Four View-Points of the Judgement-Seat
Dr. John Boyd, Holywood, N. Ireland
It seems fitting to follow Dr. Boyd’s comforting message on the High-Priestly work of Christ (Nov./Dec. issue) with his challenging treatment of the solemn subject of the Judgment-Seat of Christ. We fear that, too often, this subject is regarded chiefly from a doctrinal standpoint, whilst its practical and personal implications are neglected. “We shall all stand before the Judgment-Seat of Christ”—our behaviour in the church of God would be transformed if we walked and worked in the clear light of this sobering fact.
(ROM. 14. 10-12; 1 COR. 3. 10-15; 4. 1-5; 2COR. 5. 9, 10)
These are the four main accounts of the Judgment-Seat of Christ, each giving a different view-point of the judgment, viz.:—
- Rom. 14—The Individuality of the Judgment— each one for himself.
- 1 Cor. 3—The Nature of the Judgment—a thorough testing of works.
- 1 Cor. 4—The Basis of the Judgment—a manifestation of secrets.
- 2 Cor. 5—The Purpose of the Judgment—a display of character.
Rom. 14. 10-12. The theme of this chapter is the regard of brethren one for the other. A brother strong in faith, one rejoicing in the liberty of the gospel, ought not to receive a weak brother merely with a view to settle points on which they differ. A weak brother does not fully appreciate his liberty, but tends to Judaism, with its scruples about foods and Sabbath-keeping.
The strong brother must not set his weak brother at nought. This leads to pride. On the other hand the weak brother must not judge the strong. “Judge” here includes passing sentence, and its execution.
God has received both, v. 3, and He is able to make each stand, v. 4. Thus neither should seek to criticize the other’s way of thinking concerning matters not contrary to sound doctrine, nor affecting the moral conduct of believers. Each is free to hold his own opinions; each is answerable only to his Lord; each should be fully persuaded in his own mind about his beliefs. This difference of opinion must always be conformed to God’s will, for to Him we live or die.
In v. 10 the apostle says why we should not judge nor despise our brethren. All, weak and strong, will stand before the Judgment-Seat of Christ (of God, R.V.).
This appearing is in keeping with Isa. 45. 23, which Paul cites, and from which he draws conclusions. Each one of us concerning himself shall give account to God. None will miss the testing of that day, nor escape the searching eyes of the Lord as he presents himself for judgment. The individuality of the judgment is stressed here, as the words “each one of us” (R.V.) stand in the position of emphasis in the verse. Thus we see why each should be fully persuaded in his own mind, v. 5, for each must stand in awful loneliness before the Divine scrutiny. There will be none to prompt, and none upon whom to lay blame. Each will give his own account, not his brother’s. He will explain his own attitude to the Judge. The word here translated “account” is logos, lit., a word. It expresses the thought of the mind, the reason. Compare Acts 19. 40. At the Judgment-Seat each will explain to God the reasons for his attitude of mind towards things on earth. Finally, the account must be given to God; to none other are we obliged to answer; none other has a right to demand an explanation of the workings of our minds.
1 Cor. 3. 10-15. Paul in 1 Cor. 3 deals with the tendency in the Corinthian church to form opinions concerning the relative merits of teachers. The various teachers are fellow-workers, all doing the work of God. God works through them, and He will reward the labourers. Then follows, in vv. 10-15, advice to would-be teachers, to labour keeping the Judgment-Seat in view.
The picture Paul would set before his readers is this. A town surveyor wants houses built. He specifies the foundation, but leaves to the builders the choice of what the finished house should be like. To one is given the task of laying the foundation, but to different builders the erection of the superstructure. Some build beautiful temple-like structures, with gold, silver and marble much in evidence. Others merely use the foundations upon which to place shacks, with wood, hay and stubble for building material. These look big, but cannot withstand adverse conditions. When the work is finished it is inspected—the test applied being fire. What survives is paid for. What burns is lost; it has been wasted effort.
The key to the passage is v. 9, “Ye are God’s building,” not in the sense of a finished house, but one in the course of erection. God is the surveyor. The building was commenced when the Corinthians were converted, the foundation being Jesus Christ, v. 11. Paul laid this foundation at Corinth.
Apollos and other teachers had built the superstructure, the spiritual and moral fruits produced in the believers by the teaching. There are many ways in which the superstructure may be added, and Paul warns the teachers to take heed how they build. Some build into it gold, silver and precious stones. They edify the church by their teaching, conversation and example, and succeed in developing in it a healthy spiritual life, abounding in sanctification and love. Others build wood, hay and stubble. These preach to attract the crowds; they tickle the ears with oratory; they produce only carnal Christians, characterized by jealousy and strife.
The Judgment-Seat of Christ will be the testing time. The work will be tested by fire, figurative of the allsearching judgment of the eyes of the Lord (Rev. 1. 14), whose attributes are omniscience and consuming holiness. Each worker will receive his own reward, according to his own work, v. 8.
Verse 13 tells us when and how this judgment will take place. “The Day” is the Day of Christ. It will be during the Parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 3. 13). The results of the trial are seen in vv. 14 and 15. What stands the test will be rewarded; what fails will be disapproved, and will receive no reward. He who had built with wood, hay and stubble will suffer loss, even though he himself will be saved. His eternal security will never be in doubt, for it was settled when he trusted Christ. The Judgment-Seat of Christ has nothing to do with that. The apostle likens such a teacher to a builder who, while putting the finishing touches to his task, is overtaken by fire. He escapes with his life, but fails to save the building. He suffers the disappointment of seeing his work all go up in smoke. Had he put better materials into the building, the fire would have left it unscathed.
Paul would teach believers not to set too high an estimate upon their teachers. Those whose work brings them into the limelight now, may be shown to have nothing that will abide the fire in a coming day. Those whose work today is despised, may well be proven at the Judgment-Seat to be worthy of reward, for their work is more solid, and will stand God’s test. Let each of us who seek to build up God’s people take heed how we build.
1 Cor. 4. 1-5. Paul would have believers regard those who labour among them as ministers of Christ. The word translated “minister” here is lit., an under-rower, that is, a sailor serving under another’s command. So teachers have the honour of serving under Christ. Paul also calls them stewards, lit., house-managers, administrators of something not their own. They teach deep things, even the way of salvation, not their own plan, but God’s, 2. 7.
The steward, once he is commissioned by God, is required to be faithful to his trust. Whilst faithfulness is essential, it is not in man’s province to assess it. This belongs to God. Though not despising the judgment of man, Paul considers it of little weight compared with God’s. He places little value on the assembly’s (“you,” v. 3), or on any human judgment (lit., man’s day, that is, a human tribunal). Judgment in this verse means the critical examination of the qualities of a servant of God.
Paul was not concerned about human criticism. He did not attach much value to his own evaluation of himself. Whilst his conscience did not upbraid him, yet he could not pronounce himself perfect. His conscience was not a safe guide. No human judge is competent. He who makes the only valid examination is the Lord (Rom. 14. 12).
Infallible judgment presupposes three things: (a) The proper time, when the acts of life are added up, and seen in all their fulness, (b) The bringing to light of things done secretly, both bad and good, (c) The manifestation of the motives that prompted service. The word here translated “counsels” means the secret thoughts from which active volition proceeds. The Lord alone knows the motives and the secret things; He alone can make a true estimate of the work done.
Paul contrasts the Corinthians’ criticism of their teachers with the results of God’s investigation into their work. From God each man will have praise, each his own, and not what rightfully belongs to another.
As the Corinthians were placing too high a value on some teachers, Paul in chapter 3 mentions the severity of the test with which their works will be proven. But in the fourth chapter, when he is warning against the tendency to belittle the teacher, he indicates the praise that God will bestow on each one, despite what men think.
2 Cor. 5. 1-11. In 2 Cor. 4 Paul had been mentioning the affliction associated with his work of serving in the gospel. He calls it light affliction, and contrasts it with the abounding glory of the life to come. He goes on in chapter 5 to refer to the eternal state, when he will have left his earthly body, and will have gone to be with Christ. In view of this prospect he is ambitious (R.V. marg.) to be well-pleasing to his Lord. The word here translated “ambitious” is that used of the Greek athlete striving for the laurel wreath.
In v. 10 Paul gives the reason why he wants to be well-pleasing to his Lord, namely, because in company with all believers he will be made manifest at the Judgment-Seat of Christ. “Manifest” suggests that the inmost soul will be displayed before all. The character will be seen; all false pretences will drop off; the believer will appear exactly as he is before God. The purpose of this manifestation is that each one may receive, not for the things done, but the things done, in the body. This is not his reward, but the display of his character, what he has done in his body here, whether good or bad. It is the handing back to a believer of his fully-developed character.
Paul regarded the Judgment-Seat of Christ with fear. He had apparently been accused of handling the Word of God deceitfully, 4. 2. This accusation he refutes by reminding them that he kept the fear (R.V.) of the Lord always before him in his work of persuading men. This fear produced a great sense of accountability to God; it was manifest to God even then; Paul hoped that it would be manifest to their consciences also.
(We regret that we have been compelled to reserve the concluding part of this message for the next issue. It will be entitled “Deductions concerning the Judgment-Seat.”