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1 Corinthians 3:12-15, Matthew 6:19-20

The Bema Seat

Some time ago, I did a series during the summer called “I’m glad you asked.” I asked the congregation to submit their questions during the week, and I would do my best to answer them on Sunday in my sermon. I had more questions than I could answer in any one sermon. To make sure that everyone’s questions got answered, I dealt with each one of the questions in my daily devotions if they didn’t make it into my sermons. One of the first questions I received for that first sermon was, If we accept Jesus as our savior and have eternal life, why are we judged when we get to heaven, and what effect does our judgment have on getting into heaven?”

First, let me assure everyone that the Bible teaches clearly that Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of all who believe. No one who has placed their faith in Christ will be judged for their sins. The debt that we owe God as a result of our sins has been paid. Christians will not stand before the great judgment seat of God to answer for and face the penalty for their sins. Jesus, as he said on the cross, assured us that they were “paid in full.” Instead, all believers will stand before what Paul calls “The judgment seat of Christ” (see 2 Cor 5:10).  This is often called the “bema seat of Christ.” This judgment has no effect on our acceptance into heaven but is totally concerned with the rewards we earn in this life for our service. A key passage on this is 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. It says, “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.” One writer says, “The judgment seat does not involve a question of sin but one of service. The believer’s life will be examined and evaluated in regard to his faithfulness as a steward of the abilities and opportunities which God had entrusted to him. The primary purpose of the judgment seat of Christ is to reveal and review the Christian’s life and service and then to reward him for what God deems worthy of reward.”[1]

People are pardoned individually as they come to faith in Jesus. The result of the acceptance of God’s pardon offered in Christ is eternal life.  Rewards will be given out to every believer who serves Christ in this life at the judgment seat of Christ. Just as there are degrees of punishment in hell, so too are there degrees of rewards in heaven.  Each believer will receive the rewards he has earned for serving Christ in this life. Believers are always encouraged to live with an eternal perspective. In Matthew 6:19-20, Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

[1] Sailer, William, J. Creighton Christman, David C. Greulich, Harold P. Scanlin, Stephen J. Lennox, and Phillip Guistwite. 2012. Religious and Theological Abstracts. Myerstown, PA: Religious and Theological Abstracts.

Revelations 21:4, 2 Peter 3:9

He Will Wipe Away Tears

In life crises and suffering, As a Pastor, I would often hear voices of deep frustration and pain cry out “Why?” to God. I always preach a God who is loving, kind, good and has our best interest foremost in mind in all things. The scriptures are clear about the goodness of God. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus addresses the issue of God’s goodness and says, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Beyond the cry of pain and frustration comes the question of why there is any evil in the world. I often hear the argument that If God is sovereign and can do whatever He pleases, then why is there evil in the world? Surely, a God who is all-powerful could eliminate evil, and a God who is all-good would want to do so. Yet evil is not eradicated—it is alive and well on planet Earth. Hence, it would seem to follow that no such sovereign God exists. The argument goes, “Either God is not all good, or He is not all-powerful.”

I always remind those in tough times to remember that even though God has not yet vanquished evil, it does not mean He never will. The last two chapters of the Bible make it perfectly clear that God’s intention is to eradicate evil from the world completely. Second, God acts according to his infinite wisdom and divine nature. As the creator and sustainer, He knows much better than anyone the absolute best way to achieve the absolute best world. This is why Jesus said, “Only God is good.” Our relationship with God is based on our recognition of His divine goodness and our trusting Him to always have our best interest foremost in mind. That’s really what faith is all about. The author of Hebrews reminds us that without faith, it is impossible to please God. I’d say we can never please God without trusting him through circumstances and situations that are painful and don’t make sense to us. Third, God is not a tyrant. He did not create automatons who robotically obey God. He created humans with free will. He will not violate his creation by forcing His will on anyone. The greatest value of God is “Love.” We see that frequently affirmed in the Bible, but love is only love when offered freely. You cannot force anyone to love. You cannot take love from anyone.

Peter explains to us why God has allowed so much evil for so long. He says in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God is an ever-good God. God is an ever-loving God, God is a patient God. It will not go on like this forever.  John tells us in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” We need to follow the Psalmist’s advice (Psalm 62:8), “Trust God, my friends, and always tell him each one of your concerns. God is our place of safety.”

1 Samuel 3:18, Various

Let It Be

At the beginning of 1 Samuel, there was a famine of the Word of the Lord. He was silent because of the failure of the priesthood to live up to their responsibility to God’s people. The Lord broke his silence by calling out to Samuel. Samuel thought Eli was calling him, and he ran to see what the old Priest wanted. The Word that came to Samuel was a prophecy about the demise of Eli and his house. It was not a pleasant message & Samuel did his best to keep from delivering it. But Eli insisted on hearing the truth. Samuel finally delivered it with all its condemnation to Eli. Verse 13 gives us the brunt of that message from the Lord to Eli. It says, “And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.” Eli was full of problems. He had more weaknesses than the average man, and many a preacher and teacher will point each of them out to us. But I can’t help but marvel at his godly response to the catastrophic message Samuel gave him. He simply says, in verse 18,  “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him.”

Many of the commentators argue that it’s not a positive response, but I’d rather not see it that way.  I like to see Eli as a man resigned to accept God’s will regardless of what it is. I like to think that amidst his many life failures, he still acknowledges God’s sovereignty and submits himself graciously to God’s will. Unlike Saul, who tries to kill David, Eli blesses Samuel and surrenders to the inevitability of God’s will in all the circumstances of his life. If this is accurate, we might compare Eli in some sense to Job. “Naked came I into the world, naked from it I must go.  The Lord gives, and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord. Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”  When Jacob is faced with the demand to send Benjamin back to Egypt with his brothers to face the most powerful man in Egypt, it takes some time, but he finally comes around.  He entrusts Benjamin to his sons and says, “May God Almighty give you mercy as you go before the man…”  He did not realize that the “man” was his beloved son Joseph.  “…so that he will release Simeon and let Benjamin return.”  But the real comment follows, “…But if I must lose my children, so be it.”

The Beatles sang “Let It Be.” It was from Mary’s response to the Angel’s declaration that she would be the mother of the Messiah as a virgin. She said, “Let it be to me according to thy will.”  That’s exactly where God wanted Jacob. That’s exactly where God wanted Eli. I think it’s exactly where God wants us. Whatever the trial in life we face, we need to submit it to God “almighty” and trust Him for the result. We should say along with Jacob, Eli, and Mary! “So be it!” “Let it be to me according to thy will.” We should sing with the Beatles, “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me speaking words of wisdom, let it be, let it be…let it be…. “

1 Samuel 3:1f, Amos 8:11-12

A Famine In The Land

Chapter 3 of 1st Samuel begins with a sad state of affairs. It says, “The Word of the Lord was rare in those days.”  It’s really sad because we find that there was an awful lot of religious activity taking place, and the Priests and Levites were busy with the service around the Tabernacle and making sacrifices and all the other religious activity, but God, for the most part, was silent. One commentary suggests that it was “Because of the hardness of heart among the people of Israel and the corruption of the priesthood. God will speak and guide when His people seek Him, and when His ministers seek to serve Him diligently.”[1] God spoke through his prophets and priests in those days, but they were corrupt. One of the most important tasks of the priesthood was to intercede with God on behalf of the people by way of prayer and sacrifice and to bring to God the needs of the people. They were to guide people to God and to help them cultivate their personal relationship with Him. Eli and his family of priests had failed the people. Instead of leading people to God, they were using their office to their own benefit.

Then, we see that the silence is broken in the first ten verses of Chapter Three. Because of the sin of Eli’s sons at Shiloh, God stopped talking to His people. It was at Shiloh, however,  that the word of the Lord came to Samuel. The “Word of the Lord” came to Samuel four times. Samuel thought it was Eli calling him. One of the marks of a faithful servant is an attentive ear and an immediate response. He rises each time and runs to Eli. Even though Eli was a dreadful example of what a man of God should be, young Samuel submitted totally to his authority. Because Samuel was faithful to his earthly master, even though he was an undeserving one, he became a mighty instrument in God’s hand.

By the beginning of the next chapter, “The Word of the Lord” was going out from Samuel to all of Israel. As Reid observes, “What started with a spiritual famine became a flood of spiritual wealth and productivity. God, in his grace, fulfilled his people’s greatest need—his word. For God knows that his people do not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from his mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3).”[2] Amos, Chapter 8, Verses 11-12, prophesied a great silence from heaven also. “Amos says, Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.” There were four hundred silent years between Malachi’s prophecy of the coming of John the Baptist and His arrival, pronouncing the Messianic arrival of Jesus. But Jesus is God’s Word, become flesh. Jesus offered the woman the well water that would quench her eternal thirst for God. He explained to his disciples that He, Himself, was the bread of life that comes down from heaven. It, and only it, will completely satisfy man’s thirst for God.

[1] Guzik, David. 2013. 1 Samuel. David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible. Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

[2] Reid, Andrew. 2008. 1 & 2 Samuel: Hope for the Helpless. Reading the Bible Today Series. Sydney, South NSW: Aquila Press.

1 Samuel 2:1f

A Reversal Of Fortunes

When God blesses Hannah with her son, she keeps her promise. She does so with great rejoicing. She even sings a famous song of praise that makes up most of chapter 2 of 1st Samuel. I don’t want to quote the whole song, but let me give you a summary of what she praises God for. She sings about God’s omnipotence. He knows everything, including each person’s situation. She also praises His Holiness. God is always right and righteous in all of His decisions. She praises Him for His provision. He lavishly bestows his blessings on the land. He also protects His people.  Hannah argues that she’s a recipient of all these blessings from God.  God took her from a barren older woman to the mother of the leading prophet of Israel. This is the key to her worship of God. He reverses the fortunes of those who love him.  He also reverses the fortunes of the wicked in the world as well.

God delights in reversing the fortunes of the faithful and the faithless. If you study the book of Joshua, we see two characters that explain this proclivity of God. First, we meet Rahab. She’s not an Israelite, but she is blessed for her identification with the Israelites and even finds her line in the line of the Messiah. Her fortune is totally reversed. Instead of dying with the enemies of God’s people, she becomes one of them. Then, we meet Achan in chapter seven of Joshua. He’s a flesh and blood Israelite. But he betrays the trust given to him and steals at the battle of Jericho to advance his own position among his people. He is caught, and his position is reversed. Instead of celebrating the victory with God’s people, he is among the enemies of God who died at Jericho. His position was totally reversed.  Another biblical example is Esther. Chapter two of the book shows her as an orphaned alien who is elevated to queen of the Persian empire. Notice that the enemy of God’s people in that story is a man named Haman, who attempts to have Mordecai hung on a scaffold he had built specifically for that purpose. Haman went from prized royal advisor to executed traitor.

For those of us who often feel weak and powerless in a world that seems so strong and competent, we can find real hope in the fact that God delights to bring down the high and raise up the low. God seems to love reversing situations that appear to be irreversible.  He did it with Abraham! He did it with Isaac. He did it with Jacob. He did it with Joseph. He did it with Moses. He did it with Jesus at the resurrection. He will do it for you and me also. He promises us the same kind of reversal of fortune in that we, too, will have our death reversed and joined together with Jesus for eternal life. This is going to be the greatest reversal of fortune for those who believe in Jesus. “Though he was dead,” Jesus said of Lazarus, “Yet shall he live.”

Colossians 4:8, Proverbs 12:18

Healing Words

Paul instructs the Colossians to practice gracious speech “always.” That’s how he begins verse 6 of Chapter 4. It says, “Let your speech always be gracious.” He adds an interesting phrase to finish the verse and his exhortation. He goes on and says, “seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” What does speech that is seasoned with salt sound like? A short perusal of the use of the word “salt” in the New Testament suggests that salt contains purifying, perpetuating, and antiseptic qualities. In coming to grips with this exhortation in my life, I believe that the “purity” of our speech refers to thoughtfulness. Salt was part of nearly every sacrifice in the Leviticus system. “Holiness” was essential! After many years in the Navy and both Mediterranean and Western Pacific cruises, I’ve heard and used every “unclean” word in the human language. My life was seasoned with the wrong kind of spices. You’ve heard it said, “he cusses like a sailor.” Well, I was a sailor. We say once a sailor, always a sailor. So, you could say that I am a role model. But that’s not the kind of role model I want to be. Sadly, when I’m not thoughtful, the spices from my old life will still season my speech. I have to remember that impure sacrifices to the Lord are unacceptable.

The preservation quality of salt often refers to the Christians’s influence on a sinful society. Our presence, values, morals, votes, candidates, opinions, e-mails, and other legal and civic activities can retard the deterioration of society. I’ve always thought it a bit ironic that when Abraham dickered with God over the preservation of Sodom & Gomorrah, there were not even ten righteous people to be found in the entire city. That’s because Lot, his wife, and his children were not the “salt” they were supposed to be. When Lot’s wife turned back in longing for the sinful life of Sodom, God turned her into a pillar of “salt.” When we tour Israel, there is a pillar near the Dead Sea that’s called “Lot’s wife.” We don’t know if that’s real or not, but the idea of Lot and his family not being the “salt of the world” for their fellow citizens in Sodom resulted in his wife being turned into salt. Is that Irony?

The last quality of salt you find highlighted in the Bible is its “antiseptic” quality. There should be some kind of “healing” character to it. People should always feel somewhat better from having spoken to us. They should have gathered something: not only positive instruction but coming into contact with us ought to do them some good and to make them feel better. I think that is what Solomon had in mind when he wrote in Proverbs 12:18, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” David Jeremiah tells of Larry Dossey’s study on the power of “healing words.” “One of the most significant studies he cites was carried out by a doctor in 1988. In this experiment, 393 people in the coronary unit of a hospital were divided into two groups. Half the group was prayed for faithfully by a group of devout Christians, while the other half of the group was not prayed for. Those who were prayed for fared significantly better. The study cited only two explanations: chance coincidence or the fact that prayer really works. They figured the possibility of chance being the answer as 1 in 10,000. So unless you think that study stumbled into a 1 in 10,000 chance solution, it is probably better to assign the positive results to prayer. So significant were the results that the writer said if it had been a drug that caused the positive benefit instead of prayer, it would have been labeled as a breakthrough and rushed into medical use immediately.”5

5 Larry Dossey, Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine (San Francisco: Harper, 1993).

Colossians 4:6-9, Proverbs 22:11

Gracious Speech

How we present ourselves to the world is something we should pay attention to. The Apostle Paul thought that making a good first impression was important. Speaking about how we present ourselves to the world, Paul writes in Colossians 4:5-6, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Notice the word “always.” Our speech should always be “gracious.” My speech is often graceless. I regret to confess that my tongue has always been my greatest weakness. It gets me in trouble more than anything else. What I say, how I say it, and when I say it all contribute to what might be called “graceless” speech. We need to be consistent in gracious speech at all times. Whereas in verse 5, Paul seems to be addressing first impressions. In verse 6, he stresses a continued, consistent testimony.

The longer you know someone, the more you find about them to dislike. We all have worts, scars, pimples, etc., that we like to hide from those on whom we make first impressions. But sooner or later, they become apparent. You know the old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt…” There is some truth to that. The true uniqueness of Christ was that the closer you got to Him, the more you saw of him, the better he looked.  Not by the way he dressed because his dress was totally unremarkable. That’s a good lesson for us regarding our grooming standards and dress codes. When facing his many accusers, Jesus challenged them to examine his life to see if there were any deficiencies. There were no sins to accuse Jesus of. They had to make up charges against him. Pilate answered all the religious leaders when he said of Jesus, “I find no flaw in Him.”

I’m not always sure what “gracious speech” sounds like. That’s where wisdom comes in. Paul says we should “walk in wisdom” before we speak. Hendriksen describes what gracious speech is, “Perhaps the best description of gracious speech is found in the words of Paul himself: “speaking truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), and the best example in the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).”[1] According to James, there isn’t anything more powerful than the tongue, like the bridle on a horse. It directs where he goes. Like the rudder on a ship, it will steer the whole ship. James concludes that there is nothing more difficult than controlling one’s tongue. The tongue is my greatest challenge. One of my favorite memory verses is from Proverbs 22:11. It reads, “He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.” Jesus is my King, and I sure want to be friends with Him.

[1] Hendriksen, William, and Simon J. Kistemaker. 1953–2001. Exposition of Colossians and Philemon. Vol. 6. New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Colossians 4:5

The First Impression

In Colossians, Chapter 3, Paul tells us to take off our old man and put on the new man. We should put on, “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” Believe it or not, these things are immediately visible to others around us. Our demeanor and our appearance make our “clothing” readily apparent. Paul turns to the importance of our dress in regard to outsiders.  This is not a derogatory term, as some suggest.  It probably refers to those not in our group. Of course, that’s what we’d naturally get from the word “outsider.”

Verse 5 of Chapter 4 teaches us that we should “walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” “Walk” is often used in reference to conduct or lifestyle. We should live our lives thoughtfully around others. We should be exemplary in every area of our lives. The King James correctly translates the next phrase “making the best use of the time,” as “redeeming” the time. But the idea is the same. It means every contact counts. I think Paul is emphasizing the well-worn saying, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Ben Johnson uses John Wayne as an example. He says, “John Wayne’s dramatic rifle-slinging entrance in John Ford’s 1939 classic film Stagecoach is frequently cited as launching his career. Before, he was a B-list Western actor. Afterward, having been introduced to mainstream audiences, he went on to become one of the most iconic actors in cinema history. In other words, first impressions matter.” Ben goes on to point out how important first impressions are by pointing to the fact that David, in the Old Testament, makes his screen debut when he stands up to Goliath. That remains the thing he is remembered for in spite of the many failures that followed.

Let me get real personal. People’s first impressions are always visual. The most immediate first impression we make on others in our first contact is our dress and appearance. One writer said, “The impressions made in the first three seconds are so vivid that it takes another three minutes to add fifty percent more impression—whether negative or positive. Since those first three seconds are almost entirely visual, our appearance determines the immediate receptivity of our audience. So if we make a poor first impression, even before we open our mouth, it takes a long time and a lot of work to overcome it.”

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