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According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:10–15)
We don’t know the specific details, but from what we do know of the Corinthian church, glib, shallow, flashy, self-serving ministry may have been the problem. This warning is just as applicable today as it was in the first century. Some people in the church today are not serving Christ at all; others are poorly grounded and caught up in various religious fads, fleshly excitement, worldly thinking, or erroneous teaching. They may be saved, but their ministries are unworthy of reward.
Paul reinforced his warning to the Corinthians, saying, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). The aspect of Christ’s final judgment, to which Paul here referred, is not their salvation, which he considered secure. Rather, it is the fruit of their salvation, their life and service to the Lord after being saved. Paul Barnett says, “The teaching about the judgment seat before which all believers must come reminds us that we have been saved, not for a life of aimlessness or indifference, but to live as to the Lord (5:15).”7 God calls us to glorify Him by bearing much fruit in a life of love (John 15:8). Barnett continues, “The sure prospect of the judgment seat reminds the Corinthians—and all believers—that while they are righteous in Christ by faith alone, the faith that justifies is to be expressed by love and obedience (Gal. 5:6; Rom. 1:5), and by pleasing the Lord (2 Cor 5:9).”8 At the judgment seat, the Lord will examine the works of His people and confer or withhold rewards accordingly. Lest we wonder, His rewarding of our works does not conflict with His grace. As Calvin observed: “There is no inconsistency in saying that he rewards good works provided we understand that that implies no denial of the fact that it is by free grace that we obtain eternal life.”9 To Paul the judgment seat of Christ was a serious matter that helped motivate him to live a life that was pleasing to God (2 Cor. 5:9). It can have the same effect on us. Periodically pondering the totally unwarranted grace and love God has poured upon us and our accountability to Him will propel us forward in grateful service to Him.
Home at Last
The book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, concludes with a picture that each of us should hold fast in our hearts and minds. It portrays the end of this present evil age of sin, suffering, and death and the final triumph of the kingdom of our God and His Christ. God’s work began in a garden and has now come to fulfillment in a city, the city of God. As we enter that city in our resurrected bodies, we are coming home at last, welcomed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, greeted by the holy angels and joyously united with all of God’s people. There we shall enjoy everlasting life in a world of love.
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