James 10 — Judging the Judges — James 2:10-13
Review James 2:8,9 — As you will remember, the book of James was written by James, half-brother of Christ, writes a book from Jerusalem to the scattered Hebrew Christians in the dispersion, called the Diaspora. He is really writing about practical righteousness. James, is one of the most practical books to give yourself to; a lot like the book of Proverbs; all about principles for daily living.
The first principle for daily living that James talks about is to walk by faith. The faith that saves is the faith that we now walk by as we grow in our relationship with the Lord. What it means is to accept the divine perspective on suffering because we don’t typically have that. We think suffering is the enemy, but James 1:2-18 gives us a lot of reasons why to rejoice in the midst of trials. Then James says, ‘Oh by the way, as you’re in a trial, don’t make a reckless charge against God — that God is trying to destroy you in the midst of it because that is contrary to who God is.’
Then, as we continue to walk by faith, we need to obey God’s Word. That involves per James 1:19-27, slowness in speaking and anger, the need to take in and obey God’s Word, also the need to practice true religion. James says that true religion, at the end of that chapter, is ministering to widows and orphans in their distress and keeping oneself unstained by the world.
From there, we moved into the whole subject of favoritism. Walking by faith and manifesting a daily life pleasing to God, involves not showing petty favoritism the way human beings in our fallen state are prone to do.
This is where James gives his command — James 2:1, and this whole paragraph is James 2:1-13, but in 2:1, there is a command not to show favoritism. In 2:2,3, there is a situation happening there in the assembly where the wealthy are treated by one standard, and the poor a different one. What James does in 2:4-13 is to explain how acting like that as a Christian, particularly in the Church, is contrary to God’s character and purposes. You can’t get more out of line with God, who God is and what God is all about, and what He is trying to do by acting that way.
His reasoning essentially has five parts to it:
- When we do that, we judge where God has not judged. We set ourselves up as judges with evil motives, and you can see that in 2:4. Keep your eye on that evil motives in 2:4 because it will come up again later. The reason we are setting ourselves up as judges when we treat the rich one way and the poor by a different standard is that we are making a division that God has never made. In Christ’s church, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). God doesn’t look at people as though ‘that guy is rich, that person is poor, that person is free, that one is a slave.’ Practically, their life may be that way but that doesn’t change their status in Christ’s body because we are all equally saved, and we are all equally baptized and identified at the point of faith alone into the Body of Christ.
- His second reasoning is that there in James 2:5 talks about when God elects and chooses, that He chooses people across the socioeconomic and racial spectrum. He doesn’t just choose white collar people, but also blue-collar people. In fact, as you look at Jesus’ life, to me He looks like a pretty blue-collar guy; He was raised as a carpenter’s son, He knew what it was like to work with His hands. That is what God is about — He chooses across the spectrum. So, when we show favoritism to the rich, that isn’t what God does — God chooses across the spectrum regardless of whether they are rich or poor.
- His third point of reasoning in 2:6,7 is when we elevate the rich in the Church we are actually elevating those who are God-haters. We have talked about how not all rich people are like this, but in this case here, it was actually the rich who was oppressing the Christian, and the rich who were blaspheming the Christians and God’s name. So, James is asking ‘Why are you elevating your foes; why are you showing preferential treatment to people who hate your guts?’
- His fourth point, and this is where we were getting into last time is showing favoritism violates God’s law. I introduced a couple of things late in the game, two Wednesdays before, and I want to cycle back to some of that because what we said there was so important, it bears repetition. When He talks about how showing favoritism violates God’s law in 2:8-11, he quotes Leviticus 19:18. Notice James 2:8,9 — “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” That is a quote from Leviticus 19:18, so the question in that passage is part of the Mosaic Law that God gave to the nation of Israel from Exodus 19 through the end of the Book at Mount Sinai. So, when the nation of Israel came out of the 400 years of Egyptian bondage via the ten plagues and parting of the Red Sea, then God closing the Red Sea behind the Israelis to destroy the pursuing Egyptians, then Exodus 19:1 tells us that there is a two-month period where they traveled from that location to Mount Sinai. That map there is the traditional view of Mount Sinai on the Sinai Peninsula and not everyone agrees with this; some think that Mount Sinai is a little further east in Arabia, and if I was to adopt that view, I would have to change all my maps, so I haven’t adopted that view. My wife knows a lot more about it than I do, so if you want to know why some people believe it is in Arabia, she is the resident expert on that, not I. She has actually studied it, and has a well thought out view on it, whereas I don’t. I adopt views just for convenience’ sake, so I am revealing my lack of spirituality here.
So wherever Mount Sinai is, they went there and received the Mosaic Law and part of the Mosaic Law is Leviticus 19:18. Leviticus 19 is all about how, as God’s people, we should treat our neighbors. A lot of people believe that Jesus came up with ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ In fact, Jesus was not the first to say that; He was just reiterating what God said to Moses 1,500 years earlier at Mount Sinai before Jesus ever showed up. So, the question is that since James is quoting Leviticus 19:18, and James is a New Testament letter that was written during the Church age, is the church under the Mosaic Law? There are a lot of people, particularly in reformed theology, who will tell you that. They’ll argue that the church is under the Mosaic Law. At Sugarland Bible Church, our position is NOT under the Mosaic Law. The Church is not one millimeter under the Mosaic Law, and you get that from Psalm 147:19,20 which says, concerning
God’s law, “He declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel [Israel was a nation, and we are not Israel; we are the Church]. He has not dealt thus with any nation; And as for His ordinances, they have not known them. Praise the Lord!”
If that is true, then how could the church of Jesus Christ be under the Mosaic Law since the Mosaic Law was only given to the nation of Israel?
Beyond that, James, who is writing the letter we are studying, not many years — maybe just a few, maybe five years at the most, into the future, is going to speak up in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council. The Jerusalem Council is having to make a decision concerning all of the Gentiles that are getting saved. By this time, Paul had gone on his first missionary journey and has returned. He went outside the borders of Israel, which not even Christ did. If you look at the ministry of Christ, His whole ministry was inside the nation of Israel. Once you get to Acts 13, Paul is going outside the borders of Israel into Gentile area, southern Galatia, and he keeps going to the Jewish synagogues, which are found in every town, and he is getting very harsh treatment from the Jews, and is kicked out, reaping a tremendous harvest among the Gentiles. This is largely how the Church began to change in terms of its ethnic composition from Jewish; the church was all Jewish early on, to becoming a body that was predominantly made up of Gentiles.
So, all of these Gentiles are getting saved, and the early Church leadership is still Jewish, and they’re trying to figure out what to do with all of the Gentiles that are Christians now. Do they put them under the Mosaic Law so they can grow correctly? They thought that was a possibility because that is how it worked for 1,500 years. If a Gentile wanted to walk with God, they became a Jewish proselyte, and they went volitionally under the Mosaic Law. That is what the Book of Ruth is about. Ruth, the Moabitess, Moab being a Transjordan nation adjacent to the borders of Israel, said to her mother-in-law, Naomi, a Hebrew, in Ruth 1:16, ‘Your God will be my God, your people will be my people.’ So, she was a Moabite Gentile who was now a proselyte and she came under the Law of Moses.
So now, in Paul’s first missionary journey, all these Gentiles are getting saved, so the question was whether to put them under the Law of Moses. The ruling on that was no because looking at Acts 15:10, Peter speaking, “Now, therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” So, Peter, a Jew, said, ‘Look at our history as Jews, we have actually done a terrible job keeping God’s law.’ That’s why the Hebrews went into you’ve in Old Testament times; why the northern tribes were scattered, etc. Peter says, ‘We Hebrews couldn’t keep the Law, how do you think the Gentiles will keep the Law?’
So now James, our guy, stands up and gives a speech in Acts 15:13-21, quoting the book of Amos 9, saying essentially, ‘Look, the Gentiles are going to be full participants in the Millennial Kingdom, so let’s make the Gentiles full participants in the age of the church today without putting them under the Law.’ It is interesting that when James gives his speech there in Acts 15, he uses a lot of the same words that he used in the letter we are studying in the book of James (see slide on Similarities with Acts 15). With all of that being said, there is no way that James, five years earlier in his epistle would go a totally different direction and put the church of Jesus Christ under the Mosaic Law.
Verses like Romans 6:15 which is very clear that we as the Church are not under the Mosaic Law. Paul writes, ‘We are not under the Law but under grace.’ So that is our position — that we at Sugarland Bible Church are not under the Mosaic Law the same way that Old Testament Israel was. This is what you call a dispensational approach to the Law because if you were in a reformed or Presbyterian church, for example, a Lutheran church — they would try to tell you that the Mosaic Law has three parts to it:
-The moral part, the Ten Commandments
-The civil part, stoning to death Sabbath breakers, etc
-The ceremonial part where animal sacrifices are offered
And what they’ll say is that God divided His law into three parts, and we aren’t under the civil or the ceremonial part, but we are under the moral part — that’s how they would explain a passage like James 2 where he is quoting the Mosaic Law. They would say that the church is still under the moral aspects of the Mosaic Law. That is an approach that we reject for two reasons:
-God in His Word, when He is giving the Law, the Books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Exodus was to that first generation who came out of Egypt; Leviticus and how it relates to the priests within Israel; and Deuteronomy, ‘deutero’ meaning second, ‘namas ‘means law — the origin of Deuteronomy, ‘second law’ restated for the benefit of the next generation. The first generation died in the wilderness because they didn’t have faith and they didn’t enter Canaan. So, when God started to work with the next generation, the whole Law had to be restated for the benefit of the subsequent generation. That is what the book of Deuteronomy is doing in the Bible. So, what people say is that Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy has three parts to it: civil, ceremonial and moral, the church today is not under the civil or ceremonial part, but the church today is under the moral part of the Law. We don’t believe that to be true because as you go through those books, Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, no where do they divide the law into those three parts. God never says that, in other words, the three-fold division of the law like that is completely man-made. Beyond that, if you tell the church that they’re under the moral aspects of the Mosaic Law, the Law is an all or nothing proposition. If you put one little toe under the Law, then you’re automatically under the whole Law; the whole schwarma. James 2:10 brings up this point regarding the nature of law. It says, ‘Whoever keeps the whole law yet stumbles in just one little place is guilty of all of it.’ For that reason, I don’t think that the church of Jesus Christ is under the moral aspects of the Mosaic Law. When James is quoting Leviticus 19:18, he is not in any way saying that the church is under any part of the Mosaic Law. Why is he quoting Leviticus 19:18? The reason is that James is the first epistle; in fact, the very first letter of the whole New Testament. You literally have 500 years of silence with the ending of the Old Testament, with Malachi, the ministry of Christ, and there is nothing written until James writes this epistle. So, James cannot quote Paul because his letters have not come around yet. If you tell James he has to quote Scripture, he has to quote something, that is why he is quoting Leviticus 19:18; he is quoting it because that is what is practical. When he quotes Leviticus 19:18, he is basically using the Old Testament in a way where it is revelatory to us but not regulatory. In other words, all Scripture is for us, but not all Scripture is about us.
My daughter and I try to read a chapter out of the Bible every night; we just finished the book of Joshua, and there is some really important stuff in that book, for our edification, our encouragement. But when it says in that book to go out and kill the Canaanites and don’t leave any of them alive, including women and children and animals, I don’t all of a sudden sharpen my sword and go to war. I can look at that and say that ‘God really hates sin, I guess, and because Israel didn’t do exactly what God said, it caused them a lot of trouble later, maybe there is an application there that maybe I shouldn’t be so conciliatory towards sin in my own life — if God hates sin that way.’ So, from Joshua, I am making an indirect application, but I am using it in a revelatory sense, but not in a regulatory sense. I believe that is why James is quoting Leviticus 19:18 here — there are tremendous principles about loving your fellow man there that are revelatory but not necessarily regulatory.
So Paul says, “All Scripture [and when he says all Scripture, most people believe that he is talking primarily about the Old Testament because we don’t have a New Testament yet; it is just being compiled as he is writing these words]… “is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” The Old Testament is wonderful, but I am not under it in a regulatory sense. We are studying the book of Genesis on Sunday, and we will eventually get to Noah’s ark, and if you come and look in my driveway, you won’t see an ark that I am building because what Genesis is to me is revelatory not regulatory. When Noah was under those commands, he had to do exactly what God said because he was living in a different age.
Romans 15:3-4 says, “For even Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written”… [when he says ‘as it is written’ he is quoting from an Old Testament passage that says], “the taunts of those who taunt you have fallen on me.”… [Then Paul says],…“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Notice that Paul treats the Old Testament that way. It is there to encourage us and to give us hope, but it isn’t something that we apply in a direct sense to our lives, or we wouldn’t be worshiping on Sunday. We are supposed to bring an unblemished sacrifice with us to the Temple on Saturday. Did you show up at the Temple in the Middle East, where there is no Temple now, with an unblemished animal? No, obviously there is a dispensational adjustment that we have to make. Does that mean that we should just throw out the book of Leviticus? No, because Paul says those things, in earlier times, were still written for our encouragement. So I think that this is how James is using Leviticus 19:18. He isn’t, contrary to what many people will tell you, putting the Church directly under any aspect of the Law. If the Church is under any aspect of the Mosaic Law, then the Church has to go under all of it, including the ceremonial parts of it and the civil parts of it, because the law is an all or nothing proposition.
Now, when we talk like this, the name that gets thrown at us is antinomian. In fact, RC Sproul, when he came to Dallas Seminary as a guest, brought that charge against dispensationalists that they were antinomian. He did not like the dispensational view, that the Church is not under any aspect of the Law, including the moral law of Moses, and he, along with John Gerstner, wrote an incredibly vindictive hit piece against Dallas Seminary at that time. It is online if you want to read a bunch of tabloid acrimonious stuff. It is called something along the lines of ‘Wrongly Dividing the Word of God’ by John Gerstner. He and RC Sproul endorsed one another’s books. If you watch RC Sproul on YouTube and the subject of dispensationalism comes up, you can literally see the hair on the back of the guy’s neck stand up. He just hates dispensationalism, and one of the reasons is that he says it is antinomian. In other words, you are running around telling people we aren’t under the Mosaic Law at all; you will encourage people to get saved on Sunday and live like the devil Monday-Saturday. So, in his mind, this belief that I’m trying to articulate is almost heretical, and he believes that it leads to licentiousness. The John MacArthur people also believe like this and very much oppose this view that I’m trying to articulate. In fact, when I started doing things with Brannon Howse, Phil Johnson, the Executive Director of Grace To You, John MacArthur’s ministry, went on Twitter and actually singled out my name; I was actually proud that he knew who I was. He said something like, ‘Andy Woods is Brannon Howse’s resident antinomian.’ He can say whatever he wants, I don’t know if I care that much, but I’m trying to illustrate the mentality of the people in the reformed camp concerning the view that we aren’t under the Law of Moses. A lot of it is that they really don’t understand what we are saying.
Something that Robert Lightner told our class years ago when I was a student at Dallas Seminary was ‘The reformed people don’t really read dispensationalists.’ We, dispensationalists read them, but they don’t read us. They’ve never read Charles Ryrie or Dwight Pentecost or John Walvoord or Lewis Sperry Chafer; a lot of our theologians, so they don’t even know what it is that we believe. So, they think that if you aren’t under the moral aspects of the Law of Moses, that you are in favor of loose living; of Christians living like the devil. It is a case where I don’t think that they have ever investigated what we teach. Just because we teach that we aren’t under the Law of Moses doesn’t mean that we are antinomian because we teach that we are under, not the law of Moses, even in its moral sense, but that we are under the Law of Christ. In fact, I remember a couple of years ago, tweeting that back to Phil Johnson, saying ‘how can you call me antinomian when I teach that we are under the Law of Christ, as do all dispensationalists? I don’t really ever recall getting a response from him on that.
So, if we aren’t under the law of Moses, that doesn’t make you antinomian; it just puts you under a different regulatory system. It is like when I moved from California to Texas, California had all kinds on its books against embezzlement, but just because I left that legal system and moved to Texas doesn’t mean that I am now in favor of embezzlement, because Texas also has laws on its books against embezzlement. So just because we move from one legal system to another doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate the principles of morality that are taught in both legal systems.
A couple of verses to know: Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law [the Greek word, ‘namas’] of Christ.” This is in the New Testament. He doesn’t say to bear one another’s burdens and thereby fulfill the law of Moses because the church isn’t under the Law of Moses. We are under the law of Christ. Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” So as a Christian, that is Romans 8:2, and the first one was Galatians 6:2. Just because we have changed legal codes doesn’t mean we are against morality because the concept of ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ isn’t found only in the Law of Moses, but is also in the teachings of Jesus Christ. You will see it in Matthew 22:34-40.
Note this quote from Thomas Constable, who was one of my teachers at Dallas Seminary, and I think he articulates this very well, “Christians live under a new set of rules, the law of liberty. Israelites lived under a different set of rules, the Law of Moses. The fact that the ‘golden rule’ [‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’] was part of both the Mosaic Law [which it was, Leviticus 19] and the law of Christ, [which it is, Matthew 22] does not mean that we are still under the Mosaic Law.” So, the law of Christ looks similar to the Law of Moses at certain points, but similarity does not mean equality. Being a Californian where laws are on the books in California against murder, if I move to Texas and commit murder, that sounds an awful lot like the legal system in California, but it isn’t, because if I commit murder in Texas, I will be tried in Texas. If I did commit murder, personally, I would rather be tried in California, but that is another story. The fact of the matter is that California and Texas law look similar at points, but are totally different legal codes, so that nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated for the benefit of the church in the New Testament. The New Testament says do not commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t covet, etc, but that does not mean that we are under the Law of Moses because if you committed those sins under the Law of Moses, you would be assigned to capital punishment, stoned to death. If I break those laws in the church age, I don’t get stoned to death, but there are other consequences: I lose fellowship with Christ temporarily until I confess my sin; I can be disciplined, ‘whom the Lord loves, the Lord chastens.’ So, you will notice that breaking the law under the Law of Christ does not bring the penalty that one finds in the Law of Moses because they are completely and different legal codes. So, I wanted to spend time on this because it is an area of tremendous confusion.
That is why when you look at James 2:8, “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law [the Law of Christ; it doesn’t say the Law of Moses, it says the ‘royal law’ because Jesus is the soon coming King]. Look at James 2:12, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.” So, we are under, not the Law of Moses, but the law of Christ.
Having said all of that, notice 2:10,11 as James completes his thought, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” Here, he isn’t talking about the Law of Moses, he is talking about the Law of Christ, but in any legal system you are under, you cannot pick and choose which parts you want to obey. If you stumble over any part of it, you are guilty of all it. James’ point is that we stumble over the Law of Christ, who very clearly teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We stumble over the Law of Christ when we show favoritism in the Church. You might be doing great in your Christian walk, and the Holy Spirit might be convicting of things and empowering you to obey in other areas, and you might be progressing, but if you show favoritism in the Church, that still causes us to stumble over the teachings of Jesus that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and so therefore, I become guilty of the Law of Christ. I need to confess my sin, not to get saved again, but to have broken fellowship restored.
So, James’ point is that we actually become lawbreakers, not the Law of Moses but the Law of Christ, when we show favoritism in the church. You may never have murdered anyone, or committed adultery, or done anything that is displeasing to the Lord, but if you elevate one person over another in the Church based on their perceived riches or wealth, then you have stumbled over the Law. In this case it is the “royal law” or the law of liberty, or the Law of Christ.
So, what has James taught us so far about why we shouldn’t show favoritism in the Church?
- We judge where God has not (2:4)
- It is God who chooses across the socioeconomic spectrum, so when we show favoritism, we aren’t acting like God (2:5)
- We are elevating our foes who are trying to oppress us and who are blaspheming (2:6,7)
- We have stumbled over Christ’s royal law; we aren’t going to be stoned to death as they were in Old Testament times, but it is still serious, and we need to confess our sins so that fellowship between us and God can be restored (2:8-11)
- His last point, and we will try to get these in here (2:12,13) is that when we show favoritism, (2:12,13), we are acting as judges as he told us in 2:4; you are making a distinction that God hasn’t made so you are acting as a judge. And you are forgetting that you, too, will be judged. So, it is interesting how judgmental we can get towards people, which is what favoritism is — making a judgment for one person against another, forgetting that you, too, will be judged. So that is why I entitled this, “Judging the Judges.”
This is his point in James 2:12,13, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
I think what he is talking about here is the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ, where subsequent to the rapture, we will stand before the Lord where our works will be evaluated. That particular judgment is different from the Great White Throne Judgment and from the sheep and goat judgment that we have been studying on Sunday mornings. It takes place in heaven following the rapture. It is not a judgment to determine if you are saved or not because Jesus said in John 19:30, “It is finished.”
It is not a judgment to determine if I was a believer or not, because Jesus made us a promise in John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death unto life.” He says that if we have trusted in His Son, we have already passed out of death unto life; it is a done deal. “Passed out of” there is in the perfect tense in Greek, a one-time action with ongoing results; “has eternal life” is in the present tense. Those are things that happen to us that cannot be reversed, in other words. You passed out of death unto life and received eternal life, present tense, the moment you placed your personal faith in Christ for salvation — done deal, can’t be reversed.
If that is true, then why am I going to stand before the Lord in judgment?
–Not to judge sin (John 19:30)
–Not to determine salvation (John 5:24)
–But rather to give or not give rewards
Apparently, some Christians will be rewarded more than others because at that particular judgment, there will be five crowns either given or not given to the believer.
- The Incorruptible Crown for the believer who gains mastery over the sin nature
- The Crown of Rejoicing for the soul winner
- The Crown of Life for the believer that endures trials
- The Crown of Glory for the believer who faithfully shepherds God’s people
- The Crown of Righteousness for the believer longing for His appearing
And what do we do with these crowns? Revelation 4:10, if I’m understanding my Bible right, we cast them at His feet. To earn salvation, no; to pay back Jesus for salvation, no. but they’re a capacity to glorify Christ throughout eternity. So, goodness, it comes your turn to cast your crown at His feet, but you have no crown in your hand. Wouldn’t that be kind of a downer? So that is why He is saying to make sure you live for Christ here and you enter heaven, then at the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ, you are fully rewarded.
Why do I think he is speaking of the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ here? Because he has been talking this whole time to believers; that’s why we keep belaboring these points, like James 2:1, “My brethren” — don’t I always make an issue out of that every time we come to a passage like that? And in 2:5, “Listen, my beloved brethren.” Every time we come to a passage like this, I say that it is without dispute that he is speaking to believers. So, if he is speaking to believers, then what judgment is he referring to? Not the Great White Throne Judgment for the unbeliever, but for the Bema Seat Judgment which is for the believer.
Therefore, I’m driven in the direction of interpreting 2:12-13 as a reference to the Bema Seat Judgment because of how we have handled the audience as it is described in the rest of the book — as a believing audience. Donald Burdick says, “Since he [James] is speaking to believers, the judgment to which he refers must be the judgment of believers at the judgement seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Now, can you get a note from your doctor and opt out of this as a Christian? No, it is mandatory.
2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul says, “For we must all appear [it doesn’t sound optional to me]
before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds
in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” In other words, God
sees your service; He sees you seeking to live for Him; seeking to be honest at your place
of employment when everyone else is dishonest and laughing at the dirty joke, except for you; everyone else is stealing from the boss’ time by surfing the internet when the boss isn’t looking, but you aren’t doing those things; you’re doing your job. Or you are doing some ministry in the Church that you never get any recognition for — Paul says that God sees all of that and that He will reward the believer for it at the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ. He teaches the same thing in Romans 14:10,12, “10…For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God… 12So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” There is a severity in this. Paul talks about not about the believer, (it is very important to understand this), the believer’s works going through a fire to test their quality. Wood, hay and stubble will be consumed. Gold, silver and costly stones will not be consumed. Wood, hay and stubble — what do they have in common? They are combustible. What do the gold, silver and costly stones have in common? They are non-combustible. The only thing the fire can do is to refine them.
So, when we do things for the Lord under the power of His Spirit for the right reasons — His glory rather than our own — that is part of the gold, silver and costly stones which will survive the burning process, which will be part of our reward that we will be given above and beyond salvation. The things we did in this life that are largely narcissistic or self-serving or through our own power — those things go into the fire and are consumed. Whatever is left after the fire does its work are the rewards that we receive. Not salvation, that is a done deal, but rewards above and beyond salvation. This is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “…but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” Some versions say, “disqualified for the prize.” That is not salvation, by the way. If that is salvation, then he just taught salvation by works and would have to contradict everything he ever said about salvation. This is reward; the prize is a reward above and beyond salvation. What Paul is saying is, ‘Look, I told everybody else the Bema Seat Judgment is coming. After I preached that, wouldn’t it be a downer if I didn’t practice what I preached, and I, myself would stand before the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ unrewarded?’
1 John 2:28 says, “Now, little children, [is he speaking to Christians or non-Christians? Clearly, Christians]… “abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away in shame at His coming. [There is a reality when the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ comes, and it isn’t like God shows a movie of your life for everyone to see your failings as some teach — because your sins are thrown “as far as the east is from the west” when you trust Christ. But there is a moment when you can look back at your life and realize that you squandered it. ‘If only I had invested it differently or with different motives.’ So, it is very true that at the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ, there is a moment of shame for some, and that is why Paul keeps talking about and warning us about this Bema Seat Judgment of Christ — it is because the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ per 1 Corinthians 4:5 will “…disclose the motives of men’s hearts…” meaning that we can do the right thing with the wrong motive. When this judgment happens, it isn’t so much God rewarding based on output, it is He who is omniscient rewarding based on why we did it. All of that comes out at Bema Seat Judgment of Christ; that is why some are more rewarded than others.
Now there is a huge need for balance here. By the way, I said, did I not, to keep your eye on ‘evil motives’ in James 2:4 because it will come out again. Remember what he said in James 2:4 regarding evil motives? “…have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” We are judging where God has not judged, and we are setting ourselves up as judges because we favor one group over another, and James says that you have become your own judge by judging where God hasn’t, and you are judging with evil motives. Why should I care about evil motives as a Christian? Because it comes out at the Bema Seat. That is what he is saying here in 1 Corinthians 4:5. So, there is some severity in this, and it is very easy to get lopsided. Either people never talk about the judgment seat of Christ because we are all saved by grace so it doesn’t matter, or they place so much emphasis on it that it sounds as though God is going to cut you up with a sword. We talked a little bit about that on Sunday morning concerning the Olivet Discourse and how people read the Bema Seat Judgment into the Olivet Discourse; how God is going to beat you up and cut you up with the sword. They make it sound as though there will be punitive damages at the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ, and that is lopsided the other direction. Either people say it doesn’t matter or they make it more severe than it is.
So, it is a difficult doctrine to teach because it is easy to get imbalanced; that is why I so much appreciate this statement by Samuel Hoyt as he is describing the judgment seat of Christ. He wrote a book on this, by the way, that you can easily find online. He says, “The judgment seat of Christ might be compared God a commencement ceremony. At graduation there is some measure of disappointment and remorse that one did not do better and work harder.” [I can testify to that one because I really have no idea how I graduated from high school since my major was basketball. I really didn’t care about grades, and I was really glad to be graduating and getting out of there. My high school was called Los Alamitos High School; we called it Los Alcatraz High School. But you see your friends being rewarded for their academic achievements, and you look back on your four years and say that you could’ve been rewarded, too, if I had just applied myself a little bit. So, you are happy to be leaving Los Alcatraz, but you look back and say, ‘Gosh, I wish I had done a little better.’ That’s why when I got to college that I took academics very seriously, because I had the abilities, I just didn’t have the real desire, so I did much better in college than in high school because of that little word, ‘effort.’ That is what the judgment seat of Christ is like; I mean, you are in heaven! This is great, I’m in heaven and you look at everyone else and they’re rewarded, and you aren’t, and you say to yourself, ‘Man I wish I had allowed the Lord to better express Himself through me during this brief moment on earth so I could be fully rewarded, too and so I could worship Jesus in the maximum way He deserves to be worshiped]’. Samuel Hoyt goes on to say, “However, at such an event the overwhelming emotion is joy, not remorse. The graduates do not leave the auditorium weeping because they did not earn better grades. Rather, they are thankful that they have been graduated, and they are grateful for what they did achieve. To overdo the sorrow aspect of the judgment seat of Christ is to make heaven hell [If you think that you are going to appear before the Lord and that He will verbally chastise you and retaliate against you and send you into outer darkness and that you will miss the Millennial Kingdom because you will be in a Protestant Pergatory somewhere, then you are out of whack. A lot of people in the free grace movement are in that position]. To overdo the sorrow aspect of the judgment seat of Christ is to make heaven hell. [That is why I recommend the video by JB Hixson given at Duluth Bible Church entitled, “Why I’m No Longer Free Grace,” which you can find online. He is talking about imbalance in the direction of turning heaven into hell. But notice the other part of Samuel Hoyt’s comment, “To under do the sorrow aspect is to make faithfulness inconsequential.”
So, when you listen to lordship salvation, John MacArthur-type teachers and John MacArthur himself, because they’re Calvinists, they basically believe that every Christian will persevere in good works — that is the P in the TULIP, perseverance of the saints. They have a tendency to not really attach any significance to the judgment seat of Christ because if you aren’t persevering as a Christian, then you aren’t a Christian at all. It is interesting to look at their books on eschatology; they hardly bring up the judgment seat of Christ. Look at John MacArthur’s writings and teachings and find any extended treatment on the judgment seat of Christ. Find any real treatment on it in Calvinism; it really isn’t there; it may be mentioned as a footnote or afterthought, but not something that is central. But Paul makes it central, warning the believing Corinthians about this constantly. He himself was afraid that he might not fare well at the judgment seat of Christ either. So those are the two extremes to avoid: don’t make heaven into hell, but don’t act like faithfulness in the Christian life doesn’t mean anything.
That concludes our discussion of favoritism.
- Command: don’t show favoritism (2:1)
- Situation: in the assembly where they were showing favoritism to the rich (2:2,3)
- Reasoning process: why favoritism is wrong:
- We are judging where God has not judged (2:4)
- God chooses all across the socioeconomic spectrum (2:5)
- You are elevating your foes rather than your friends (2:6,7)
- You are stumbling over Christ’s royal law and you can’t pick what parts you want to obey and which ones you don’t want to obey (2:8-11)
- You are making a judgment on others but forgetting the fact that you yourself are going to be judged (2:12,13)
That takes us to the end of that favoritism. Look at this, the next time I am with you, we will talk about ‘faith without works is dead.’ One of the most controversial in the whole Bible.