Written by Pastor Ron Barnes
The other day I let my fingers do the walking through a time-worn scrapbook that my mother had kept for me. Inside, I discovered a small clump of red hair from my first haircut, numerous “Kodak moments” (including a depressed looking high school graduate), yellowed newspaper clippings of humble successes (including a no-hitter in Little League!), various certificates, a section on my dedication to God as an infant, a few report cards, more baby pictures, etc.
Revising my personal history, I recalled that I made the honor roll once, in Mrs. Moore’s fourth-grade class. For a moment I relived that occasion, retracing the lines of pleasure on my father’s face.
Then, smack in the middle of my daydream, it hit me-a thought from heaven that would make a major impact on my approach to life and ministry. The simple analogy ran through my head: Whether I made the honor roll once or a hundred times from first grade through seminary isn’t the big deal. What matters in the end is whether I make the honor roll on my final report, the one issued by the master Teacher Himself!
There in my reminiscing about boyhood, I caught a fresh vision of the bema, the judgment seat of Christ. This event following the rapture is when Christ justly and graciously rewards believers. The issue at this judgment seat will not be the reality of their salvation, but the rewards they will receive.
Rewards for what? According to 1 Corinthians 3:12, for “gold, silver, costly stones” kinds of service for Christ versus “wood, hay, or straw” kinds of service. Yet what does gold, silver, and stone service look like? For what is the master Teacher examining His pupils? How must His disciples serve Him to do well on their final report card?
Certainly, everything on our exam worthy of reward cannot be covered here in detail. Let’s center on one area in which the master Teacher examines us daily-our motivation for serving Him.
Confronting the carnal core at Corinth about their own critical examination of himself, the Apostle Paul exhorts: “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God” (1 Cor. 4:5). Proverbs 16:2 resounds, “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” As I serve Christ, He is examining not just what I do, but why I do it. I confess, it is so easy to do the right thing for the wrong reason. So then what motives must be behind my service for Christ?
In Matthew 22:37-38, Jesus tells us that the first and foremost demand of the Law is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” James echoes this theme when he writes, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). In light of this, it is certain that, to do well on my final report card, I must serve God because I love God.
A couple of years ago I was standing in the new worship center at Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California. I’ll never forget Pastor David Jeremiah’s remark as we chatted inside the new building. In essence he said, “Having now a much larger seating capacity means that a lot more people can come and learn to love Jesus Christ. That’s what matters to me.”
I walked away thinking, “That’s it! That’s the motivation Christ is looking for.” Certainly any ministry driven by a desire to see people fall in love with Jesus is a ministry worthy of abundant reward at the bema. Anyone who truly loves God wants others to love Him.
The fact of eternal rewards raises some serious questions, namely, “why do I preach sermons, lead Bible studies, visit the sick and bereaved, give money to missions, organize ministry programs, help a friend move, share the gospel, or offer someone a ride home? Because I love Jesus and am passionate about pleasing Him? Or out of mere duty, a hollow legalism fueled by the flesh?” Personally, I find it necessary to take routine inventory of why I do what I do.
Do you want to do well on your final report card? Then do what you do, and say what you say, and go where you go, because you love God, plain and simple.
Yet there’s another motive that must us if our service is to be rewarded. Certainly, to do well on our final report card we must serve God because we love God; but also, we must serve God for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
A Christian who routinely thinks and says things like, “I desire that God be praised for what is accomplished in and through my life and ministry” is a Christian who will in turn be praised by God at the judgment seat. Does your heart beat with the longing that God get the glory and honor He so deserves?
In 1 Corinthians 10, God tells the believers at Corinth not to misuse their Christian liberty and thereby cause a weaker brother to stumble. Even in matters of food, drink, or any non-moral issue, believers must do what will clearly bring honor to God, edification to God’s people, and a good testimony to the unsaved. This passage sums up one’s proper motivation: “So whether you eat or drink or whatsoever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
In his book Comeback, Dave Dravecky rehearses his varied motivations as an athlete. He states, “Growing up, I had always been at the center of attention. That was exactly how I had wanted it. My performance had been for me, and no one else. I had to be the star. That kind of motivation can keep you going strong, so long as you succeed. But it’s not so good for dealing with failure or with forces beyond your control. Seeing Jesus Christ as your audience shifted the pressure off yourself. You did your best to bring glory to God, not yourself. If you lost, the loss would hurt, but it wouldn’t change anything fundamental. God would still be there” (p. 89).
I confess there have been too many times when I wanted to be the star of the show in the morning service, hoping people would say, “Wow, what a sermon!” If I understand Scripture correctly, those particular acts of preaching will get incinerated at the judgment seat, rewards forfeited.
I often advise my pastoral students at Christian Heritage College, “When someone commends your sermon, some kind of act, your fine leadership, or something else you’ve done or said, return a courteous ‘Thank you for your encouragement,’ then quickly and privately pass the compliment heavenward to Him who ultimately deserves the credit.”
If you enjoy sports, determine to play in a way that honors God. Play wholeheartedly, unselfishly, and honestly. If you play a musical instrument, play to bring enjoyment to others.Ask yourself, when you pray, are you hoping others will notice how well you’ve learned to pray?
After doing some wonderful deed, are you hurt when your name is omitted from the bulletin? Maybe you wanted to be the star. What’s your motive on the job? To impress your boss and colleagues, or to fulfill your vocation heartily as unto the Lord from whom you will receive an inheritance? (Col. 3:23-24). And why am I writing this? To seek honor for myself or for God and the benefit of those who read it?
May the constant prayer of our hearts be that of the psalmist, “Not to us, O Lord not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness” (Ps. 115:1). If that is our prayer, then we will do well on our final report cards.
1 Corinthians 4:5 makes it clear that when Jesus returns “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” What motivates you? What motivates me as I serve God? If I serve God because I love God and for the glory of God, I will do well on my final report card.
On the contrary, service is carried out in the flesh in a spirit of legalism, and service fueled by self-glory is of no worth to God, being like wood, hay, and straw and subject to fiery consumption at His holy judgment seat.
Such truth has radically changed my perspective on life and ministry. Knowing that things done or said with the right motives are potentially rewardable injects relevance into even the seemingly mundane contexts of life. Therefore, everyday is significant and cannot be lived again. I will either gain rewards or forfeit them. Tomorrow is another opportunity to honor the Lord by living a rewardable life.
On that final day, when the master Teacher issues my final report card, I want to find myself on the honor roll of heaven. I want to see the pleasure on my Father’s face.
About the Author:
Ron Barnes is a Professor of Biblical Studies at Southern California Seminary as well as the Pastor at Casa de Oro Baptist Church in Spring Valley, CA. Dr. Barnes is married and has three grown daughters, and eight grandkids.