Sugar Land Bible Church
The Believer’s Reward, 1 Corinthians 3:8-15
I’d like to welcome everybody who’s here today and also on the internet. Tonight there is a game of games—the Super bowl. And in five days there’ll be a much bigger set of games, the Olympics. And athletes from all around the world will gather at the Olympics to compete and they have trained for years, sweat, blood and tears. And they will compete in these games in five days. And this is a tradition that dates back thousands of years to the time when the Greeks would gather in the Valley of Olympia and have their Olympic games. Now those games, of course, were different than the games that we will see in five days; they didn’t have downhill skiing and they didn’t have ice skating and they didn’t have one of the most intriguing games that I think we have in the winter sports, the winter Olympics, curling, where the guy’s there with their brooms and they’re trying to make that rock move as quickly as possible. They didn’t have those games at the time of the Greeks; they had games like we have in the summer games, boxing and wrestling and running. They would run races and the winner of the particular competition at the time of the Greeks, he would receive a crown, a wreath. There wasn’t a second place prize, there wasn’t a third place prize.
There were no medals, there was a crown. And with that crown, that wreath, came benefits because the winner when he returned to his home city of Corinth or Athens or wherever it was, he would be showered with rewards, with benefits. He’d get a lump sum of money; he’d get free meals at the city dining hall for life. And there was one city where he would even get tax exemption. Can you imagine that, the local IRS agent shows up and he says no, no, here’s my crown, adios, you’re not welcome here, here is my crown. The point is they got benefits and rewards associated with their crown.
And the Apostle Paul, as we’re going to see today, uses that imagery of the athletic games, the competitions, to encourage you and to encourage me to run… to RUN, if you’re 90 years old RUN. If you’re 16 years old RUN the Apostle Paul says. He’s like a coach standing next to the track saying Run, Run, and he does this because he’s telling us there’s an evaluation. You’re going to be evaluated believer, the Apostle Paul says, by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He’s going to evaluate how you run. And so Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win.  Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.  So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air.  Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.” [NET Bible]
You see, we’re all running a race; every human being is running a race. We’re either running it on the world’s track or we’re running it on God’s track. We know the world’s track, right? It’s about what the person can see and touch and feel. It’s about the lusts of the eyes and the flesh. It’s about pleasures, how do I satisfy… and people are running, I mean running, searching, searching, searching, and when they get some they want some more. And when they get some pleasure they want more and more and more because they’re never satisfied and that’s the way God designed pleasure. It’s not to satisfy us; God has designed pleasure to be enjoyed within a fence because it’s not to be our god. Pleasure is designed by God but it has its limits and it’s to be designed, it’s to be enjoyed within His parameters. So that’s the world track that the unbeliever runs on and they run fast.
Then there’s God’s track and God’s track is seeking God’s ways, seeking God’s Word, seeking God’s glory, living in the power of His Holy Spirit versus living in the power of the flesh. The believer is supposed to be running and the Apostle Paul, like a coach, is saying RUN on God’s track. Now when the believer gets involved in sin he walks over here to the world’s track and he starts running on the world’s track. But Paul says run on God’s track, not on the world’s track and run to win because remember that there is an evaluation. God is going to evaluate how you ran.
And so our topic today is rewards and there are three major things that we’re going to see today. We’re going to see that Christ will evaluate our lives, our works, our deeds. We’re going to see that Scripture teaches us what good works are. And that’s real important because the third item that we’re going to see is Christ rewards our good works. Well, if we’re interested in rewards, and the Bible tells us to be, then we need to know what good works are and what they’re not. So we’re going to spend some time on that this morning. But the point that I would like you all to take away from this message is pretty straightforward: it’s do good works and be rewarded, live for God, obey God, and be rewarded.
Now before we get into our passage let me mention a couple of things by way of background. We’re going to see an evaluation, OUR evaluation, which will happen in heaven where Christ is going to evaluate us, but believers at that evaluation, which is the Judgment Seat of Christ, believers are being evaluated as to whether they get rewards or not. They’re not being evaluated as to salvation because that matter has already been secured, that matter has already been resolved because when we trusted Christ for the forgiveness of our sins then God’s righteousness is imputed to us and so that matter is resolved.
This evaluation that we’re going to see today, the Judgment Seat of Christ, has nothing to do with our salvation because that’s already resolved. This has to do with rewards—do we receive them or not? The second thing, by way of background, that I’d like to mention is that the Bible lays out a number of different reasons to be motivated to obey God, to be motivated to serve Him or another way of saying that, to be motivated to do good works. The Bible identifies fear of God as a legitimate basis to obey God, a legitimate basis to do good works. So fear of God is a legitimate basis that the Bible lays out as to why we should obey God and we’re concerned that our Father is going to take out the belt and we’re going to get spanked. That is a legitimate basis that the Bible lays out to obey God, to do good works in other words.
There’s another basis that the Bible lays out and that’s rewards; that’s what we’re going to look at today. The Bible says be motivated by rewards to obey Him, to do good works. But there’s a third motivation and that’s really the primary motivation the Bible lays out and that’s love for God. Right? We’re told to love the Lord with all our heart and soul and mind. Our whole package, our whole person, we’re to love the Lord. What did Jesus say? He said if you love Me you’ll obey me. Right? If you love Me you’ll obey Me! [John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”] And so that’s the primary motivation that we are to have when it comes to obeying God, serving God or doing good works. It’s all the same thing, but we are going to look at rewards today but the focus or what we have to remember is that love of God should be our primary motivation, although rewards is perfect legitimate to be motivated by and the Bible tells us to.
You know, there’s this old story about this teacher of a kid’s class and she was teaching the kids about the Judgment Seat of Christ, about how every believer is going to have to stand before the Lord and give an account of his life or her life and the Lord is going to reward them or not reward them. And those who serve the Lord, the teacher explains to the kids, are going to receive a crown of glory. So she asks the kids well, who do you think is going to receive the biggest crown of glory. And there’s this silence, and then one the kids, little Johnny raises his hand kind of slowly and she says yes. And he says well, in classic kid-like logic, the ones with the biggest heads. [Laughter] Well God’s criteria for rewards is a little bit different than Johnny’s criteria and we’re going to see that criteria today in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.
So please turn in your Bible, or on you I-pad or I-phone or Samsung phone, please turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 3:12, that’s going to be our main passage today although we are going to take a detour into the topic of good works, what they are and what they’re not and then we’ll circle back to our main passage in 1 Corinthians 3.
1 Corinthians 3:12 is going to teach us that we, as church age believers, will be evaluated; what we did in the body will be evaluated. What we did in our lives will be evaluated. And we know it’s church age believer’s from 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Romans 14:10. [2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” Romans 14:10, “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”]
And this evaluation will happen of us during the seven year tribulation. We’re not going to be on earth during the tribulation. This evaluation of our lives at the Judgment Seat of Christ happens after the rapture of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, when we are brought up in heaven but before the return of Christ in Revelation 20 when He returns with His saints to rule, our evaluation happens during that seven year window when there is total tribulation and disaster on the earth. We’re not on the earth. [1 Thessalonians 4:17, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.” We’re in heaven at that time being evaluated at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
So let’s look at our passage, 1 Corinthians 3:12, “Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,” the foundation here, what Paul is referring to we know from verse 11, the fire verse, He’s referring to Christ. Christ is the foundation; Christ is the foundation of our relationship with God, of our access to God. It’s not Mohammed, it’s not Buddha, they were sinners just like every other man. It’s Christ, the God-Man, without spot, without blemish, He is the foundation of our relationship with God. And Paul, who loves word pictures, we started out with this word picture of athletic games, now he’s going to give us a word picture of building a building.
So Paul says Christ is the foundation, and then he gives us two options here. Option number 1, you can build on that foundation, you can build your building with junk material, trash material, straw, hay and wood, all of which is combustible, all of which is the option of building here in Paul’s word picture of building with materials that are crummy. Option number 2, Paul says if you can build on materials that are valuable, that last, they’re durable, gold, silver and precious stones. Can you imagine a building made out of gold, made out of silver, decorated with precious stones? That’s what Paul wants us to build our building out of on the foundation of Christ.
Then we’ve got the next verse, verse 13, where we read: “Each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.”
Now notice it starts and ends with the same phrase, “each man’s work.” “Each man’s work will become evident” and then at the end of the verse, “test the quality of each man’s work.” What’s Paul’s point. The point is we stand alone at the Judgment Seat of Christ. We stand alone before our evaluator, Christ Jesus. Now we run the race alone. Now we can help each other and we should and I could come up next to you and give you the water and you grab the water and you keep running and you drink it while you’re running and vice versa, and we should do that, we should encourage each other absolutely, but at the end of the day I can’t rely on your good works and you can’t rely on my good works. I can’t rely on your obedience to God and you can’t rely on my obedience to God. When we stand before Christ I don’t get to say well my mamma, boy she really… she loves You Lord, and she lived a life for You are my daddy. No, I have to give an account of my life before Christ as do you. And that’s why Paul emphasizes here “each man’s work.”
So that’s verse 13 and the other thing that I should mention here is that in verse 13 we’re told that our works are made evident, right? That’s there at the beginning of the verse, “Each man’s work will become evident,” it’ll become clear. Today we don’t know exactly people’s motivations so today when someone does something we may be saying to our self, wow, they really had a… they’re seeking to honor God. Well, maybe they are and maybe they aren’t because you don’t know their motivations. But in that day each man’s work and each woman’s work “will become evident.” And it’ll become evident as to whether the work was junk material (wood, hay and stubble) or valuable material, (gold, silver and precious stones.
Now what’s important to remember is the good works and rewards to hand in hand; they’re linked. Forgive me here but I’m going to use a phrase from that great theologian, Forrest Gump, [laughter] remember when he’s telling the story about he and Jenny when they were kids and they always played together, they were always together, and he says me and Jenny we was like peas and carrots. Well, good works and rewards are like peas and carrots. You never have one without the other. And at the Judgment Seat of Christ if we get rewards it’s because we did good works. And if you have good works you produce rewards.
And so if there is this link between the two well then we need to know what are good works; what are they and what are they not? And we see that in John 15, and this is kind of a detour that we’re going to take here on the topic of good works. What does the Bible tell us that they are? So please turn in your Bibles to John 15:5. And this is a description where Jesus is talking and Jesus is talking about the vine and the branches, how the Father is the vinedresser, He is the vine and believers are the branches. And so Jesus says… let me just pull it up here on the old school version, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apparat from me you can do nothing.” So fruit, when Jesus uses fruit He’s referring to good works; that’s what happens when we abide in Jesus. And He is the vine, we are the branches, and we produce fruit, or good works, naturally. It’s not forced, it’s not fruit production in a forced way but we produce that fruit, those good works naturally if we’re connected to the vine, if we’re connected to the life source, Jesus. We’re not connected to the vine when we’re sinning and living our lives in the power of the sin nature, in the power of the flesh. We know the power of the flesh well, don’t we? It’s about this guy, it’s about me, A-number 1, what’s in it for ME, what are MY appetites, My desires. That’s the power of the flesh. Right.
And so we’re not connected to the vine when we’re looking out for A-number 1 and being energized and motivated by self versus glory to God. We are connected to the vine when we’re seeking God’s ways and operating under God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, operating under the power of the Spirit. So good works are a natural expression of learning about God and loving Him. And you can’t love someone that you don’t know. I mean, that’s pretty basic. So that’s why learning God’s Word is so important because that’s how He’s revealed Himself to us. That’s how we know Him is first we study His Word and that allows us to learn about Him and the response to knowledge should be loving Him.
And so we inhale God’s Word and we exhale good works. It’s a natural result and what I mean by that is if we flood our thoughts, renew our mind with God’s Word, with God’s thoughts, then our actions just follow our thoughts. That’s why Proverbs says in the Book of Proverbs as a man thinks so he is. Your actions just follow your thoughts, they’re a product of your thoughts. So good works are not a rigid to do list that we wake up Monday morning and say okay, what am I going to do for God today, boom, boom, boom, boom. No, good works are a result of an attitude, they flow naturally from an attitude of I love You Lord, I’m Your creature, and You’ve given me resources, You’ve given me oxygen to breathe (something we take for granted), You’ve given me… the sun rose today, praise God for that, You’ve given me money, either a little bit or a lot to pay expenses, You’ve given me resources and I love You Lord and I’m Your creature and how can I use those resources for Your glory and Your honor? It’s an attitude and that attitude produces good works naturally.
Now works can either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the context. Works are a bad thing in the context of salvation. Right? The Protestant Reformation had that rallying cry of sola fide, Latin for faith alone, faith alone in Christ alone. Not faith plus works, faith alone in Christ alone is the only method of salvation and that’s why Ephesians 2:8-9 say, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God,  not as a result of works lest any man should boast.” So works in the context of salvation are OUT! They’re OUT!!!
Now works after you’re saved, now that’s a good thing… that’s a good thing because once you’re saved works come into play in a big, BIG way. If you’ll turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 2:10, and that’s the very next verse from what I just read in Ephesians 2:8-9 about how we’re saved by grace and it’s a free gift [can’t understand word], but Ephesians 2:10, tells us that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,” we’re created for good works, we’ve been saved for good works, “which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
Now good works are not automatic. It’s a choice; it’s a choice that we make, should we build our structure out of junk material or do we build our structure out of valuable material. Do we run want to run on the world’s track or do we want to run on God’s track. It’s a choice; good works are not automatic but God tells us to do them. There used to be a sign in the registrar’s office of Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas. And it said: “Salvation is by grace, graduation is by works.” Salvation is a free gift is what that sign was saying but sport, if you want a degree you’d better get after it, you’d better start studying, you’d better start reading, you’d better start writing, you’d better get ready for that exam. And so there’s a distinction there between salvation and post-salvation Christian life. We’re hardwired, Ephesians 2:10, we’re designed, we’re created in Christ Jesus for good works. [Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”]
Of course Christ died for our salvation, I mean, the product of Christ having died for us, He died so that we might be saved, so that we might be plucked out of eternal damnation into eternal life. But we also see from Ephesians 10 that another reason why He died for us is so that we might do good works, which He designed “beforehand.” That’s in the last part of Ephesians 2:10, “beforehand” is the phrase and I take that to mean not a second before we believe but beforehand, before the creation of the world, in eternity past. And the reason I say that is because of Ephesians 1. In Ephesians 1, the very prior chapter, Paul tells us that, “Before the foundation of the world” God designed us to be holy before Him. [Ephesians 1:4, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love.”]
Isn’t that interesting, in eternity past God designed an eternal purpose for us, that we might live in heaven with Him. In eternity past God designed a purpose for us in time, that we would do works that He’s already designed for us, because He formed your personality when you were in the womb. And so He formed you and when you were in your mother’s womb and He designed good works for us in eternity past that we might walk in them. [Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”]
So good works, in the proper context, not in the context of salvation but in the context of after you’ve been saved, what do I do now? The answer is “good works.” Now we’re going to unpack what good works means here in a moment, but that’s not a bad word. Good works is not a bad word when it’s understood in the proper context.
For the second time let me mention just a few good works that the Bible lays out. There are many, many, many, many types of good works but let me just mention a few. And in all of these we’re going to see peas and carrots, we’re going to see that good works is accompanied by rewards.
Colossians 3:23 lays out good works in working at your job. Working at your job is a good work that God rewards; in addition to the pay check that you get there are rewards. Colossians 3:23, whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men,  knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” The context here was slaves serving their master. Now praise God that, at least in the western world, we don’t have slavery any more. But the principle applies, the point applies here; what we have today is employers and employees and so Paul is saying work hard at your job with the right attitude.
This word “heartily” is the Greek phrase ek psuchē which mean from soul, from the soul or with soul. Work “with soul” Paul is saying. And that’s translated here in the English “heartily.” Don’t work with a grudging attitude but an attitude of eagerness and enthusiasm remembering that you’re working for the Lord even if your human boss is unfair and unreasonable. If we do that then verses 24 is telling us that we’re receiving and accumulating rewards in heaven. So be motivated, not just by your paycheck, that you’re going to get a paycheck, but also be motivated that if you’re working as for the Lord, with the right attitude, you’re also accumulating rewards in heaven. Now work, of course, happens not just outside the home but inside the home. So this principle applies not just to the person who goes off and works at an office but also to the stay at home mom who’s caring for the kinds and training the kids, she’s also, I believe, under this verse accumulating rewards in heaven as she is working heartily for the Lord. I think it applies to students who are studying their brains out for their degree; they’re also working. If they have the right attitude then they’re accumulating rewards in heaven.
Another example of peas and carrots, rewards and good works being linked, is sharing God’s Word. Sharing God’s Word we see in 1 Corinthians 3:8, “Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” Labor is work, right, and here Paul is talking about sharing God’s Word. Paul is saying preachers, non-preachers, all believers should share God’s Word. And some plant the seed, some give the gospel; and others come along and give deeper doctrines and deeper truths and God will reward both laborers this verse says.
I have another set of peas and carrots; during ridicule and persecution on behalf of Christ is a “good work” that Christ rewards and will reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” Now that phrase “because of Me” is real important; if we’re being insulted and persecuted because we’re criminals and we’re just violating the law all the time or we’re jerks and we’re just running around intending to offend everybody that we see, well, that’s a different context. That’s not what Jesus is talking about. Jesus is talking about if we’re being persecuted or insulted because we follow Him.
Then He gets into the second verse, verse 12, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” If you’re a committed follower of Christ then it’s just a matter of time, it’s just a matter of time before someone says what? Jesus, God, God’s invisible, you worship someone who’s invisible? Someone is going to ridicule you, insult you, it’s just a matter of time if you’re a committed follower of Christ. And you might even be persecuted, and I say that with a heavy heart in this country because as our culture becomes more and more opposed to Christianity that risk of persecution increases.
We see that in Jack Phillips, the baker from Colorado who said hey… this gay couple came in to the bakery and they wanted him to make a cake for their wedding and he said guys, I’m a Christian and I can’t do that, I’ll make you another kind of cake, I’ll make you a birthday cake or some other cake but I can’t make that cake, I don’t want to make that cake, I’m a Christian and I don’t want to support that. So he was harassed and threatened and the State of Colorado sued him. The State of Colorado said if you want to be a baker in our state you will get in line and support homosexuality like we, the State of Colorado, have declared… you will! If you want to bake cakes here then you will make that cake to celebrate that activity, or get out! So the State of Colorado has sued Mr. Philips and Mr. Phillips case is pending currently at the United States Supreme Court and we will see that the justices on the court do with this case.
But my point is this: believers will be ridiculed and persecuted when they openly seek God’s ways. And that’s because the world, which is ruled by the devil, is opposed to God and opposed to God’s followers. God has rewards in store for the one who endures persecution on His behalf. But let me say this: we should not go looking for a fight. We shouldn’t go looking to stir up trouble. We shouldn’t go looking for a fight, we should, as Paul says, seek to live a quiet life. [1 Thessalonians 4:11, “and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you.”] But when someone says I insist that you take this action in support of this then I agree with Mr. Phillips, I think we should stand our ground in the power of the Spirit and God’s truth, but stand the ground nonetheless.
One final example of peas and carrots and that is in the area of helping Christians who are in need. When we help fellow believers that’s a good work that God rewards. Mark 9 :41, “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.” Many believers suffer and struggle to meet the day to day expenses of life and the Christian who helps that struggling believer is doing a good work. And if those struggles are especially acute and severe in Muslim countries where Christians are persecuted or in India where Christians are persecuted, and so the believer who helps another believer is doing a good work and is accumulating rewards in heaven.
Well, that was a very short list of good works, potential good works that believers can do. But no work is a good work if the motivation is wrong. Motivation affects everything about the believer’s actions. If we’re doing a good work it’s only a good work if it’s done in the power of the Spirit because if it’s done in the energy of the flesh then it’s meaningless… it’s meaningless! And as I said earlier, we know the energy of the flesh, right? We know the energy of the sin, it’s about how do I promote myself, how do I glorify myself instead of glorifying the boss (now I don’t mean Springsteen) I mean God, THE BOSS in all caps, right? Our motivation should be glorifying the Creator of the universe who allows our heartbeat to be just by a word, who allows this universe to exist just by a word. That’s whose glory we should be seeking.
If our works are motivated by self-promotion then they’re dead works. Remember how Jesus warned about doing things to be recognized by others, in Matthew 6:1? There He said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” There Jesus was talking about people who were giving to the poor and praying publicly and they were doing it to bring accolades to themselves. Wow, look at me! Look at me, I did this great thing to give to the poor! Look at me, I’m praying so that everyone will give me recognition to say wow, what a great guy he is. And Jesus says look, if that’s your motivation then you got what you wanted. If your motivation was so that people would promote you then great, you got it. On the other hand, if your motivation is to serve God and to bring honor to His name, glory to His name, then God rewards that. But if your motivation is to glorify self God doesn’t reward that. Instead the only reward you get is you duped people into glorifying you and that’s the reward you get, versus glorifying God; that does gender rewards from God.
So if our actions are done with a right attitude then the good works; if our actions are done with the wrong attitude, regardless of how visibly spiritual they look, how noble they look, if it’s with the wrong attitude then it’s junk material built on a foundation; it’s wood, hay and stubble. Well, that’s our detour. That’s the end of our detour into what are good works and what are not good works.
Let’s get back to our passage of 1 Corinthians 3:13, “Each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.” Paul said “the day will show it” I believe Paul’s referring to the day of the Lord and that’s a phrase that the Bible uses to describe a day of reckoning, a day where the Lord settles accounts, a day where the Lord exhibits His sovereignty and demands accountability from humanity. God is sovereign, we know that, right? God is omnipotent, all powerful but He hasn’t shown it. There’s all kinds of evil that happens in the world all the time. One day God will exhibit His sovereignty and it will be utterly undeniable, even for the most intense unbeliever. And in that day God will demand accountability from humanity. That is the day where the Lord settles accounts. For the unbeliever the day of the Lord is a horrific… horrific day, it’s Great White Throne Judgment where unbelievers who have rejected the only name by which we may be saved, Jesus Christ, are cast in the Lake of Fire which is prepared for the devil and the fallen angels.
Believers are not at the great white throne judgment; believers are at the judgment seat of Christ and so for us that’s “the day of the Lord,” where the Lord has a settling of accounts for us. There’s no punishment for believers at the judgment seat of Christ. Let me say that again: theirs is no punishment for any believer at the judgment seat of Christ because we have been saved and we are righteous by the imputation of God’s righteousness. At the judgment seat of Christ there’s either rewards or no rewards. And that is what happens… what some people refer to as the Bema Seat, that’s another phrase for the judgment seat of Christ. And the reason it’s called the Bema is that’s the Greek word for judgment seat. In the Greco-Roman world an official with authority would sit on a platform, on a seat, and they would bring cases before him and he would hear the facts and he would issue a judgment, issue a ruling, issue a conviction, and issue a penalty. And that was called the Bema, he sat on the Bema.
For example, Pilate sat on his Bema, he’s standing up in front of his Bema but he sat on his Bema when he heard Jesus’ case and commanded crucifixion. Festus, the Roman governor, sat on his Bema when he heard the Apostle Paul’s case and sent him to Rome to be tried before Caesar. The Scripture tells us that Jesus will sit on His Bema, His judgment seat, to evaluate us. But again there’s no punishment at the Judgment Seat of Christ. There’s either rewards or not rewards.
And notice that in 1 Corinthians 3:13 there’s a fire in heaven that tests the quality of each man’s work. [I Corinthians 3:13, ““Each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.”] That’s our evaluation, that’s what’s testing our work; was it junk material we were building on the foundation of Christ or was sit valuable material. Were we functioning in the power of the flesh (junk material, or in the power of the Spirit (valuable material)? How were we motivated. Were we motivated for self-promotion (junk material), or for God’s promotion for he elevation of His name and the glory of His name (valuable) material).
Verse 14, “If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.” So only good works remain; only what’s done for Christ remains, everything else is burned up. In other words, the junk material, the combustible material, the wood, hay and straw. And at the end of verse 14 we see that word that we’ve been talking about so much this morning, “reward.” God knows how to reward His people.
God’s not like some human bosses who don’t know how to do that, right? The boss calls you into the office and he says look, you’ve been working really hard and our company is making a bunch of money so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to double your hours and cut your pay in half. You might not say it out loud but you’re thinking you’re crazy, that’s ridiculous, that’s wrong! And that’d be wrong, right? I mean, a good human boss rewards his people or her people for their labor. Well, if a good human boss knows how to do that then doesn’t the Lord know how to do it a thousand times more? He does! He DOES!
The rewards that God gives to believers for their good works involves crowns. There are five crowns listed in Scripture. For the sake of time I’m going to quickly go through these, but there is the imperishable crown, the crown of rejoicing, the crown of righteousness, the crown of glory and the crown of life. And these are given for different works, different good works, done in the power of the Spirit not in the power of the flesh. And these crowns represent victory, victory over the flesh, victory over Satan’s fallen world. And I believe, like in a Greco-Roman world these crowns are accompanied by benefits, just like that competitor who won at the Olympic Games and went back home to Corinth and he was given a pot of money, and free meals, and tax exemption. These crows are accompanied by benefits, by rewards. And I say that because Jesus talked about storing up treasure for yourselves in heaven where thieves cannot steal them. [Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;”]
Now I don’t think Jesus is talking about a currency, dollars or yen or pounds. I think He’s talking about rewards; rewards that accompany these crowns. Also, in terms of rewards that go along with those crowns the Apostle John talked about believers returning with Christ and ruling with Him at the Second Advent, for the thousand year reign of Christ. The rewards that God has planned for us are beyond what you can even imagine; they’re beyond what you could “ask or think” and we see that in Ephesians 3:20 where we read, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,  to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. Beyond what we can ask or think… we worship a God who loves us and who rewards us if we live for Him, if we love Him, if we take in His Word, and if we live in His power, in the power of the Spirit, not in the power of the flesh.
Finally we get to verse 15, “If any man’s work is burned up he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” Loss of reward is a source of shame at the judgment seat of Christ because the believer, who should have been spending his life or her life living for Christ instead of for self is ashamed at that moment where the believer loses the rewards. And notice this passage, it says, “loss,” right? “he will suffer loss,” those rewards are already designed by God, just like God designed our works, good works in eternity past He designed the rewards for us in eternity past.
So that’s the source of shame at the judgment seat of Christ for the believer who ignored God. God, look, I’m busy. If the believer who didn’t love Him, who didn’t seek His Word and who didn’t live a life in the power of the Spirit, then that believer is standing at the judgment seat of Christ, all those rewards that he could have gotten and the other believers who are rewarded, he says I should have lived for Christ. And there’s disappointment associated with that.
Again, there’s no punishment at the judgment seat of Christ but there is shame and disappointment. Now if that believer who didn’t receive rewards, is he going to be excited that he’s in heaven? He’s going to be pumped that he’s in heaven. I mean, he’s going to be so excited that he’s in heaven but at the same time he’s going to wish that he had lived for Christ and gotten the rewards that last, not for a thousand years, not for a million years, but for eternity, forever he will be disappointed.
Finally, verse 15 makes clear that we can’t lose our salvation, because notice at the end of the verse that “he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” And so, “If any man’s work is burned up he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” So what’s burned up? His dead works, not him, he’s saved from the fire, just his dead works are burned up. And so the believer who lives for Christ, who took in God’s Word, who lived a life of faith (that’s the only way to please God) in the power of the Spirit, he’s going to be pumped too that he’s in heaven. So the believer that didn’t get rewards, he’s going to be excited that he’s in heaven but he’s not going to get rewards. The believer who did live for Christ and get rewards he’s going to be excited that he’s in heaven and then he’s going to have super abundance of joy because he’s going to have these rewards. He’s going to say, like King David said, “my cup spilleth over.” That’s the believer who will receive rewards in heaven.
We know that we can’t lose our salvation as this verse makes clear that it’s the dead works that are burned up, not the believer and we know we can’t lose our salvation because Christ said, the very last thing on the cross, when they put the bitter wine to His mouth so He could lick His lips and just say one last word, tetelestai, “it is finished” in the perfect tense. The Greek language there is the perfect tense which means this has happened in the past and the result of it lasts forever; “it is finished!” He finished it 2,000 years ago and we enjoy the benefits of it today and all of humanity who will accept His work enjoy the benefits of that salvation and there’s NOTHING that we can do to undo the work of Christ.
So in conclusion what’s Paul’s point in telling us about the evaluation that we’re going to have? Why does he tell us? He tells us because he wants us to run, to run if you’re 90 years old, run if you’re 16 years old, he says RUN, like a coach standing next to the track, God’s track that we’re to be running on and He says RUN, RUN, RUN because you’re going to be evaluated and you’re going to be rewarded for running to win… for running to win!
And how do we get rewards? It’s actually pretty simple, we make it complicated but it’s actually pretty simple. Love God, number 1. Number 2, take in God’s Word; you have to take in God’s Word because you can’t love Him if you don’t know anything about Him. So love God number 1, number 2, take in His Word, and number 3, live a life that is pleasing to Him in the power of the Spirit. Well, how do we please God? Only by faith, because “without faith it is impossible to please God” we’re told. [Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”]
So love God, take in God’s Word, and live a life of faith in the power of His Spirit. That’s how you get rewards. Rewards should motivate us… they should motivate us! The Bible tells us to be motivated by rewards, but remember, our primary motivation is love for God.
Now if there’s anyone here or on the internet without Christ, without hope, and without eternal life we want you to know that Jesus Christ died for you, YOU, individually, personally for YOU, for all of humanity but for you individually. And without Him, without His work, you are condemned eternally. And so we would urge you go accept Christ, the work that He did on the cross when He paid for your sins which are an utter offense to God, and my sins are too, and we’d urge you to accept Christ, to believe that He paid for your sins. The Philippian jailor in the Book of Acts said, “What must I do to be saved” to the Apostle Paul and Paul said “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” [Acts 16:30-31, “and after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’”  They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”]
So we’d urge you to do that and go from being the enemy of God, dead in your trespasses and sins to be the daughter or the son of God with eternal life. From eternal death to eternal life, and that can happen just like that [he snaps his finger] in the privacy of your own thoughts just by you saying I believe Father, I believe that Jesus paid for my sins. And in that moment you become the child of God. So we urge you to do that.
Closing in prayer today, Father, we thank You for this time; we thank You for the opportunity to study Your Word. We thank You for You having revealed these things in Scripture about how You intend to reward us for our labor if it’s done in the power of Your Spirit, the power of the Holy Spirit, not done in the power of the flesh. And so we ask you to challenge us by these things and also Father, for our fellowship luncheon we thank You for that food, we thank You for the hands that made it. We ask that You make it nourishing for us so that we can serve You and not ourselves. And we’ll be careful to give You all of the praise and the glory, and all of God’s people said… Amen!