Divine Assessment and Witness
John Heading, Aberystwyth
Gospel initiative and zeal demand that the preacher, as well as presenting salvation, should also present the alternative, namely the final judgment at the great white throne. Nothing is hid that shall not be manifest in that day, for the works of unbelieving men are evidently being recorded in heaven in preparation for that time when the books shall be opened, "and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works", Rev. 20. 12. Believers, on the other hand, are quietly thankful that, through the work of Christ, they have been spared the terror of that solemn divine pronouncement, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity", Matt. 7. 23. At the same time, the Lord's people realize in a measure that they too will be subject to the divine assessment after the Lord's return to take them to be for ever with Himself. This will not, of course, be an assessment resulting in judgment, but rather in reward, for we all hope to hear the Lord's own blessed words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant", 25. 21. The Lord spoke several times in His parables and teaching about this event, so His disciples afterwards had no excuse to live their lives in a kind of vacuum as if this judgment seat of Christ would never occur, or as if it were too far distant in the future to have any present reality or any practical consequences in Christian life, conduct and service. In particular, the apostle Paul not only preached the judgment seat of Christ as a doctrine, but also realized that the record in heaven was constantly being kept up to date in readiness for that day. Moreover, he was not ashamed to own in several of his Epistles that he as an apostle was not immune both from the divine process of establishing the record, and from the solemnity of appearing before the Lord in that day with his own personal record available in detail.
We shall therefore trace the four principal references in Paul's Epistles to the judgment seat of Christ; these are:
Assessment of character of service, 1 Cor. 3. 13-15; Assessment of motives for service, 1 Cor. 4. 5; Assessment of character of conduct, 2 Cor. 5. 9-10; Assessment of motives for conduct, Rom. 14. 10-12.
These may be illustrated in many ways from Paul's experiences, but we may concentrate upon the four occasions when Paul recognized that God was witnessing various aspects of his life. These four occasions fit in roughly with the four aspects of assessment stated above, and touch upon the apostle's movements in his service for the Lord. These are:
1 Thessalonians 2. 5 (and 10), "God is witness"; this refers to Paul having come, and deals with Conduct.
Romans 1. 9, "God is my witness"; this refers to Paul's desire to come, and deals with Continuation.
Philippians 1. 8, "God is my record", or properly, "God is my witness"; this refers to Paul unable to comes and deals with Confirmation.
2 Corinthians 1. 23, "I call God for a record upon my soul", or properly, "I call God for a witness upon my soul"; this refers to Paul not intending to come, and deals with Correction.
As the Father beheld the inner motives and outward deeds of His Son when He was on earth, thereby bringing perfect pleasure and satisfaction to His heart, so we likewise should bring forth that fruit unto God. Nathanael was surprised that the Lord had known him prior to their first meeting, John 1. 47-50, but today it should be our confession that the Lord witnesses and records our motives, conduct and service.
Assessment of Character of Service: "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 ... he shall receive a reward . . . he shall suffer loss", 1 Cor. 3. 13-15. The distinction had to follow from Paul's previous subdivision of believers into two classes, namely those who were spiritual and those who were carnal, 3. 1. Those who planted and watered, laying the one foundation which was the Lord Jesus Christ, were spiritual; those who introduced envy, strife and divisions, giving the impression that they were walking as unconverted men, were carnal. Their character would then determine the character of their service. A good workman would produce good work of lasting value such as "gold, silver, precious stones". A bad workman could not produce good work; his work would be fleeting likened to "wood, hay, stubble". Men may be satisfied with their work while they are still in the flesh, but the divine assessment is similar to fire - the good work abides yielding reward, but the useless work is destroyed and the workman, although saved by grace, suffers the loss of a reward that properly should be his due.
Illustration. Paul recalled the Conduct of his service, having come to Thessalonica; "Not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness", 1 Thess. 2. 4-5. Paul's whole conduct amongst them had been to present the gospel as Christ would have presented it. Love, gentleness, spirituality manifested themselves throughout, as he desired their salvation and edification. God witnesses exactly how we serve Him, and cannot be deceived by practices that are merely the product of the flesh.
Assessment of Motives for Service: "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", 1 Cor. 4. 5. It is not only a question of how we do what we do, but also why we do what we do. Hence the counsels of the hearts will be manifest in that day. The present assessment of motives can be very damaging. In man's day, the Corinthians were judging the apostle's motives, and being carnal, they were judging wrongly. Paul himself was honest in his own self-assessment - he knew nothing against himself. But what mattered to him was that the Lord would be his Judge, not in man's day but when "the Lord come". His personal assessment of his heart and faithfulness did not justify him; rather he trusted to have "praise of God" in that day of divine assessment. Of course, the apostle was writing like this so that the Corinthians could perceive how far short of spiritual standards they came. Their motives were to be full, rich and dominating in authority one over the other; they worked to this end to obtain a fleshly award and satisfaction in this life, but such motives were merely the hidden things of darkness.
Illustration. Paul recalled the Continuation of his motives, desiring to come to Rome: "For God is my witness . . , that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers ... for I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift", Rom. 1. 9-13. In nearly every Epistle, the apostle claimed to thank God without ceasing and to pray without ceasing. Here was ample continuity in his prayers, showing the motives and reasons behind his desire to come to Rome. It was not to enhance the scope of his apostolic endeavours, namely to serve so as to be seen by men. His motives were the gain of fruit, of spiritual gift, establishment and mutual faith. He was interested in the Romans' spiritual life; God knew this and to prove the reality of Paul's claim He ensured that the apostle arrived in Rome as a prisoner rather than as a free man.
Assessment of Character of Conduct: "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", 2 Cor. 5. 10. In chapters 1 to 9 of this Epistle, Paul writes to those who once again accepted his apostolic authority, while in chapters 10-13 he writes to the minority who still had not repented of their carnality. Hence in the first part he uses the plural form "we", showing in many different ways the conduct expected of a spiritual believer. For example, in chapters 1, 2 and 7 we find the emotions of sorrow and joy displayed; in chapters 8-9 we find principles of Christian giving; in chapter 6 we find twentyeight features of a separated minister acceptable to God, Such conduct will be disclosed at the judgment seat of Christ in that resurrection day when mortality shall be swallowed up in life. Then believers will receive according to their conduct -not in a judicial sense, for all such matters were cleared at the cross of the Lord Jesus, but in the sense of a crown of righteousness being the portion of those who have fought a good fight and kept the faith.
Illustration. Paul recalled Confirmation arising from his conduct; he was unable to come to Philippi, yet he wrote, "God is my witness, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ, and this I pray . . .", Phil. 1. 8. In prison in Rome, Paul could no longer move about amongst the assemblies, yet in his restriction he still conducted himself aright -God was witness of this fact. To unbelievers, the defence of the gospel was before him, but to believers, it was the confirmation of the gospel in their experience. Yet his life went beyond service, for later he wrote, "to me to live is Christ", v. 21; his whole manner of life found its centre in Christ. The true character of conduct as witnessed by God could only have its fullest expression, whether the apostle was in liberty or in bondage, when this divine focus could mould the whole life.
Assessment of Motives for Conduct: "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... So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God", Rom. 14. 10-12. Why do we do what we do in relation to our fellow-brethren in Christ? As in 1 Corinthians 8, so in this chapter. One brother thought it right to eat food that previously had been in an idol's temple, and another brother thought it right to avoid such food. The former, feeling that he had faith to perceive that the meat was meat whatever had happened ritualistically, judged the latter brother for his apparent lack of faith in feeling that the meat had really been contaminated. If such situations lead to unkindly thoughts, deeds and words of judgment, then the motives of the man satisfied with his faith are all wrong. One may be destroying the work of God instead of being engaged with tilings that "edify another", Rom. 14. 19. If we feel that we have liberty in a certain course of action, then this is a personal faith before God; there can be no question of trying to bulldoze another brother into copying us in the matter. Is our motive merely to boost our own status before other men, or is it to help those whom we regard as weaker in the faith?
Illustration. Paul recalled Correction in association with his intention not to come to Corinth; "I call God for a witness upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth", 2 Cor. 1. 23. When they had received the first Epistle, the Corinthians had accused Paul of false motives in his plans to visit them again in Corinth. He deals with this accusation in verses 15-20, implying that there was no lightness according to the flesh in his plans to come to Corinth; rather he had one plan to do the will of God, even if men may falsely judge. In fact his motive was plain; he would delay coming to Corinth until he knew of their repentance, else he would have to come with an apostolic rod, not sparing them, 1 Cor. 4. 21. Rather, he desired to come with confidence when this had been regained, 2 Cor. 7. 16.
These principles and illustrations thereby apply to every phase of our lives, conduct and service. We live under the divine scrutiny of love; the assessment of the future is formed in the present, yet it has eternal repercussions. To the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, the Lord said firstly, "I know thy works", and secondly, "To him that overcometh will I give".