The Judgment Seat of Christ

Have you ever studied the word reward in Paul’s epistles?

First, all the blessings of grace that were showered on us when we got saved is one great big reward. Paul said in Col. 2:18, “Let no man beguile you of your reward.” Everything we’ve already received by His grace is His reward for our faith.

Paul had a reward waiting for him if he fulfilled his calling to be God’s apostle to the Gentiles. He said in I Cor. 9:17, “For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward.”

The inheritance we receive at the Rapture is also called a reward. Paul wrote in Col. 3:24, “Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance.”

Paul also spoke of a reward we’ll be receiving at the Judgment Seat of Christ, because “The labourer is worthy of his reward” (1 Tim. 5:18), which is why “your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58), because as he said in 1 Cor. 3:8, “Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.”

And, of course, Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 5:10, “For we must 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.” So what are the bad things done in our bodies that’ll be judged? It’s not sin because sin was already dealt with at the cross. I suspect Paul is talking about good service and bad service for the Lord, which we’ll get into.

Fascinating to me that in all the references to reward in Paul’s epistles, he speaks the most about rewards with the Corinthians, the most carnal bunch, and he uses rewards to motivate them to good service for Christ, which reinforces what Fred always says, that we’re not in a works-based acceptance system but a rewards-based total victory program by His grace.

Only 3 references to Judgment Seat of Christ.

There are only 3 references to the Judgment Seat of Christ, and they are all in Paul’s epistles. If you ripped Paul’s epistles out of the Bible, no one would ever know about this, which tells us that this event is only for the Body of Christ. Why would Paul, after he agreed with Peter, James, and John in Gal. 2 that he’d confine his ministry to the heathen, turn around and write to the Jews and reveal new doctrine that only pertains to the Jews? That makes no sense. This would not only be a betrayal of the promise Paul made to Peter, James, and John, but this would also be a betrayal of God’s high calling to make Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles!

So the first reference to the Judgment Seat of Christ is in the book of Romans, which is, by the way, written to THE ROMANS. He writes in Rom 14:10 “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 Paul would also wrote in 2Co 5:10 “For we (all the members of the Body of Christ) must 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.”

Finally, we have the third reference in 1 Cor. 3.

1Co 3:6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. 1Co 3:7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 3:8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building…

Let’s stop right there. Paul called them carnal in part because of sectarianism. They were dividing themselves into little factions like unbelievers. This divisive tribalism in the church was nothing but babes acting in the flesh, and as a result, they were exalting men instead of the Lord Jesus Christ. These people were more occupied with comparing the talents of Paul vs. Apollos, than appreciating the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior about whom Paul and Apollos had preached.

He said that he and Apollos were “one.” They were only “ministers by whom ye believed.” In vs. 6, he says, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” So the man who plants and the other man who waters, neither of one is more special than the other. They’re all laborers together who’ll receive a reward according to his own labor.

In 4:6, he says, “And these things [lessons] brethren, I have in a figure transferred [or applied] to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you should be puffed up for one against another.” Notice how Paul says in vs. 9, “For we are labourers together with God.” They weren’t laboring in their own willpower. They weren’t jockeying to out-labor each other. They were laboring together.

Not only that, they were also laboring along with God. That brings to mind 1 Cor. 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” He says, “but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Notice he doesn’t say the grace of God that was IN ME, but he connects his labor to the “grace of God which was with me.” How does that work exactly?

His grace is a never-ending resource to draw upon not only for guidance but also for inspiration, for motivation, for perspective, for strength, and power, to help us achieve all the things we want to achieve in our service to the Lord. This wasn’t about Paul. This was about God’s grace with Paul. This was about the power and inspiration and motivation and general force of the attribute of grace that was always with Paul that drove him to great service for the Lord. Paul was always indebted to, and attributed any success he had in his labors to, His grace always being with him, His grace always being that never-ending resource to excel in his labors. All that is good that flows out of us comes from that same holy stream of God’s grace. And Paul makes the connection between his labor and the grace that was with him, which has to mean that Paul was working alongside of, working in conjunction with, operating hand-in-hand with, His grace when he labored. God doesn’t turn us into robots. We must put effort into our own spiritual lives so that we may operate alongside His grace, which is always with us, which is why God rewards us for our works, for our efforts to do good works that is in perfect alignment with His grace.

Back to the Corinthians. Whereas Paul and Apollos were labourers, the saints at Corinth were the husbandry, the tillage, or the farm, where the plants grow and produce fruits. I need to quote Bryan Ross. I don’t quote him enough. When Bryan preached on this topic, he made an interesting point here. Notice the conjunction “but” in vs. 6-7. 1Co 3:6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. 1Co 3:7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Bryan just observed how the phrase, ”but God,” is such a “strong conjunction [that really] emphasizes the fact that God is the one who gives the increase and produces [the] growth.”

How is it God “giveth the increase” when we are already complete in Him? Increase in what?

I’d suggest it’s the increase of us putting on more and more of the new man so that our earthly walk mirrors the image of His heavenly Son. Only because of God are we able to increase in our spiritual growth and the number of fruits we may produce.

In fact, I’ve looked at all the times Paul talks about increase in his letters. We increase in the knowledge of His will which is by the Spirit through the Word. We could not do this on our own as a natural man because these grace doctrines are spiritually discerned, and thus God alone is to be praised for giving us that increase in knowledge. As a result of our spiritual growth based upon our time in His Word and the increase in the knowledge of His will, we also increase in our fruits. Additionally, as we all grow together, we become increasingly knit together in love, which brings about an increase in the edifying of the Body of Christ. In all of these processes for growth, God alone is the one to be praised for giving us those increases.

It’s in this context that Paul dives into the doctrines about the Judgment Seat of Christ. They were not to be so judgmental about who is the greater servant of God because it’s the Lord who will judge every servant for the quality of his work and the Lord is the one who will extend the reward based upon the quality of their service.

1Co 3:10 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. 1Co 3:11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1Co 3:12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 1Co 3:13 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. 1Co 3:14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 1Co 3:15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Many in Christendom think there’s only one judgment – the Great White Throne, which is just confounding. Here are some distinctions. The first distinction would be their names. They have different names. The seats are different. One is a throne, and the other is a Bema Seat. Audiences are different. The Judgment Seat of Christ is addressed to the church, the BOC, whereas the Great White Throne is addressed to Israel about unbelievers. The Great White Throne is the subject of prophecy whereas the Judgment Seat of Christ is the subject of Mystery. The Great White Throne is for the unsaved of the world whereas the Judgment Seat of Christ is for the saved believers today. The Great White Throne issues punishment to the unsaved according to their works, whereas the Judgment Seat of Christ issues rewards to the believers according to their good works. The Great White Throne takes place on the earth whereas the Judgment Seat of Christ takes place in the air. At the Great White Throne there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth whereas at the Judgment Seat of Christ every man will have praise of God. The Great White Throne is for the dead given up by Sheol whereas the Judgment Seat of Christ is for those who have been quickened or made alive in Christ.

Look at vs. 10 again. 1Co 3:10 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.

First, he says, “According to the grace of God,” which I suspect is the attribute of grace in God Himself that compelled Him before the world was ever created to implement this age of grace. And this interruption of the prophetic program isn’t called the age of grace simply because the gospel was a message of grace given to Paul to give to us, like what he says in Acts 20:24, “the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God”. This age of grace is the grace of God working in us all, the grace that offered us eternal life, the grace that gave us eternal life, the grace that transformed us into new creatures, the grace that inspires us and motivates us to serve God rejoicing with gratitude.

Then Paul says, “According to the grace of God… as a wise masterbuilder…” How is it that Paul became a wise masterbuilder? God gave that increase of wisdom in him. Paul points out in this same letter how we can be both “babes in Christ” and “wise in Christ” (I Cor 3:1, 4:10) all determined by the time we spend in His Word increasing in the knowledge of His will, knowing who we are in Christ, reckoning those truths as a reality and yielding ourselves to God’s righteousness. You can’t help but think of Moses and Paul here. As Moses was the great figure of the law, so too, Paul is the great figure of grace today. Moses was the wise master-builder of the Old Testament Tabernacle for the law. God gave him the plans and specifications. Heb 8:5: as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.” But Paul too was a master-builder laying the foundation for a new age called the dispensation of the grace of God. As Moses represented law so Paul represents grace, given to Him from God by special revelation of the Mystery, the secret plans and specifications for the building of twain one new man, the Church, the body of Christ.

Yet Christendom is more apt today to quote Jesus when He said “Upon this rock I will build my church” before they ever quote Paul when he said “I have laid the foundation.” The distinction is that the kingdom church would be built by Christ upon a rock whereas Paul laid a foundation for the church today, the Body of Christ, according to the detailed specifications of the Great Architect of Grace. The Lord would build His church upon an unshakeable foundation that already existed, which was the eternal truth of who He was to His people, but Paul LAID a new foundation for the church today made up largely of Gentiles who had always been alienated from God. The rock for the kingdom church was according to the truth of Christ as the prophesied Messiah to the nation of Israel. The foundation laid by Paul was according to the secret truth revealed to him of a Christ who has been crucified and risen again as the savior of the whole world by grace through faith, Jew and Gentiles alike. The Kingdom church was according to prophecy. The church, the Body of Christ, was according to Mystery. The plans and specifications for the Kingdom Church are found in the OT. The plans and specifications for the Church today had been “kept secret since the world began” until it was revealed to and through Paul. Paul warns the believers, “let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon” lest his life’s work as a Christian may go up in smoke at the Bema Seat. That Lord gives no such warning to His disciples. Why is that? Because today, every believer builds upon the foundation laid by Paul. The Lord and no one else will build His own Kingdom church. “I have laid the foundation,” Paul writes. Paul did not say he had been building upon the rock of foundation for a kingdom church already established by Christ as the Messiah and King of Israel. No. “I have laid the foundation,” he says, “and another buildeth thereon.” A new dispensation was ushered in with the raising up of Paul, in which Christ was presented, not as King of Israel, but as the savior of the world offering a free gift of eternal life by His grace and our faith in Him.

As a result of these three phrases in vs. 10, 1) “According to the grace of God” given to Paul, 2) “as a wise masterbuilder,” and 3) “I have laid the foundation,” Paul clearly defends his apostleship and identifies the distinction of this entire age of grace from everything else that existed before him in the Bible. This whole foundation for the church today that Paul laid was according to the grace of God, and it was God’s wisdom and grace that turned Paul into a wise masterbuilder.

And then we’re given a warning. He writes, “I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.” I loved how Stam wrote in his Corinthians commentary, “How urgently needed are these words of warning! Consider the condition of God’s temple today. Is it ‘fitly framed together’? No indeed. Rather the ‘one body’ of true believers is separated into discordant and rival denominations and sects. Hear them insist that they are Calvinists, Arminians, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Pentecostalists, etc. The reason for this confusion: the ‘builders’ have not taken heed to build compatibly with the foundation laid by Paul. They have built Mosaic material, prophetic material, Petrene material, etc., upon the foundation laid by Paul. They preach from the Old Testament and the four Gospels so much of the time that they barely allude to the glorious truths revealed in the Pauline epistles. They stress the Ten Commandments but all too often fail to tell what happened to the Ten Commandments at the Cross (Gal. 3:13; Col. 2:14). They stress the Sermon on the Mount but say little or nothing about the exceeding riches of God’s grace as we find them in Paul’s writings. They talk about ‘building the kingdom,’ and strive vainly to carry out the so-called ‘great commission.’ They have taken baptism, tongues, healings and signs of the times from another dispensation and have brought them into the dispensation of the grace of God, until the Church is so confused that many do not know what to believe.”

Why must we take heed to how we build upon the foundation laid by Paul? What’s at stake? What’s at stake is YOUR reward, YOUR reward that YOU will have for all eternity, and there are no second chances. There’s no going back to get a greater reward. You only have one life to live. You know the truth! You have the opportunity now to receive the greatest of rewards at the Bema Seat! You’re already ahead of the crowd! So run the race! Master in your heart, mind, and soul the totality of living His grace life!

Another question we might ask is, “Why doesn’t the Lord simply judge us when we die?” Well, we may be dead but our influence on this Earth doesn’t die with us. I just quoted a dead guy. In fact, I often quote dead guys like Bullinger, William Kelly, and J.C. O’Hair. But those are just sermons and articles. Your influence upon another person carries on long after you’re gone. It’s not until this age of grace is over that God will judge and take into consideration the totality of your influence and then reward you for your service to Him.

I was talking to someone the other day about the Bema Seat, and on our podcast, we sometimes get a healthy amount of views, which is good, but I think that God values above all your influence in one-on-one personal relationships.

Which brings us to gold, silver, and precious stones.

Look at 1Co 3:12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 1Co 3:13 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.

The first question we may ask is, “What is a good work?” In short, I’d say it’s everything you do in the Lord for the Lord. There’s a saying that in Adam sin is the root and sins are the fruit, but in Christ, it is Christ Himself who is the root and good works are the fruit. Good works may be summed up in this – it’s ministry in action through our walk, the proving of that good and acceptable will of God laid out for us in the sound doctrines of grace found in the epistles of Paul, doing all that is upright and holy in His sight, the outward living of our inward faith, and the application of in our lives of all these sound grace doctrines. It’s not just studying but walking in light of the knowledge of His will.

The next question we may ask is, “What’s the difference between gold, silver, precious stones, vs. wood, hay, stubble? This entire list of materials that will be burned up are all good works believers tried to do during their lives for the Lord. What distinguishes gold, silver, precious stones, vs. wood, hay, stubble is whether or not that person was doing that good work based upon the foundation laid by Paul, the sound doctrines of grace. In other words, what are you telling people about God? Are you telling people your election wasn’t your choice, but that God chose you to become saved? Stubble. Are you telling people they need to keep the faith or they’re going to lose their salvation? Stubble. Are you telling people to just ignore Paul and stick with the gospels? Stubble. You may be saved but those works are going to burn up. There’s no reward for heresy. Also, what’s the basis upon which YOU are doing those good works? Are you doing good works because of what the Lord said to Israel? Hay. Are you doing good works to try to keep your salvation? Hay. Are you doing good works because you’re fearful of retribution from God? Hay. Are you doing good works because you think you’re spiritual Israel bringing in His kingdom? Hay. Are you doing good works because you think you’re still under the law? Hay.

But what if you’re doing a good work that’s a timeless principle in the Bible even though you don’t recognize the foundation that was laid by Paul? I’d call that wood.

So, for us, what’s the distinction between gold, silver, precious stones? I’d say the distinction is good service vs. great service for the Lord. This brings us back to the question I asked at the beginning. Remember how Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 5:10, “For we must 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.” So what are the bad things done in our bodies that’ll be judged? It’s not sin because sin was already dealt with at the cross. I think Paul is talking about good service vs. bad service, which isn’t sin.

Here’s an example:

Eph 6:5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Eph 6:6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; Eph 6:7 With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Eph 6:8 Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.

First, he calls all to be obedient to their masters (or our bosses today). Are you obedient? Do you show up to work and do a good job? If you do, good! But how’s your heart? Are you going through the motions or are you serving with real reverence, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ? Do you serve as men-pleasers or as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart? Are you serving with good will as to the Lord and not to men?

In vs. 8, Paul makes it clear, that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord. The rewards are not just based upon obedience, but also the quality of your service and the heart with which you serve, which should be as if you’re serving Christ Himself, because in reality you ARE serving Christ in all that you do. The Lord will look at the actions and the heart with which you serve in the workplace, which I think ties into the verse we quoted at the beginning. 1Co 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

In other words, God doesn’t merely consider what you do but also the heart’s motivation behind what you do. This is why you must bring your thoughts into obedience unto Christ because those secret counsels of your heart will be unveiled and considered at the Bema Seat. Your thinking heart’s motivation behind every good work is what will make a difference between good and great service to God, and between gold and precious stones. The prism through which we are judged isn’t about sin but about quality of service to God and your heart’s motivations. My favorite aspect of the Bema Seat is what Paul writes at the end of that verse: and then shall every man have praise of God. It’s true that we’ll be praising Him, but, as Hal has often pointed out, this verse means that God will be praising you when it’s over. Isn’t that amazing? Can you even imagine that? God Himself will be praising YOU and expressing love for your time in His Word, His love for all the times you got it right in your life, and for just allowing His life to be manifest in you. Unbelievable!

Here’s a verse that always troubled me. 1Th 4:6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. My question has always been, how will the Lord avenge us for the sin of defrauding a brother? It’s true that at the Judgment Seat of Christ that brother won’t gain rewards for his bad behavior of defrauding a brother.

But the Lord has also set up other systems of vengeance in this life.

The elders of a church, who have the responsibility of being overseers of the flock, are commissioned to address egregious sins in the church, and they may have to excommunicate you to protect the flock, especially after two admonitions. Now excommunication is always with a view to reconciliation and the restoration of that believer after he learns to not sin and repents of his behavior or changes course. But that is a system of discipline set up by God for believers. They’re not judging the person but the sin.

You may consider, too, that the Lord also described human government as a system of vengeance in this life. Rom 13:4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. That Greek word for revenger is that same Greek word as avenger in 1 Thess. 4:6. Don’t defraud a brother because you may reap what you sow. God’s ministers in human government may come after you, and they beareth not the sword in vain. They exist as a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. The bigger point is that the Bema Seat isn’t the only system of vengeance that God has set up.

Back to 1Co 3:14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. So the good works, represented by gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble will go through the fire of judgment. Whatever abides will determine your reward.

Notice that Paul says If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon… The only good works that abide for which we receive a reward are the works built upon the foundation laid by Paul. You’re doing that good work because of what Paul wrote.

I also get the impression from this verse that he’s saying that if ANY good work survives the fire, you’ll get one reward. You’ll get one reward if ANYTHING survives the fire. However many good works survive the fire will determine how great the one reward will be. I’ll bet you that one reward will be the location of your heavenly seat, your role in His kingdom.

And then we find in 1Co 3:15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. The point here is that the Judgment Seat of Christ itself does not determine whether you’ll have eternal life but what you’ll receive in terms of your one eternal reward. It’s not a loss of rewards in the sense that rewards will be taken away but a loss in the sense that you won’t receive a greater reward for all your “good works” because you never took heed to how you built your life upon the foundation laid by Paul.

Closing: Can Positive Reinforcement be any more Positive?

1 Tim 4:16 – “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”

When Paul says save here, he doesn’t mean soul salvation, but in the context he means deliverance from the apostasy in the church that was coming and that he’d help deliver others out of that apostasy. But he says, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine.” Someone once said, “A bad life will corrupt your doctrine and bad doctrine will corrupt your life.” That is at the heart of the Bema Seat. Poor service and poor doctrine. God won’t be punishing you for sins because He already punished His son, but he wants to reward you for good service, reward you for studying His Word and walking in light of His revealed will for you, for choosing to yield to His righteousness, to manifest His life in you, to do good works, and then He’ll shower you with even more grace well beyond what was already accomplished for you at Calvary. And when that judgment is over, then every man shall have praise of God.

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