory it will be graciously rewarded. In that day the men and women who have made their testimony in workshop and office, in family and social circles, who have borne His despisings, will share in His honour and triumph; such will he confessed by the Son before the angels of God.
Only those who make the effort know the pain of an unequivocal witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. The uncompromising life of absolute separation from the world and complete surrender to Him is a path of Calvary. But the reward is commensurate with the price, and whatever they have suffered will be forgotten in that day when He honours his faithful witnesses before the angels of God.
The apostles speak of rewards under the symbols of crowns. The laurel crowns at the festivals doubtless suggested the figure, and it is obvious they are most appropriate. It is perhaps unnecessary to add that the believer is not anticipating a literal crown or diadem of gold or precious stones. Even if he were he could not logically be despised. Crowns and coronets are still the object of ambition. The huge funds of some political parties even in this country are adequate testimony to the price men will pay for the empty honours of the world. The rewards for the believer are not of that character; they are abiding and satisfying.
In his epistle St. James speaks of " the crown of Life." The gift of eternal life is assured to every believer, but this crown of life is evidently a super-added joy beyond our present understanding. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation (or trial) for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life." To the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:10) the promise is given "Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life." The crown of life is the reward for loyalty amidst difficulty. What cheer the prospect of such a crown brings can only be understood as one grasps the circumstances in which many are compelled to make their Christian witness. There are still stalwarts for Christ who are prepared to and do lose their employment for His sake. Loyalty to Christ for a husband may mean the incessant gibes of an unsympathetic wife, while many a woman feels life would have a new radiance if her husband shared her joys in the Lord. So easily it is forgotten how hard is the pilgrim way for many of God's children. Yet those who are called to suffer in this way have set before them a great prize. If patience has its perfect work and the testimony is made at all costs-- even unto death-then the crown of life at His pierced hand will be a sufficient reward for all the present suffering. The most coveted honour for soldier or sailor is the Victoria Cross, but it is never won except at a hazard, a risk of death.
St. Peter mentions "the crown of Glory." He is speaking to the elders and leaders in the Church. "When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of Glory that fadeth not away." This is a reward for Christian leaders, but it is easily missed. The oversight of the flock must not be for base gain. Work for God must be without any selfish motive or the crown will slip from the hand. There must be no attempt to " lord it over the portions, " but in everything there must be leadership for the sake of the flock and for the glory of the Chief Shepherd. How much this needs to be taken to heart
St. Paul knew how subtle was the temptation, and he knew too how searching would be the test of Christian service. It was possible to have the right foundation, Jesus Christ, and yet to build upon a solid base a superficial structure of wood, hay or stubble. The day should declare it when the fire would consume all that was not solid, while the worker should himself be saved "yet so as by fire." The crown of glory will be a wonderful reward but it is only secured by the severest discipline and the continual cleansing of the deep unseen motives of the heart.
St. Paul assures Timothy that there is the Crown of Righteousness and it is, " for all those who love His appearing." Such an attitude will not be characteristic of all God's children. It is not easy to hold in simple faith in the revealed word of God, the assurance that the Lord is coming again. For this reason there is a crown for those who do hold tenaciously to the truth as it is revealed. How apt is the reward! "Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself." Nothing cleanses and purifies the life of the believer as the daily consciousness that the Lord is coming again. When that truth takes practical hold in the life, it becomes a mighty power for close fellowship and implicit obedience to the will of the Lord Jesus Christ: it makes for righteousness. If one believes He is coming for his Church, to take it out of the world, then one finds in that conviction abundant reasons for keeping oneself " unspotted from the world."
To the Corinthians St. Paul spoke of " The Incorruptible Crown." To secure the garland in the games the strictest training was necessary. Diet was closely watched, exercises for bodily development were daily observed and the whole man kept under strict self-control. The crowds going to witness the contests might eat and drink as they would, but those out to gain the victory had to exercise the strictest discipline if they would win the prize. The Incorruptible Crown is the reward of all those who have made Christ their one end in life. Many Christians live quite carelessly they see no harm in the same pleasures that the world enjoys. It is not for one to judge another, but those who are pressing toward the mark of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ will need to bring everything in submission to His will and to permit nothing in the life that grieves the Spirit. A close walk with God, a strict obedience to the will of the Holy Spirit is essential to the prize of the incorruptible crown.
Finally, there is " The Crown of Rejoicing." St. Paul asks the Thessalonians " For what is our hope, or joy or crown of rejoicing?" And forthwith answers his own question, "Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?" Victorious generals, returning to Rome, brought in their train the captives secured in their campaigns. These added to their glory and triumph. The crown of rejoicing is for those who have been eager in their quest for the salvation of others. Soul winning is not easy work. Those who have laboured in Sunday Schools, Bible Classes, workshops, and factories, in the open-air and on the racecourse, know how disappointing, how painful, much of their effort is. Great sorrows await the man who has a passion for the souls of others. Apart from criticism, not merely by the worldling, but by the professing Christian, he must be ready to see his best efforts unavailing, and those for whom he sacrifices much rend him with ingratitude and scorn. The path of the soul-winner is the path of a man of sorrows. But in the moment of deep disappointment he has a great consolation. Faithful service in evangelism will not be without its great prize. There awaits the persistent wooer of the hearts of men the Crown of Rejoicing.
The Christian Church seems to have lost its passion for souls. Preachers seem content to preach for every other object but the redemption of a lost world. They are eloquent on the things of the old faith that cannot now be accepted, they advocate with zeal the trifling things of the passing day, but the passion for the souls of man would appear to have perished. Perhaps that passion may revive as we remember the crown of rejoicing at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
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