Wood, Hay, Stubble – Divine Assessment

It is inevitable that particular scriptures should have different emphases at different times of life and in different circumstances. To the young, facing life with the thrill of Christian service, such passages as Joshua 1. 7, “be thou strong and very courageous”, comes with challenging force, and they are stirred to attempt great things for God. When one gets toward the other end of life, however, with the main body of Christian service in the background, when physical and mental powers begin to decline, other more comforting scriptures begin to take prominence. The truth of “The Lord is my shepherd”, Psa. 23. 1, is enjoyed more fully, and the promise in John 14. 3, “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself’, has deeper meaning. Some scriptures, of course, well-known throughout life, now come with a sharper edge as we get nearer to the time when they will be fulfilled in personal experience, and it is one of these that is the subject of this short article.

The fact that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”, 2 Cor. 5. 10, has been known through a long life of Christian service, but one questions whether the full import of this scripture has been rightly appreciated. The testing at the judgment seat of building materials used in the local church, 1 Cor. 3. 13, has been a familiar concept. But toward the close of service on earth, with the realization that soon these truths will be spelled out in their full meaning, thoughts come in a questioning mood: “How shall I view my service when I stand before Him?” The possibility of being “ashamed before him”, 1 John 2. 28, is a real one, and drives us to the Lord in prayer.

The apostle Paul, led by the Spirit of God, divides the building materials into two main classes, (i) “gold, silver, precious stones” and (ii) “wood, hay, stubble”, 1 Cor. 3. 12. He then points out that the materials will be tested by fire, and the outcome of this will be that some material will stand the test and remain, and some will be consumed by the fire, leaving nothing to show, and leading to “loss”, v.15. Thinking of these Spirit-defined descriptions of the materials, one is aware that this is how God will see them. The assessment will not be ours, but His— that is, it will be a perfect assessment, with which we shall be in complete agreement.

Have we been placing too high a value on the service we have been privileged to give to our blessed Lord? Have we automatically assumed that it has all been “gold, silver, precious stones” and thus that it qualifies for a reward? There is a very real possibility that much of what we have placed in a high category will be regarded by the all-knowing One (and all-loving One) as only worthy of consumption by fire. Why have we laboured in the assembly and among the assemblies? Have our motives always been pure and Spirit-directed? In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul speaks of “excellency of speech or of wisdom”, v.1; “enticing words of man’s wisdom”, v.4; “the wisdom of men”, v.5; “the wisdom of this world”, v.6; “words which man’s wisdom teacheth”, v.13. Have we been guilty at times of using these in our service, and have we been pleased at the result? The hearers may have applauded, but how does God view it all? Does He see it as “wood, hay, stubble”? Have we been influenced by the desire to please men? Have we been anxious to give men that which they wanted to hear? Have we sought popularity? Some of us may bow our heads in shame as we seriously consider this. If the godly apostle Paul, after all his diligent labours, could write in 1 Corinthians 9. 27 “lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway”, what about us? He is not thinking of the possibility of being lost for ever, but he is very much concerned about “disapproval”.

The Lord knows our hearts, and He knows just what has motivated us in our service. This is a comforting thought, for it means that if our motive was pure, even though outwardly there seemed to be only failure, He will see the motive as “gold, silver, precious stones”. When David would build a house to the Name of the Lord, the Lord said “No”: another should have this privilege, but said God “thou didst well that it was in thine heart”, 1 Kings 8. 18. David could not do what he set his heart upon in his love for his God, but God gave him credit for what He read there. Yes, the Lord knows our hearts, and with that knowledge He will assess our service, either “gold, silver, precious stones” or “wood, hay, stubble”. When this assessment is made, we shall be in our changed bodies, and our outlook will then be His outlook. This will enable us, whatever the verdict, to acknowledge that “He doeth all things well”; we may even say “Hallelujah”.


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