Calvary Road Baptist Church

“The Second Benefit Of Being A Church Member: In The Place Of Service / Rewards”

First Corinthians 3.11-15

 

The message this evening will focus on one of the many benefits of being a faithful Church member. But what kind of benefit comes from being a faithful church member? It will be such a surprise to you that I need to explain a few things to you before I tell you.

Let me start with a Greek word, bema. In the Greek and Roman world of the first century, the word bema referred to “a dais or platform that required steps to ascend.”[1] The word is used in Matthew 27.19, John 19.13, Acts 12.21; 18.12,16ff, and 25.6,17. In Greek law courts, one [bema] was provided for the accuser, another for the accused; but in the New Testament the word designates the official seat of a judge, usually of the Roman governor; also of the emperor (Acts 25:10); then of God (Romans 14:10), of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).” So, in Matthew 27.19 and John 19.13, we read of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate sitting in judgment of the Lord Jesus Christ on “the judgment seat,” which would have been a chair of some kind on a raised platform. As well, in Acts 18.12, 16 and 17 we read of the judgment seat in Corinth that was presided over by a fellow named Gallio when the Apostle Paul was brought there on false charges.

In our day, the elevated desk and chair where a judge sits in a court of law would pass for a bema. So you see, a bema is an official seat where someone with governmental authority sits in judgment of others and makes binding rulings concerning them. Sometimes the bema is a place of punishment and sometimes the bema is a place of reward. But our concern is not the bema of any law court judge, either in the first century or the 21st century. Far more important to we who are Christians, the New Testament speaks of something called the Judgment Seat of Christ, or the bema of Christ.

We now look to Romans 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.”

 

The important truth to note in this verse is this:

 

“. . . we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”

 

We now consider Second Corinthians 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.”

 

There is obviously more detail in this verse. Why will every Christian appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ? To be judged according to everything you have done in the body, whether good or bad. Admittedly, these two verses give us little by way of details concerning the Judgment Seat of Christ. But both verses do establish something beyond doubt: Every Christian will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ someday, and at that time your deeds, your actions, will be judged by the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, according to what you have done, good or bad.

In this message, I will show you the criteria the Lord Jesus Christ will use to judge you who are Christians when you stand before His bhma. Some of you will be surprised by what you learn. Others of you will be very pleased by what you learn. It would not surprise me if some of you strongly disagree with what you discover God’s Word teaches.

Let me take you to a time in our future, just after the Judgment Seat of Christ. The place is in heaven. We consider one Christian, who will then be in heaven. His name was Carl, and he had been a wonderful Bible preacher. Genuinely converted at the age of 19, Carl went on to college and did rather well. Throughout his college years, he was faithful in his church and ended up marrying one of the women he went to college with who was also in the church. They made a spectacular couple and had kids. After working a secular job for a couple of years, Carl felt a strong call to the gospel ministry. So, with his pastor’s consent, he went to a nearby seminary and obtained an advanced degree in preparation for church ministry. Carl served as the pastor of a church for several years, but he and his wife found the rough and tumble of a pastor’s life pretty tough to handle. The anguish and heartache they felt from church member’s infighting and lack of commitment were not something he and his wife had expected when they entered the pastorate. It profoundly discouraged them to minister to those who came on Sunday mornings, but who never attended any of the other services. So, when a respected parachurch ministry offered him a well-paid position as a church financial expert and counseling consultant, he jumped at the chance. While Carl and his wife missed pastoral ministry a bit, they were glad their kids were spared the difficulties of being preacher’s kids in a church. The pay was good, they did not have to endure church splits or disgruntled members like their pastor friends did, and they found ministry with only committed Christians to be quite fulfilling. The years turned into decades, and the decades turned into an entire life spent involved in various parachurch ministries. Carl was an extremely well-respected Christian leader when he finally died of old age. But when the Rapture occurred and the Lord Jesus Christ caught up those Christians on earth who had not yet died, and together with those in heaven judged them at the Judgment Seat of Christ, Carl was surprised that, though he was thankful he was in heaven, he received no rewards from His Savior and Lord. He had expected, but did not hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

He had served God his entire adult life. He had witnessed to at least one person on almost every trip he had ever taken. He had counseled pastors and conducted seminars for Christians, held conferences for Christian leaders, and spoke to countless Bible college and seminary students. He had loved the Lord Jesus Christ during his time on earth. Why, then, did Carl receive no rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ? Second Timothy 2.5 declares,

 

“And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.”

 

The allusion in that verse is to the Olympic games. There will be no reward for the competitor who does not compete within the rules of the contest. John Gill writes,

 

“according to the laws and rules fixed for those exercises; so no man that calls himself a Christian, minister, or any other, can expect the crown of life, the prize of the high calling of God, except he runs the race set before him, in the right way . . . .”[2]

 

You see, Carl did not strive lawfully. He ignored that portion of God’s Word, which goes beyond the exhortations to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, paying no attention to those passages that give instruction concerning how and in what context the Lord Jesus Christ insists on being served.

Our text for this message is First Corinthians 3.11-15. When you find that passage, please stand and read along with me silently while I read aloud:

 

11    For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12    Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

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.

14    If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

15    If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

 

Allow me, please, to show you where Carl, our hypothetical but well-intentioned Christian, went wrong, and how to make sure you do not go wrong:

 

First, CONSIDER THE CONTEXT OF OUR PASSAGE

 

Any understanding of Paul’s first Corinthian letter must rely upon the realization that this epistle is written to a church congregation:

 

“Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours,”

 

First Corinthians 1.1-2.

Though Paul grants permission to make application to Christians everywhere, the truths contained in this book of the Bible cannot be divorced from the fact that it was written to a Church. You simply cannot separate Churches from the ministry of the Apostle Paul, from the writings of the Apostle Paul, from the thinking of the Apostle Paul. Though he was confronted by the risen and glorified Savior on the Damascus Road, and though he was guided to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and baptized by a man named Ananias, Saul of Tarsus must be seen as coming to Christ against the backdrop of a local church. Why so? Disciples are not disconnected from Churches in the Bible, and in the Bible, only Churches have the authority to baptize. Thus, though the explicit statements are not made, consistency demands that Saul came to Christ and was baptized within the scope and reach of a Church ministry in Damascus.

Reached for Christ through the ministry of a Church congregation (After all, would the Savior have used Ananias had he been a disobedient believer?), Paul then served in the Church of Antioch as a pastor, was sent out as a missionary by the Church at Antioch, and later planted Churches wherever he went, before coming back and reporting on his activities to the Church at Antioch.[3]

So, when Paul writes to the Corinthian congregation, he is not writing to nebulous and indistinct Christianity. He is not seeking to communicate with some ethereal notion of unaccountable and irresponsible Christianity that is so popular these days. No. He is writing to a Church. And if you will carefully read the Corinthian letters, you will see that he is writing about Church issues, Church problems, congregational matters.

Coming to First Corinthians 3.11-15, we simply must understand that the things Paul says in this passage have to do with a congregation. When he writes, “ye are God’s building,” in First Corinthians 3.9, he is addressing his comments to that congregation as distinct from all other Christians in the world; as distinct from himself. And when, in First Corinthians 3.16, he writes, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God,” he is, again, distinguishing that Church from all other Churches and all other Christians. So you see, our text is bracketed by remarks and comments that can only be concerned with that congregational entity, that Church, that body.

Do we want to benefit from what Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church? Then we will have to make application of his remarks to them to our own situation and setting since he did not write First Corinthians to Christians everywhere. Rather, he wrote to the Corinthians for Christians everywhere. That distinction must be understood and preserved in our thinking to rightly divide the Word of truth.

 

That Said, CONSIDER THE CONCEPT ADVANCED IN THE PASSAGE BEFORE US

 

Please read verses 11-15 with me again. As we read, I want you to look for Paul’s word pictures, so you will begin to grasp the concept he is presenting to his readers:

 

11    For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12    Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

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.

14    If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

15    If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

 

Key words in this passage are “foundation,” in verse 11, “build,” in verse 12, “foundation,” in verse 12, the building materials of “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble,” in verse 12, the “fire” that tests the quality of a man’s work, in verse 13, “receive a reward,” in verse 14, and the notion that if a man’s work is burned in the fire, though he will suffer loss he himself shall be saved, in verse 15.

Do you recognize that Paul’s imagery is of a temple? After all, he calls the Corinthian Church “God’s building,” in verse 9, refers to himself as “a wise masterbuilder,” in verse 10, points out that the Lord Jesus Christ is the “foundation,” in verse 10, and what would be more appropriate for a temple than the “gold, silver, precious stones” that are mentioned in verse 12. Then, in verse 16, the Corinthian congregation is identified as “the temple of God.” What does this passage refer to then, in light of these observations? Paul is likening the efforts of the Corinthian congregation members, under his direction, to the construction of a temple. It is not a physical, literal temple, mind you. It is a spiritual temple, a temple that is fashioned with labor and effort and prayers and ministry. If the building materials are spiritual and of high quality, they are likened to “gold, silver, precious stones.” But if the building materials consist of indifference, slothfulness, distraction, inattention, and carnality, then the effort (or lack of effort) is likened to “wood, hay, stubble.”

Keeping in mind that the temple is the very congregation of which those Corinthian Christians are a part, according to verses 9 and 16, Paul is informing the Corinthian Church members that they will be rewarded on the basis of the quality of the materials they have put into the building of their temple. Notice that no mention is made of any quantity of materials used, but of the quality of the materials used. Thus, whether the Christian has been endowed with great capacity for service, or with greatly diminished capacity for service, is of no consequence when judgment is finally made. The Lord Jesus Christ is interested only in each of you doing the very best you can do with the grace He has given you.

If your efforts at building the temple show that you were faithful in attendance, that you fervently prayed, that you led a spiritual devotional life, that you rendered service as unto the Lord, that you worked to get the lost under the sound of the gospel, and that you sought always to exalt and extoll the virtues of the Savior, then yours would be the materials of gold, silver and precious stones. But if you were unfaithful, without a decent prayer life, without a mind to glorify God or sincerely serve the Savior, missing most Church services, and not seeking to compel the lost to come in, then your building materials would not be suitable for a temple, but for a shanty, built with wood, hay, and stubble.

What must be kept in mind when considering this passage is that the rewards are not for effort in general. Neither are there rewards for sincerity that is genuine but misplaced. The rewards are for doing the right thing (building the temple, which is the Church congregation you are a part of), in the right way (with a life that seeks God’s ends and Christ’s glory).

 

Finally, CONSIDER THE INESCAPABLE CONCLUSIONS THIS PASSAGE LEADS US TO

 

First, the inescapable conclusion is that your efforts as a Christian will be judged. They will be judged by the Lord Jesus Christ, and He will judge them by fire to determine their quality. If your life’s work is of the right quality, gold, silver, precious stones, it will survive the fire, and you will be rewarded. That portion of your life’s work that is not of the right quality, the wood, hay, and stubble, will be consumed by the fire, leaving nothing to reward.

Second, the inescapable conclusion is that only your temple-building efforts will be judged worthy of reward. There is absolutely no mention in this passage (the most extensive passage in the entire Bible explaining the criteria by which rewards will be given) or anywhere else in the Bible, of any rewards being given for labor that is not connected with the building, the temple, the Church congregation. Thus, not only is there no suggestion given that involvement and ministry unconnected with the Church congregation will be rewarded but Second Timothy 2.5 strongly suggests otherwise:

 

“And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.”

 

Third, the inescapable conclusion is that the church is the temple of God that is being built. Therefore, rightly directed effort and Christian ministry should be related to the local Church. There is simply no example of service or any directive to serve found in the Word of God for Christian ministry that is not directed to, through, or from, a rightly constituted Church of Jesus Christ.

Fourth, the inescapable conclusion is that rewards must, therefore, be understood to be given by the Lord Jesus Christ at the Judgment Seat of Christ to those who are by then in heaven, and who rendered spiritual ministry in and through the local Church. Those Christians who do not serve in Churches, who are not subject to Church authority and discipline, who do not put forth the effort to build their Churches through evangelism, faithful attendance, and old fashioned hard work, are not only not found in the New Testament, but also seem to be excluded from any consideration for rewards if such Christians actually do exist.

 

Carl, you see, was a wonderful man. He was an exemplary Christian in almost every way. By virtually every standard and measure he strived to live a full and rich Christian life. There was only one thing wrong with Carl’s life, and what was wrong with his life was actually a very serious matter. When Carl turned his back on local Church ministry, when he forsook personal involvement in the Christian assembly, when he abandoned the communion of the congregation, he gave up whatever opportunity he had to strive lawfully to be crowned by the Savior at the Judgment Seat of Christ. At any time, he could have involved himself in Christian ministry after the New Testament pattern. He needed only to return to his local Church, join in and submit to that Church, and forsake the unscriptural and completely unauthorized activities of being a Christian-at-large in some parachurch ministry that has no scriptural authority to preach the gospel, or baptize new converts, or train and discipline members. Sadly, he did not.

Oh, I know that so many people, like Carl, see their involvement in parachurch ministries as somehow more sophisticated and superior to involvement in a lowly Church, where we slug it out from week to week with numbers of folks who are not very committed and operate on a shoestring budget. But it is the local Church that is authorized by God’s Word, which is God’s building in a spiritual sense, and is the temple of God. You see, the local congregation like ours is God’s plan A. There is no plan B.

Of course, the world certainly does not see it. But, then again, there is so much that they do not see. One of the most glaring oversights of those who pretend to be Christians, and sometimes even the occasional Christian who thinks he is a bit too good for ordinary churchgoing Christians, is that the local Church, the body of Christ, is not only the exclusive place where the Lord Jesus Christ wants you to serve Him, it is also the only place where the efforts of His people will be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

__________

[1] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 175.

[2] John Gill, The Baptist Commentary Series Volume I, John Gill’s Exposition Of The Old And New Testaments, Vol 9 (Paris, Arkansas: the Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., reprinted 2006), page 325.

[3] Acts 14.26-27

 

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org