I have a shocking confession to make that will likely set some of you back… I was never a big fan of Motown’s music. It isn’t that I disliked the IDEA of allowing young African American singers to break into a career that was dominated by people who look like me. In fact, that is the part that I liked about the studio. What I didn’t like was the sound of many of the artists. Their world and mine were as far apart as I am from British Comedy today. I understand that SOMEONE thinks it is funny – but it just isn’t my taste.
I mention this hard and personal truth today, because the title of my message was borrowed from a young man that was promoted under the Motown label, while I was just a little boy. His name was “Shorty Long” and he died much too young in a tragic boating accident in 1969. By the time of his death, the song: “Here Come the Judge” and made its way onto the charts, and soon after even onto a spoof on network television. What began as a “smack down” answer to a tough minded judge in the segregated south, ended as a comedy routine on night time television. “Here Come the Judge” showed the inequities of the system if you were young, black and lived in the south.
I am using the title because the statement is true. The fact of the matter is that a judge is coming – but He is a perfect judge. He is coming to a world that is not prepared, and to believers that should be prepared. The Bible teaches that he is not going to judge followers of Jesus of their sin – for that was fully judged at the Cross and our trust in the work of Jesus alone covers us from any future penalty for our sin. The lamb paid for all of our sin. God has been clear. At the same time, the performance as a believer is going to be judged when the Savior comes– and I should walk every day with that coming review in mind. Let me show it to you in the context of the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11:
Revelation 11:15 Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. 18 “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”
Key Principle: When I stand before Jesus – seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years will evaporate into the smoke as the fire of His eyes burn through my life’s work. What is left after all the selfish, ego-driven, stubborn, hard-hearted, gossip-laden, flesh colored work is gone – is what Jesus can BEGIN to celebrate. Mature believers keep that day in their minds eye – and never lose sight of it.
The voices of Heaven – likely the angels that serve our God- cried out that Jesus was about to draw the end curtain of humanity down on the world below. His uncontested and rightful place over the world was about to be fully made manifest to all who walked the alleys of planet earth. Kings and Kingdoms would yield all authority to the One who created them. His title “king of kings” would be shown in its completion.
Then another set of voices was heard… that of the twenty four elders – the believers of the church age as we identified them back in our study of Revelation four and five. You may recall that when we studied Revelation four and five, we concluded that these twenty-four appeared to relate to the PRIESTHOOD serving at that time in Heaven. We saw that John was likely seeing what the prophet Ezekiel had long before seen in his earlier vision into Heaven, in Ezekiel 8:16; Ezekiel 11:1, a priesthood in Heaven that served in the Heavenly Temple. The twenty four reminded us of the courses of the priests. (1 Chronicles 24:3-19). The elders seemed to FUNCTION as priests in God’s Temple, but that wasn’t all –their description clued us into their identity:
- By their praises in Revelation 5:8, we can glimpse into their PAST. They were from all tribes and nations, and they were redeemed.
- They were made priests of Heaven BEFORE the Lamb opened the book and brought on the Great Tribulation (Rev. 6:1).
- They sat on thrones apparently denoting judgment, and had been judged themselves. They were crowned with a STEPHANOS or “victor crown”, not a DIADEM or “ruler crown”. Paul warned the church at Corinth that a future job of believers would include judging even angels in 1 Corinthians 6:1
- They were clothed in White Robes: This is the garment of the priests. It is also the marker of those who have been judged as “righteous” (like in Rev. 19:14 “And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.”)
After all is considered, it appears as though John has dropped in on the worship ministrations of the Redeemed of the Church Age, who have already been JUDGED, and now served as Priests and Ministers before the Holy One on the throne. They praised God for His SAVING WORK on their behalf in Revelation 5. Now their anthem was renewed. It was not the same as that of Heaven’s host – because their experience with Jesus was entirely different. They were SAVED by His blood. They were RESCUED by His obedience to His Father. They were CHANGED by His love. They offered two observations as ex-earth dwellers:
- First, You (Oh Lord) raised up the dead ones and they were judged and rewarded as those who feared your Name.
- Second, You (Oh Lord) wrought judgment on the earth and have taken up your cause against a rebellious planet with people that are destroying, through their resistance, the world that You have created.
John mentioned a judgment for the believers that already had taken place. Jesus had previously revealed the truth of that PERFORMANCE JUDGMENT for His people in previous revelations to the Apostle Paul – particularly in 1 and 2 Corinthians. For the balance of our study in this lesson, I want us to look at what was shared by Paul – so that what John opened up in Revelation 11:18 has its proper context. After this, our next study will continue into Revelation 12.
1 Corinthians in context
Before we look at the Judgment of believers over their performance, let me set the passage in 1 Corinthians 3 in the context of the letter it is found within. The first letter to the Corinthians can be easily divided into two major sections: chapters 1-6 are about the division that was evident in the church and was communicated to Paul through the household of Chloe – as one of the church’s biggest problems. The balance of the book, chapters 7-16, are responses to questions the church posed previously – they requested instruction. Since the issue of division is the immediate context of chapter three, it is important to keep in mind Paul’s goal: Help believers see the importance of the church’s work so that they would not divide it or belittle it.
In chapters one and two, Paul pleaded with the people of Corinth to heal their division. He argued that the church was unique. Its STANDARD was the Eternal Word of God and its CENTRAL TRUTH was the work and Word of Jesus. Over emphasis on the WORKER as celebrity was harming the body. He pressed further in the second chapter, stressing that there is nothing like the church of Jesus Christ. The rules of how to do what we do are set in fences that are unique to this work. The church could not simply depend on flashy methods, high words, celebrity personalities, passive hearers and un-surrendered hearts. It was an operation of God’s Spirit – not of slick marketing and up beat themes.
The church exists to exalt Jesus Christ as the gift of His Father to men. We are to seek HIS GLORY – not our own. Someone has said: “No one goes to the Grand Canyon to increase SELF ESTEEM.” We are to search the pages of His Word and grow in His grace. We are to reflect His glory to the nations. Since the fall in the Garden men have been starved for the glory of God, and the church is to be the screen on which glory is projected.
Paul made clear that while people may criticize, mock and play with the Church of Jesus Christ – they do so at their own peril. They do this because they do not truly comprehend how God feels about their casual attitude – he had in mind in particular those believers in Corinth.
Paul called them to stand together as a sign they understood the value of God’s Church. They needed to understand with God’s spiritual discernment – but that required surrender to God’s Spirit. Paul wrote: 1 Corinthians 3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. God’s truth is spiritually discerned, while life on earth is physically discerned. Spiritual discernment is based on maturity – and that is a matter of the Spirit’s work in the born again believers, and based on their conscious surrender. Un-surrendered Christians are selfish and flesh oriented Christians. They trade the ability to really grasp the things of the Spirit for their hunger in this physical world. They cannot really comprehend what God wants, because they are living in a different world by a different standard. Because of their stubbornness, Paul told them he could not feed them as adults (3:2). He could clearly see immaturity in their congregations by their DIVISIONS (1 Corinthians 1:3-4).
As the Apostle James said, battles between us come from battles within us. Hurt people hurt people. Refusing to be healed by God will eventually spill over into wounds we will give another – it is inevitable. Either I can take my wounds to the Cross and have them healed there – or I will wound others with my stubborn and failed self-reliance. This church was divided, because people in this church refused to grow up in Christ and yield to Him. Many a church conflict can be summarized in that same way.
Paul called them to stand together as a sign they understood the true place of God’s servants. Understanding the place of leaders as servants of God and His revealed truth forced believers to see the impossibility of dividing over their service to Him, since they were mere servants and all served the same Master (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). We need not be confused. Paul had a proper and healthy self-image. He knew he was one that Jesus gave His precious blood to save – so he did not feel worthless. At the same time, he did not inflate himself with visions that his gifts made him more valuable than others with other spiritual gifts. He saw himself as we should see ourselves – those who serve Jesus by serving one another. He saw himself as one who labored alongside others who had differing roles – but the same goal – to be used by God to honor Him through the growth of His kingdom.
He said that “neither the planter nor the water bearer were anything” – for we are not indispensable, irreplaceable or the key to the future of the Kingdom – only Jesus is. Following a man is fine if he is following Christ. If not, he is leading you away from God’s direction – because Christ is always on the right path.
People who serve Jesus well aren’t pulling people to THEM – but they are pulling people to JESUS. At the same time, they are excited when a person is following Jesus well even if they are being led by another godly person. Competition in churches is often an ego battle of immature people masquerading as godly leaders. We must be MORE and MORE careful to uphold our brothers in Christ – to speak well or simply refuse to speak at all. My brothers in ministry deserve my love, encouragement and help – with as little criticism as I can possibly offer. The exception to that is when someone wants to deliberately corrupt the truth of the Gospel – but that, in my experience, is quite rare. It happens, but not nearly as much as gossip and criticism about other men of the Word occurs – sadly.
Paul called the to stand together as a sign they understood that God was watching what believers are doing on earth. Here is the heart of the truth we need to recall today. We must understand that God has given us the days of our lives. How we treat our ministry and faithfulness today will be accounted for in the future. Even though believers don’t lose salvation when they refuse to obey God in their walk – they do lose reward, and that will one day become plain to see. We will be judged in our performance by Jesus. Look at these words closely:
1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 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.
In a moment of self-reflection, Paul recognized that God’s grace was the operative power behind his accomplishments in ministry. Who among us can say differently? He recognized that he was in need of a constant flow of grace from the time of his salvation through the whole process of honoring God in ministry. He also openly acknowledged the difference between a good plan for establishing a ministry, and a BAD plan. He said he was a WISE master builder when he placed the foundation stones. Others built upon his work, but Paul outlined the whole building with a foundation of Jesus Christ.
When Paul said there was “no other foundation” he was indicating that there was no other PROPER foundation. Men build ministry on many things that are not Christ. Some build them on EGO (believing that only their denomination or group can bring the truth), others on FAME (using a prior reputation and methods that draw crowds by their stunning approach, but are not directed by the Spirit of God). These may result in churches, but at their core they are not about serving Jesus Christ. The day will come when that will be clear – either at the judgment seat of Christ, or even before that time.
Paul the zeroed in on the judgment seat of Christ in 1 Corinthians 3:14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
The real test of ministry is not its temporal popularity, but its spiritual endurance at the scrutiny of the Master. If Jesus doesn’t deem it a correct and healthy work – than it simply isn’t one. Heaven isn’t a place where a vote will be cast by the members of a theological academy or angelic choir. We serve only ONE – a Master Who will inspect all of the work that we have done. There is NO OTHER treasure higher than HIS SATISFACTION. At the same time, His satisfaction is often paired by the satisfaction of other godly men and women. People who have a healthy walk with God can “sniff out” teaching and leadership that is healthy – because we have the selfsame Spirit within.
Someday Jesus will take all of my labor and place it between us. He and I will look at the number of hours I have labored to know and teach His Word. We will look at the way I communicated that Word to people. He will examine the time I have spent caring for people – and He will give the TRUE and PERFECT evaluation of me. If I have done well in His estimation – the trial of my work before His fiery eyes of scrutiny will survive. If I have not done well – that work will evaporate – with no opportunity to relive my life on earth.
Let me repeat it again: When I stand before Jesus – seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years will evaporate into the smoke as the fire of His eyes burn through my life’s work. What is left after all the selfish, ego-driven, stubborn, hard-hearted, gossip-laden, flesh colored work is gone – is what Jesus can BEGIN to celebrate. Mature believers keep that day in their minds eye – and never lose sight of it.
What does it mean for a believer to “SUFFER LOSS”? In the text it is clear that there is no issue of salvation or eternal destiny at stake in the argument – this is a judgment in the life of a believer. Everyone is judged TWICE by God – once for sin, and once for performance of work. The sin judgment determines one’s destiny. The performance judgment, measured strictly against what God has made us capable to complete – is about REWARD. Heaven is the HOME of the believer – but some level of REWARD before the Savior is a conditional blessing to those who live their lives for His glory. For each of us, Jesus will scrutinize our work, and we will see the real truth of our lives – what we were really about. Jesus told his parents when they sought Him in the Temple as a youth, “Did you not know that I would be about My Father’s business?” Perhaps they should have known – but I am not always sure that I could claim that same obvious exclamation. Beloved, I fear that many of us spend much of our lives on ourselves, and not on His honor and glory – can that be? May we see it now and avoid the sadness of loss later…
Paul insisted that believers take seriously their individual lives – but don’t forget the context. This was about the place of GOD’S CHURCH. It is clear in the passage that God wanted men to understand that the church of Jesus Christ is not just another organization to be criticized, gossiped about, and slammed at will. This organism is a living body created by a Victorious Savior. It has His fingerprints, His DNA and was purchased with His blood. It not only COST Him plenty to create, it was created with a God ordained DEFENSE system. Criticize it lightly, and God will censure your life’s work easily. Be careful, when you speak of the church… you speak of GOD’S CHURCH.
- Did not God’s church reach into the sin sick lives of men and women of the Roman Empire at the expense of being thrown to lions, being crucified or beheaded? It was NOT to win a theological argument – for the early Christians were really trying to offer hope to hopeless people.
- Did not God’s church reach the poor in many nations long before ever being considered by the rich among them? It was not to become WEALTHY – for even today there are many who handle the broken in skid row and hungry in India’s streets for no other reason than to show their love for and obedience to their Savior.
- Did not God’s church begin some of the great universities of our world? It was not to become ERUDITE – for though they now shudder at the idea, the great schools of Princeton and Yale were begun to train men to share Jesus and His Word with accuracy and scholarship.
- Did not God’s church open hospitals in many cities of our world? It was not to gain control of health care legislation – but because they saw the sick as needy and the needy as open to Christ.
- Did not God’s church feed the poor in many places, offer addiction counseling and group meetings, help single parents with support, care for elderly and widows? Yes, sure it has… and it is just beginning its work. There is much MORE to do. We, His church, may not have been perfect, but we have not been FILLED WITH EMPTY WORDS EITHER – there is a track record and a history.
Where we have failed, we will seek to have God renew us. Where we have resisted, we will learn to submit to the Gentle Chief Shepherd…. But know this… this is God’s church in many places, under many names – and He has promised to be her defense when she is attacked – so tread lightly. Hold back quick words about the intent of others –even if their denomination or fellowship doesn’t completely agree with yours.
Listen to Paul’s later words to this same congregation. He reminded them that mature believers feel torn between Heaven’s home and earth’s mission of love. He said in 2 Corinthians 5:9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear 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. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. …14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
There is a coming PERFORMANCE REVIEW of our Master. No believer can avoid it – but we can GET READY FOR IT NOW. We can allow God’s Spirit full control to accomplish His holy purposes in us today. He dominates where He is fully invited. When we open a room to surrender, He fills it up with Himself. Like air itself, when a vacuum seal is broken – the air rushes in with a wisp of pressure. The lid “pops” and the air displaces the vacuum. The natural state in our world is full of air. The natural state of Heaven is filled with the Spirit. Believers are people in transition – opening bit by bit through surrender to our new “natural state” the fullness of God. We will not fully get there in this body – but we will not need the body when we are fully there!
The Judge is coming. Believer, Jesus is going to look at our lives. We will face a real performance review as believers. Mature followers of Jesus keep that day of measure in their minds eye – and never lose sight of it.
When Jesus comes, we will know the TRUTH. They’ll be no confusion- like this little story…Two little boys were the best of friends. As they grew up, their friendship only deepened. One became a preacher and the other a priest. And they would meet each week for coffee at the local Starbucks, no matter what else might be happening. After one such meeting, they shook hands and started to part ways. One was parked in front of the store and the other behind the store. They went to their cars and when one of them came around from the back, the other was turning from the front … and they collided. There they were, stuck in the street with both cars smashed up. After making sure the other was safe, the preacher begged the priest that this incident would not hurt their lifelong friendship. The priest agreed, reached into the glove box, and pulled out a small flask of whiskey and two communion cups. He poured one full and handed it to the preacher and said, ‘Here, let’s drink to our friendship.’ The preacher said, ‘Here’s to our friendship,’ and turned it up and drank it. As the priest put the whiskey back in his glove box, the preacher asked him if he was also going to drink to their friendship and the priest said, ‘Yes, but I am going to wait until after the police leave first.’