This sermon is number 8 in a series of 46
1 Corinthians - Part 8
"Built To Last For Eternity"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2002 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I Corinthians 3:10-15
I want you to turn first of all 2 Corinthians chapter 5, of course we are still in 1 Corinthians chapter 3, but we want to take a few preliminary readings of the Scriptures - just a couple of verses that will help us in the understanding of our subject tonight 'Built to Last for Eternity', or if you like 'The Judgement Seat of Christ'. Second Corinthians chapter 5, and just one verse, verse 10 - and remember now that, the same as 1 Corinthians, the book of 2 Corinthians is written to believers, to Christians in the little town of Corinth. "For we must", verse 10, "all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad".
Then going back a couple of books to the book of Romans, Romans chapter 14, and again the same theme in this verse, Romans 14 and verse 10 - lifting it out of the context of Paul rebuking these Christians for judging their other brothers in Christ in the church, but he puts it within the context of the judgement seat of Christ, and he says: "But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ".
Then one more reading before we come to 1 Corinthians again, Revelation chapter 22, Revelation 22 and verse 12. The Lord Jesus is now speaking in His revelation to John: "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be".
Now, over to 1 Corinthians now for our text this evening, 1 Corinthians chapter 3. You'll remember in the last study we were looking at 'Baby Christians', the carnal Christian and the spiritual Christian, that there are two kinds of Christians. We'll read from verse 10 which is our text for this evening, verses 10 through to 15 - verse 9 to get the context: "For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry", or you are God farmers, but here's another illustration: "ye are God's building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire".
It's very easy, I think, in Christian service and in Christian work to get discouraged and to be too negative. We live, as it were, in a day of small things in these days, and there's not too much of revival around us in the West at least - and you can become very negative and very discouraged, but it is important not to be foolish also and to be realistic, and to face the problems that we have honestly and with a degree of realism, and ask the question: 'Well, why are these things happening?'. One of the questions that we ask within the Christian church as Christian leaders and as members of the church is: 'Why is there so little commitment today with regards to Christendom and membership within the assembly?'.
You could say: 'Well, it's symptomatic of what is at large. People generally don't commit themselves to anything'. You only need to look at the institution of marriage and you see that people want all the perks, all the buzz of what it is to be married, live together and have a sexual relationship, yet they don't want the commitment - so they live together to see if it seems to be alright with them, if they fit one another, just like trying on a new shoe, and if the size doesn't fit, well then they'll move on to someone else. They want the buzz without the commitment, but you know friends I think there's a deeper problem with regards to the church of Jesus Christ, why there is not the commitment - we could go a little further and say, why is there not the sacrifice. Why are we crying out for workers? Why is the mission field crying out for missionaries? Why are pulpits crying out for preachers, Pastors and teachers? I think that at the crux of it all there is a fundamental problem, a common denominator.
I wouldn't be so general and silly as to say that there is only one problem - I think there is a myriad of problems. But I believe that certainly part of the problem is that the church of Jesus Christ, especially in the West, has lost the true vision of what the judgement seat of Christ really is. Now note what I say: the true vision - because much of the church believes in the judgement seat of Christ, of course part of the church lump it altogether into one general judgement, which is incorrect according to our understanding of the Word of God at least, but apart from that even those who believe in the judgement seat of Christ which is purely for believers, they lack a true vision of what that will really be like. You know what the Word of God says, that without a vision the people perish - and I believe that there is a perishing within the church of Jesus Christ, among God's people, because they lack a true vision of the accountability that they will have in eternity for the works that they have done in the flesh, before Jesus Christ, as believers, whether they be good works or whether they be bad.
I fear that there is this perception within the mind of many that the judgement seat of Christ is some kind of Sunday School prize-giving, that we're all going to get a pat on the back. If you were at most Christian funerals today, without being too harsh and insensitive, everybody, it seems, gets the 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant' when they get to glory. But in the understanding of the whole gamut and balance of Scripture, these things cannot be, and there's something missing! Why is it within a society that people can profess faith, and as one pastor said to me recently it's discouraging that so few are coming to Christ, but those who are coming to Christ don't seem to go on well with Christ - why is this? Why is it that people think they can come to Christ and live as they like? We have this great doctrine of eternal security, and we believe that once we're saved, once and for all we're always saved - but you have in the whole of East Belfast maybe hundreds of people who would testify that they're backsliders, and they seem to be content to sit in their sin having professed faith in the Lord Jesus, but continue a life of habitual sin which is contrary to the Word of God!
Sometimes, I think, in error, a good dose of saved and lost would do some of them a bit of good! We don't believe in that because it's not in the Word of God, but the sentiment of it seems to do people good - and some of those in the holiness movement, and the 'saved and lost' movement are some of the most sanctified people that you could ever meet. Now, they're in error, but we've got to ask the question - looking at them - is there something missing in our theology that can guard against this mistake of professing Christ and thinking that you can live as you like in grace? I believe here it is, this is the missing piece - of course once you're saved you're always saved, that's in the Word of God as clear as you can read those words on the black-and-white pages that you have before you, but my friend it is not like this: that as soon as you're saved you can live as you like, as soon as you're saved the whole slate is wiped clean and there's no accountability for you - that is not the Christian faith! There is the judgement seat of Christ, and it is no Sunday School prize-giving, rather it is a fearful testing of the works that you have done for Jesus Christ, and the life that you have lived.
Friends, the reality of the Word of God brings you firmly down to earth with a bump, with regards to the judgement seat. It's for believers, that is very clear, we've read that already in 2 Corinthians 5, speaking to believers in Corinth he says: 'we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ', so this is for believers, not for those who are not saved, but for those who are saved. That's who it's for, you ask the question: 'When is it?'. We read from Revelation 22, the Lord Jesus said: 'Behold, I come quickly; and I bring with me my rewards'. We believe, according to the Word of God, that the judgement seat of Christ will take place after the rapture of the church - as soon as you are raptured. Who would say here tonight that they're looking forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus? That's the way we ought to be, every day looking out the window expecting the Lord: 'Perhaps today, perhaps today Lord'. But never forget, in all the euphoria and ecstasy, that in the twinkling of an eye that we are taken up to be with the Lord, we will be in the air for the divine tribunal of the judgement seat of Christ! The question is: are we looking forward to that?
Where will it be? Well, specifically the word for judgement seat is the word 'bema', it was a raised platform that was used during the Olympics and the athletic games. It was where the umpire would sit and distribute the prizes for those who had won first, second and third prize. Another word it has been translated as: 'a footstep', it can also mean a footstep, in other words that our footsteps as Christians, whatever we've done, wherever we've gone, whatever we have been will all be scrutinised with the all-seeing eye of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, before I go on any further, I can't go into all the judgements that there are in the Word of God, but I want to say categorically and clearly that the judgement seat of Christ is not a judgement upon our sins. It is not a judgement upon our sins. The reason why I say that is because - Hallelujah! - our sins have already been judged. Two thousand years ago, 30AD or thereabouts, on a hill called Calvary, upon the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is and was the Lamb of God, our sins were judged - Christ died, and result of His death was that we are justified, we are cleansed and made perfect in the sight of God. At that moment when He cried: 'It is finished!', our sins were all judged, and the judgement of our sin was exhausted on the Person of the Lord Jesus. Now, that is what Paul means when he says in Romans 5: 'Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God'; Romans 8 'Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ' - no condemnation, or if you like no judgement of sin for those who are in Christ.
So, if you're sitting here fearful, and you're a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, don't be worrying about being judged for your sins one day - that will never happen! Your sins are under the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the danger is that we do not realise that although, as believers, we'll never be judged for our sins, the Bible is extremely categorically clear that we will be judged upon our works - not judged for salvation, but judged according to service! Now a lot of people have got problems with this, and some of the Christian paperbacks that I read in these days about grace find it nearly impossible to marry the principle and the idea of grace with being judged for your works, it just doesn't seem to come together for them. Maybe that's a problem with you, you wonder: 'How can you be saved by grace, and God accepts you no matter what you have done, yet on the other side of the coin - although it's nothing to do with salvation - one day you're going to come before the Lord Jesus Christ and He's going to judge you according to the works that you've done in the flesh, whether they be good or whether they be bad?'.
Well, one of the theologians that many of these people that believe in such a strong view of grace, one of their pet theologians is John Calvin - who was one of the greatest ever of the Reformation. Now listen to what he says about this matter: 'There is no inconsistency in saying that God rewards good works, provided we understand that nevertheless men obtain eternal life gratuitously'. Did you get that? There's no contradiction, as long as we can see in our minds that to be saved, to get eternal life, God gives us that gratuitously - that means He gives it to us and He expects nothing back. He indulges us in salvation with His grace, and He asks nothing in return - but when it comes to our service, that's a different matter, and He will judge us according to our works.
Now, already in this chapter Paul has been using the illustration and the analogy of a farmer. He has talked about how he went out and he planted the seed, and sowed the seed, Apollos came along and he watered the seed, and then God gave the increase. He's been using how the Christian servant, and individual Christians, are like farmers; and now he comes to another analogy and he talks about the church and individual Christians as a building. You see that in verse 9: 'Ye are God's building'. What he's saying now in this analogy is: be careful how you build your building! Now listen, Iron Hall, tonight: Paul is saying to us as an assembly, to elders, to deacons, to members: 'Be careful how you build this building' - now not the building across the street, the building that is the church of God, lively stones, people - be careful how you do it! Then he homes in, and we can apply it in this way as individuals: be careful how you build your own personal building, your personal life before God - why? Why be careful? Because there's a day that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is going scrutinise how we've built the building of the Iron Hall, the people, and how we've built our lives individually - that's the reason why we must be careful!
Now the first thing we get out of Paul's analogy is this: the labour, that's your first point. 'According', verse 10, 'to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon'. Now the whole Bible is full, the New Testament especially, of analogies and illustrations of Christians as people who are expending themselves, and putting all their energy out in such an elasticity to win a prize - now you can't miss that. You get the picture of a runner running a race, you get the picture of an athlete wrestling, the analogy of a warrior fighting until he wins the battle; you've got in this chapter itself a farmer sowing, you've also got a mason, a builder, building in places, you've got a fugitive fleeing for his life and existence; in other places you've got a besieger coming and storming the heavens for the riches that are there for him! But in all of the analogies that you have of a Christian running the race and living the Christian life, there's a strenuous activity that is careful - why? Because, as Hebrews chapter 11 verse 6 says: 'God is, and is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him'.
Now listen, banish the thought - banish the thought! - that there is any type or conceivable Christian existence that means you are saved and you do nothing for Christ! There is no such a thing! I'm not saying you can't be saved and be static, you can be saved and be static - and that's what we were reading about, about these carnal Christians - but what I'm saying is that that is not in the perfect mind of God for you, that's not what He wants for you! Rather God wants you to be a labourer, and the sense of this illustration in this verse is 'a life-builder'. God wants you to be a life-builder in the church of Jesus Christ, here in the Iron Hall; but He wants you to be a life-builder in your own personal capacity, building up yourself for God. Let's move away from thinking that this is primarily to Christian workers and professional Christian servants, like missionaries and Pastors and evangelists and teachers, and people that are on a payroll of some kind, that has got nothing to do with this verse! This is general to every single believer that is born-again of the Spirit of God: 'Therefore', the Spirit of the Living God says to you tonight through Paul, 'take heed how you build thereon'.
Now this is my question before I go any further this evening: are you careful how you are building up your life? How careful are you? Or are you careless? Do you give any thought to the fact that you are creating a building to the glory of God, or at least you're meant to be? One day that building is going to be scrutinised and analysed by the Son of God, are you diligent making your living, or are you diligent making a life, building a life for God? Now I would be bold enough to say tonight that if you're not, it's because you're not living in the light of eternity; and if you're not, it's because you're not living in the light of the judgement seat. That's the first thing I want you to see tonight, that you're a labourer.
The second thing that Paul tells us is that he has already laid down for this church in Corinth the foundation. Look at verse 11: 'For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ'. Now you would be tempted to say that the master-builder is the Lord Jesus Christ, and in one sense that's true; but Paul in verse 10 actually calls himself the master-builder. In this sense, as an apostle, he had a unique ministry in laying the foundation of the church, the early Church, and here in Corinth specifically, he laid down the foundation of apostolic Christianity - and no human being could ever re-lay that foundation. Remember that people in Corinth were saying: 'Well, I'm wiser than Paul, and we follow Apollos, and Cephas', and even 'we follow Christ' - they were following the human philosophies and wisdom of Corinth and all the rest of Greek philosophy, but Paul is saying 'That is not the wisdom and the foundation that I laid down, but I laid down for you, as God's master-builder, one firm fundamental foundation, and that is Jesus Christ'.
Now this is very important in the days in which we live, I'll tell you why: because there are little churches, new churches rising up here and there - and there's nothing new under the sun, the prophet says - but they seem to be new to the eye. There's even one down the road, and they have along the top there at Hollywood Arches: 'The Church of Christ' - to be a church of Christ, you have to have the foundation of Christ, and that has to be the foundation of Christ that the master-builders, the apostles, laid down in the church - which has been laid down, past tense, and does not need to be laid down again! Young people, understand this, this is fundamental - and if anybody springs up and says: 'I have discovered something new about Jesus Christ, I have discovered a new message, a new revelation about the Lord Jesus', they are laying down a foundation that is opposed to the foundation that the master-builder has already laid down, which cannot be laid again - that is so important! The church of Jesus Christ must always be built on Jesus Christ's work, and Jesus Christ's Person. You will find, I believe with most of the cases, if you analyse some of these new movements, new cults and new churches, the very thing that they do is demean the work and the Person of Jesus Christ. They demean Him to be some kind of a prophet, not the Son of God; demean His work as having to be added to by your own good works, and by joining their particular cult or religion. So beware, and also realise in this charismatic age of confusion, that the foundation of the church of Jesus Christ has been laid in the apostles and in the prophets.
But you know, we can err on this side too, because many evangelical churches are built on the reputation of a famous preacher, or maybe even a special method of evangelising or teaching people, or maybe even a doctrinal scheme, a prophetical scheme - and all these things are right - or a scheme to do with salvation, the way you understand salvation, we need to have all these things to understand the Word of God and they're so important - but let us never forget that the church is not built on a personality! That is why the Corinthians needed to hear this: it's not about Paul, it's not about Apollos, it's not about Cephas, it's about the foundation that the church is built on - Jesus Christ, and you can never lay another foundation, it has been laid! If you're laying another foundation, you're building a church contrary to Jesus Christ and to the will of God.
But let's go a step further, because this isn't only fundamental for the church, like our church here, but it's fundamental for your own personal growth in the Lord Jesus - because if your life is to adequately stand before the judgement seat of the Lord Jesus, it will not be able to stand on anything but Jesus Christ Himself. Now I don't want to confuse judgements here tonight, but I'm just concerned that there's maybe someone here that's not a believer: you will not have a leg to stand on when it comes to your judgement if you're not standing on the foundation of Jesus Christ. There is no other foundation to be laid for eternity only the Lord Jesus Christ, and if you're not standing on Him tonight, I urge you, I plead with you to stand on that solid ground! The ground of His death and His resurrection, and faith alone in Him as the only Saviour, the only name given amongst men whereby we must be saved!
But let me take it a step further to you believers: this passage teaches us that you can stand on the foundation of Jesus Christ, but not have a good building. You mark that. You can be saved, you can be redeemed, you can be safe for all eternity, rescued and redeemed from the fires of hell, standing in the promises of Christ your King, through eternal ages let His praises sing - but your building is derelict! That's why I believe that, reading in between the lines in these verses, what needs to happen is excavation.
We've looked at how we are labourers, and there needs to be this foundation, but that foundation has already been laid. Before you build upon that foundation, in fact even before you build that foundation there needs to be excavation - when you first get saved, you have to dig up all the filthy, rocky ground to lay a perfect plot to put the foundation rock in. But you know sometimes as Christians things can grow over our foundation, a bit like those in the minor prophet's day where they took so long building the temple that all the moss and the weeds had grown over it, and God was saying how they had lovely sealed houses, they had beautiful luxurious houses, but the house of God was lying waste - the foundations had already been built, but they hadn't gone any further! What needed to happen was that all those weeds needed to be cleared away.
Let's me show you what I mean. The Master-builder, the Lord Jesus, talks about this in Luke chapter 5, turn with me for moment. Luke chapter 5 verse 36: 'And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish'. Now, what's the Lord Jesus talking about? He's saying that if you get a really bad rip on an old shirt, you don't get new material and cut a piece out and put it onto the shirt, because the part that you sew around will rip away again and you'll have another hole - you get a new shirt! Friend, if you want to be saved - maybe you're not converted - you can't reform your life, you need to be given a new life! Equally, believer, if there are over growing weeds over the foundation of Jesus Christ, and your building is derelict, I'll tell you what you need to do: you need to go and excavate that site again, you need to dig it all up - not build on rocky foundations, but come again and realise that you stand upon the only foundation which is Jesus Christ, and start building again!
Now maybe you think that I'm reading too much into this, but you need to remember that when the Lord Jesus was talking about the wise man and the foolish man in the Sermon on the Mount, He was talking to those who followed Him, He was talking to believers. He said: 'If you don't dig down deep your foundations till you come to the granite rock, and build on that rock alone, when the storms come your building will come down!'. I believe that primarily what the Lord was talking about when He was speaking of storms was judgement storms. When the judgement storm comes, it can apply to unbelievers, but we need to apply it to ourselves tonight: are we on a rocky foundation that is overgrown with sins? Is this not what the Old Testament prophet said in Hosea 10? 'Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy', now we have the farming analogy, 'break up your fallow ground' - excavate! - 'for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you'.
It just may be that we as believers, when we're contemplating the judgement seat of Christ, that we need to clear away all this nonsense of overgrown weeds in confession and in cleansing, and putting away the old nature as far as we possibly can. Never let it be said, I hear it said in the churches today, 'Oh, we're of such-and-such a persuasion, that's not the way we understand it, and the Word of God says clearly that that is the way to do it' - let us never say this in the Iron Hall! 'We don't do it this way' - what does the word of God say? In anything that we do, if we have to go back to the balance, back to basics, and excavate and find our true foundations, we need to do it!
Personally we need to do it, and that is why Paul says: 'Take heed how you build!'. I'm told that the Post Office has a department in it called 'Dead Letters', and whenever mail is miss-sent or has the wrong address, or no identification at all, it's sent to this Dead Letters department. On one occasion, one year in the United States, there were over 14 million letters that went to the Dead Letter department - one out of a thousand letters that were sent ended up there. I firmly believe that there are 'dead letter' Christians - what do I mean? I mean people who have never ever arrived at what God wants them to arrive at. Now I know that we all cannot say that we have arrived, and even Paul said in Philippians: 'I have not apprehended that for which Christ has apprehended me', but what I'm talking about is a certain extreme of maturity that God wants for us - they've never got there! I wonder is that you? You're a frustrated messenger of the good news, you're a letter that God has told to go out and you've never gone out, you've never found your destination - you're sent, but maybe you haven't even gone! You've been dispatched but you've never arrived at your intended destination, and you're sitting here tonight static as a Christian, and you've no purpose! That's why Paul says: 'Take heed how you build!'. Could it be that we, or you, or me, need to start digging rather than start building? Start breaking up old ground and finding the foundation again that we ought to be building on.
Now we're getting to the crux of the matter, because Paul comes now to the materials that we ought to build with, verse 12: 'Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble'. Note that those aren't one whole material, as if you could see a mud hut with diamonds and gold sticking out of it - there are two different buildings. One building is of gold, silver and precious stones; and the alternative building is of wood, hay and stubble. But here's the point that Paul is making: you, as a believer - now remember what he's been talking about at the start of the passage, carnal Christians and spiritual Christians - you as a believer have a choice of what materials to use.
When Paul wrote to Ephesus and when Paul wrote to Corinth, he knew that there was a great difference between the rich and the poor, a greater difference than there is in our day. The rich and the poor would live close to one another, but the differentiation between their two houses was absolutely unbelievable. The rich would live in great houses of marble, gold leaf over it, precious jewels and all the rest; and then the poor would be in some kind of a mud hut shack with walls of plywood, and they would put stubble in for installation, and have a thatched roof. But the image that Paul is giving us here is, to the Corinthians who live in a situation such as that, if there was a great fire that went through the whole city of Corinth or went through the whole city of Ephesus: what would be left standing? The great palaces, the houses of the rich and the prosperous! But those who were built with wood, hay and stubble would be exterminated.
Two classes: precious stones, precious metal, things of this earth that are worth nothing. To build with one and not to build with the other, Paul says, for if you build with the other it will all be going up in smoke one day at the judgement seat of Christ. What Paul is saying is that it's possible to have a life that is well-founded on Jesus Christ, but is badly built - so take heed how you build! Be careful what materials you use to build with!
So what are these materials, what do they represent? We're not really told what they represent, but certainly we can say this much: that the gold, silver and precious stones are imperishable objects; then you go to the wood, the hay and the stubble, and you see that they are the opposite, they are the perishable things. Now for imperishable objects like gold, silver and precious stones you have to go down under the surface of the earth to get them - you have to dig deep. There's no easy access for these things, there's no quick fix to get gold and silver and precious stones, you have to hunt them out, you have to dig up ground - and then when you dig up gold and silver and precious stones, they have to be heated and smelted and refined, then when that happens they become valuable, they're very costly and expensive, and they are also durable and non-combustible when they go through the fire. They cannot be manufactured by a man, they're something out of this world, if you like, other-worldly: gold, silver and precious stones.
But then when you come to the perishable objects: wood, hay and stubble - those are things that are found on the surface of the earth, aren't they? Things that are easy to find, they're in plentiful existence, they're close at hand, they can be gained at the minimum of labour. They are common, they are cheap, they are ordinary, they can even be ugly - and they are combustible. If you like, they are products of nature as we know it and as we can see it. Do you see what Paul is saying in the depth of his teaching here? If you really want something spiritual that will be able to withstand the judgement of Jesus Christ upon believers at the bema, you need to dig deep in your spiritual life - don't just take what's on the surface. It will not be easy, it's not an easy road, but you'll have to hunt these things out, you'll have to dig up the sin in your life, you'll maybe have to go through the furnace, the smelting pot, you'll have to be refined, it'll be costly for you, it'll be expensive - but it will stand at that judgement day!
The choice is yours, Paul is saying, the best things are not always the easiest things to acquire, they cost you. You'll have to labour for them, you'll maybe even have to give much sacrifice for them, you'll maybe have to pass through fires of purification and refinement to get them - but on the other hand, the most common things are never the best! They cost so little, they're no trouble to procure, and you can even weave them together and paint them and make them attractive into lovely patterns, and polish them with bright surfaces, but the final test that God will give to these products is not the test of appearance but the test of endurance!
I hope you would agree with me when I say that perishable objects are in the majority, aren't they? But imperishable objects are in the minority. You have imperishable objects in small quantities in restricted areas - they're hard to find - while perishable objects are found in large quantities, in promiscuous abundance everywhere, you don't have to search for them. Let me illustrate it like this: if I was to bring into the meeting tonight a hundred pounds worth of stubble, and a hundred pounds worth of gold. The hundred pounds worth of stubble would maybe need one lorry, maybe three lorries, to be brought into this building - but the hundred pounds of gold could be held in your pocket. You have to search this out, it's costly, it's not everywhere, you're not seeing it in every Christian that you look at around you in the church. The world that we live in, the human wisdom that Paul is speaking against in this epistle, is impressed with quantity, but God is impressed with quality! As D. L. Moody used to say, he would rather weigh his converts than count his converts! How deep they are, how heavy they are!
When God is judging, on this judgement day at the bema, our works, it doesn't say that He will judge how many there are of them, but He says that He will judge what sort they are! What sort they are! We believe in democracy in this country, but I'll tell you with regards to spiritual matters on the best issues the majority are usually wrong. If you want this deep spiritual life, if you want to stand and endure the furnace of the judgement seat of Christ, I'm urging you in the spirit of Paul - which is the Spirit of God - to choose with care, to take care as you build upon this foundation already laid, because there are few people even in the church today who have the courage to live with the eternal goal in view. Now what is the motivating factor in all of this? This is the motivating factor: the final examination, the final divine inspection.
Now I want to read a translation to you by Arthur S. Way of verses 13 to 15, and listen to them very carefully: 'The great day shall make it plain, and the revealing agent is fire - yes, what is the true quality of each man's work, that fire, nothing less, shall test. If any man's structure which he has reared on the aforesaid foundation stands the test, he shall receive his work's wages; but if anyone's structure shall be burnt to the ground, he shall thus forfeit his life's work, though he himself shall be rescued' - now mark this - 'yet only as one who is dragged out through the flames of a burning house'. That's serious stuff, isn't it? I want you just to imagine, and come with me for one moment, to a moment in eternity - no-one knows where, no-one knows when - when you will be shut out to all realisation of anything but the holiness and the all-seeing eye of the Lord Jesus Christ scrutinising your work and everything that you have done in His name. Just you and Him, and you're naked in your soul before Him, and your life's work is being reviewed. Paul says every man's work will be scrutinised - now not the man, the man will not be scrutinised, your salvation and your sin. Salvation is something that is received, but your works is something that will be rewarded, and this is what Paul is talking about: on that day, the judgement seat of Christ, the fire will come down - for our God is an all-consuming fire - and whatever is perishable will burn, and whatever is imperishable will stand. The fire is not there to cleanse or to purge our works, it is there to try and to test our works - and it will destroy whatsoever is perishable.
Paul says that our life's work will be rewarded. Verse 14, if your work abides you will be rewarded; verse 15, if your work is burnt up you will suffer loss - a reward of gain and a reward of loss. Listen, let's get personal tonight: how are you building? How are you building? What will stand? What will fall? What will be burnt up? Or will you stand there on that day and feel lost? What will be lost? You'll not be lost, it says that you will be saved, you still will be saved, the man will be saved - but imagine what it would be to see all your labour for Christ, all your possessions that you thought you'd achieved for Him, and all the fruit of your labour burnt up before the holiness and the righteousness of Jesus Christ - a saved soul but a lost life!
There is no glory in such an end, but I'm telling you this upon this passage of Scripture: that will be the end of many. Not the end of them in salvation, that's not what we're talking about here this evening, but it will be the end of their building! Do you know what the picture is here? Fireballs from heaven raining down upon your little house that you have laboriously built and constructed by yourself, and you're within it, and all of a sudden you're overwhelmed by a sudden burst of flame - and you decide you better escape! You escape down a blazing corridor and get out, just about by the skin of your teeth! Is that the way we want to go before the Lord Jesus? Let me say this this evening: this is not a matter of misfortune, this is not a matter of privilege or responsibility, this is a matter of your choice! Will you make choices in time, for eternity? Imagine this for one moment: that you are actually putting, word by word into the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the very sentence that He will say to you on that judgement day, by the life that you are living. You are telling Him now what He will say, it's in your control! You are manufacturing, as His servant, His own adjudication.
Do you remember in Corinth - and we'll get to it in the not too distant future, in chapter 11 - that they were eating and drinking damnation unto themselves around the Lord's Table, and many were weak and sickly among them, and many slept? Do you remember what Paul said to them? If you would judge yourselves, you wouldn't be judged. That's what the Lord is saying to His people tonight, that's what He's saying to you and me individually: if you would only set up a bema in your own heart, a judgement throne; if you would adjudicate for your own actions, your own feelings, your own footsteps, a self-erected judgement seat, you would be delivered! Call yourself to account before God, before God calls you to account before Christ.
Can you imagine this for one second: that somewhere in the universe, perhaps existing in the mind of God, there is a draft that says what you could have been for Jesus? Blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, given such a dispensation of the Holy Spirit and all of His fullness, that you could be filled with all the fullness of God and have the glorious power of His resurrection that brought Him back from the dead - all of this at your disposal, and God knows what you could've been, and He will judge you through Jesus Christ on that day according to what you've become rather than what you should have been!
Chopin, on one occasion in a concert, which no-one knew was full of mistakes, had a standing ovation from the audience because the audience couldn't tell - but there was one old man in the audience who wasn't clapping, and that was Verdi, his old instructor and teacher - why? Because he knew his mistakes! No-one else could see it, but he could see it! In the service that you give for the Lord Jesus, maybe other people can't see it and you're calling their bluff, but there's a day coming when every man will give an account and all these secret things will be made manifest in the sight of the Lord Jesus.
We don't have time to go through all the crowns that are available in reward for those who have been faithful to the Lord Jesus, but I ask the question of you tonight: there is the incorruptible crown for a victor - if you're not victorious over temptation, could you ever hope to get the incorruptible crown? There is the crown of rejoicing for soul-winning - if you don't regularly win people for the Lord Jesus Christ, can you ever hope to have the soul-winner's crown of rejoicing? There's a crown of righteousness for those who love the Lord's appearing - if you're not looking for the Lord's appearing, could you ever hope to get that if you're living just for the here and now? There's a crown of glory for the shepherds - if you're not shepherding the flock, could you ever hope to get that? There's a crown of life for the martyrs, not just for those who die in Christ, but I believe for those who have died internally for the Lord Jesus. The poet put it like this:
'He would have me rich, but I stand there poor,
Stripped of all but His grace.
And memory will run like a haunted thing
Down the years that I cannot retrace,
And my penitent heart will well nigh break
With tears that I cannot shed,
And I'll cover my face with my empty hands
And I'll bow my uncrowned head'.
You say: 'David, my chance is gone, I missed it. My life is gone, I had to look after someone who was ill and I couldn't do what I wanted to do for the Lord Jesus, circumstances have changed in my life'. Listen this evening to the Lord Jesus Christ, the woman that came and wept at the Lord's feet and dried them with her hair, and anointed that ointment upon them, what did the Lord Jesus say? 'She hath done what she could'. Have you done what you could? What can you do for Him now in your retirement, in your studies, in your prayer life at home that's maybe all that you've got? Listen to the words of the Lord: 'She hath wrought a good work on me, because she did what she could'.
I haven't been able to share all that's in my heart to you tonight, but I'll leave you with the words of George Whitfield: 'Oh, could I always live for eternity, preach for eternity, pray for eternity, and speak for eternity - I want to see only God'.
O Father, we would long to be something, something for Thee in eternity. Lord, not to stand empty-handed with all our works and efforts, those that we have even done, to be burnt up before the holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, the only thing that really gives us help and comfort with the judgement seat of Christ is the fact that it is the judgement seat of Christ, our Saviour and our Merciful Redeemer - and Paul could pray of Onesimus that on that day he would find mercy. Lord, may we too on that day find mercy, but Lord on this day may we judge ourselves that on that day we will not be judged. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eighth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "Built To Last For Eternity" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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