I spent the last two days on jury duty. I’m thankful I didn’t get selected to serve, but after listening to the two attorneys interview candidates from the jury pool I kind of feel like I’ve been through the trial. Because each side wants to find people who will give their side of the story a fair hearing, they spend a lot of time digging and probing into your personal life; they also shared a lot of information about the case (allegations, not evidence, as we were told repeatedly) to gain insight on each juror’s thoughts and reactions. After two days of this, they gave up on the remaining jury pool to be objective, as we had all formed some opinions and biases based on what we’d seen and heard. I was in the group that gained their freedom, and I suppose a new crop of potential jurors will have to fill the rest of the jury box today.
As I read 1 Corinthians 2-4 this morning, I was reminded that one day, all of us will appear in the heavenly court to have our deeds examined. On that day, thankfully, it won’t be a group of our peers we sit before; it will be Almighty God Himself. That’s something we need to remember in light of our human tendency to compare ourselves to one another.
Paul is instructing the believers in Corinth to stop judging one another’s work for the Lord, and to focus on what God calls each of them individually to do; after all, we all will give account for our own labors.
1 Corinthians 3:7-15 – So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
As Christ-followers, our sins have been forgiven and we stand before the Righteous Judge, God the Father, clothed in the righteousness of His Son, Jesus. Jesus was held accountable and judged on the cross for my sin and yours. However, at the judgment seat of Christ, our work for the kingdom – what we’ve done with our lives since God saved us – will be examined (2 Corinthians 5:10). What we’ve done in faith, by walking with and listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit will survive the fire of God’s examination. Those works are illustrated by gold, silver, and precious stones. What has been done from our flesh (or in service to our flesh) are the wood, hay, and straw which will be burned up.
Does that scare you? A little, perhaps, but if our hearts are truly motivated by pleasing God, honoring Jesus, and seeking to live and walk in the Holy Spirit, it should comfort us. Where we’ve failed God by following our fleshly impulses in our humanity and weakness will not exclude us from the kingdom of heaven because we didn’t earn our place there by our works. We stand in the righteousness of Christ, and even though we may suffer regret and shame, God will wipe them all away with the fire of His holiness, and still welcome us as His children into heaven.
Don’t misunderstand me…this passage isn’t teaching that we can belong to Christ and still practice sin willfully. As we’ll see in the coming chapters, Paul is very clear that tolerating sin in the church is not at all what he means. The reality is, though, that while we live in these unredeemed, fleshly bodies, we are susceptible to missing the mark on what God expects or asks of us. When that happens, we confess it as sin, move forward in our relationship, and walk with Jesus (1 John 1:9).
What Paul is teaching us is that we ought not to spend time comparing ourselves or striving to “keep up” with who we perceive as more spiritual or more faithful. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and allow the Holy Spirit to do His personal work in and through us. Comparisons are distractions that lead us to work harder to produce wood, hay, and straw (things we think will impress God). Comparisons lead to acts of pride as we are led astray to impress others with our human efforts.
I don’t know about you, but I want the gold and silver of a tender heart that listens to the sweet Holy Spirit of God who lives in me. I want the precious jewels of faithfulness and obedience to lay before the Righteous Judge in gratitude for my salvation. I don’t want to come into the heavenly courtroom with a load of kindling!
Let’s stop comparing ourselves or judging one another. God is the ultimate “court reporter” and He keeps great records. He will decide what survives the fire. Instead, may we encourage one another to grow in the knowledge of God and help each other mature spiritually in our faith, so that we all have much to present to the Father on that judgment day. There are no jury boxes in heaven, so we don’t need to build any in the body of Christ on earth.