(Image) Imagine your graduation day has finally arrived. You are extremely excited. You have worked very hard for four years. You have been waiting for this day to come. At the graduation service, your friends and family are there. Your fellow graduates are there. The professors are there. The president, Dr. Mark Yarbrough, is there.
Your name is called. You walked up to the stage. Dr. Yarbrough is examining your transcript for a final check. You are standing in front of him nervously. Dr. Yarbrough finally looks up. He said, “we got some problems. First, a professor in the pastoral ministry department has reported that you plagiarize your outline and manuscript. We have decided that you have not been faithful to the task the Lord has called you to do at the seminary. Second, your parents told us you have never called or visited them during seminary. And the scholarship department has reported that you lied about your financial situation. Therefore, we have decided that your character is unsuitable for serving the church as a preacher. And finally, I can read your heart. Your motive to study at seminary is to glorify yourself with your own power by preaching your ideas instead of God’s word. I am sorry to tell you that you have lost your ThM degree.” And then you woke up. You are on your bed, dreaming. It is not graduation day yet.
(Needs) The story was totally made up. Dr. Yarbrough cannot read your heart to find out your motives to study and serve the Lord. But the Lord can. One day, at the end of this church age, the Lord Jesus will return. You will stand before the Lord at the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of your life and ministry. The judgment seat of Christ is not about eternal salvation. “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:9) . You already have it. You will never lose it. The Lord has paid the price to redeem you at the cross. His precious blood has cleansed all your sins. Your salvation is secure in His hands. The judgment at the judgment seat of Christ is about eternal rewards. How you live your life for Christ will determine your eternal rewards. It is a very important topic for all Christians, especially for teachers in the church, because “we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1).
(Subject) What I want to talk about today is “How you live for Christ in this life will determine how Christ will reward you in eternity.” We only have one life. We only have one shot. Therefore, we need to take this topic seriously.
(Text and Preview) We will be looking at three passages of scriptures today. They are 1 Corinthians 4:4-5; Luke 19:11-27; and 1 Pet 5:1-4. We will look at one basis for eternal rewards in each passage, for a total of three bases that will determine our rewards in eternity.
Your motives in ministry determine how Christ will reward you in eternity.
(Explanation) First, your motives in ministry will determine how Christ will reward you in eternity. I get the principle from 1 Corinthians 4:4-5. “For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”
Some of the Corinthians believers have been judging Paul’s motives in ministry. Paul said, “I have examined my heart, as far as I know, I am not aware of anything against myself. But I am not the judge. Christ is”. When the Lord returns, He will reveal the purposes of our hearts. We will receive praise from the Lord based on our motives in ministry.
(Illustration) I believe Paul gave a parable earlier in chapter 3 that illustrates this principle. He gave the parable of builders. A builder could build a building using gold, silver, precious stones, or wood, hay, and straw. At the end of the construction, the building will be tested with fire. Only what was built with gold, silver, and precious stones will remain. What was built with wood, hay, and straw will be burned up.
Similarly, at the judgment seat of Christ, all our motives in ministry will be tested. All the purposes of our hearts will be revealed before the Lord. Any work we did with the motive to glorify ourselves instead of glorying God will be burned up. Only the work with motives that please the Lord will remain.
(Application) What is your motive for studying in seminary? What is your motive to serve the Lord? Is your motive to glory your name or to glorify Christ’s name? While you can hide your motive today, you cannot hide from the Lord at the judgment seat of Christ. If your motive is to glorify yourselves, your work will be burned up at the judgment seat of Christ.
Let’s be honest, no one has completely pure motives all the time in this life. All of us will have some self-glorifying motives in ministry. Therefore, you need to frequently ask the Lord to help you examine your motives in ministry. Every time when you embark on a project or ministry, ask yourself this question, “will this glorify Christ or glorify me?” Ask the Lord to give you a pure heart to serve Him. Ask the Lord to reveal more of His love to you so that your motive is to respond to His love and to glory Him. You serve Him because His love compels you. That is why Paul lived for Christ. He reveals his motive in the second letter to the Corinthians, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor 5:14-15).
Your faithfulness in ministry determines how Christ will reward you in eternity.
(Explanation) Not only will your motives determine how Christ will reward you in eternity, your faithfulness to what Christ has entrusted to you will also determines how Christ will reward you in eternity. I get this principle from Luke 19:11-27, the parable of the minas. Jesus told this parable at the end of His journey from Jericho to Jerusalem. It goes like this. A nobleman went to a far country to receive His kingdom. Before he left, he gave one mina, which is about 100 days of wages, equivalent to about $20,000 in today’s money, to each of his ten servants and told them to engage in business until he returned. When the nobleman returned, he ordered the servants to give an account of what they had done with the one mina.
The first servant reported he had turned the one mina to ten minas. The nobleman praised him, “Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little (v17), you shall have authority over ten cities. The second servant reported he had turned the one mina to five minas. And the nobleman rewarded the faithful servant with five cities. But the third servant did not do anything with the one mina. The nobleman took the only mina he had and gave it to the first servant, who had ten minas. What is the point of the parable? Your faithfulness to what Christ has entrusted to you in this life determines how Christ will reward you in eternity.
(Illustration) I used to work in IT. There are two kinds of programmers. The sloppy and the faithful. How can you tell one from the other? A regular person will not be able to tell because it is behind the scenes. What separates a faithful programmer from a sloppy programmer is his code. A sloppy programmer writes code without proper structure and without comments. But a faithful programmer writes code with proper structure and with proper comments so that other programmers can look at the code and know what he is trying to do. A faithful programmer puts in the hard work behind the scenes that is not apparent to the end users.
(Application) Similarly, if you want to be a faithful preacher, you will need to put in the hard work that may not be apparent to the congregation. (Smile) You cannot avoid it. Some people will think you only work for one hour on Sunday when you preach in the pulpit. But none of the work you do will be in vain. The Lord knows all the hard work you put in behind the scenes, and He will reward you lavishly. In the parable, the nobleman lavishly rewards the first servant who turned one mina, about $20,000, to ten minas, about $200,000, with authority over ten cities. When you are faithful in little things, the Lord will reward you with greater responsibilities in eternity.
In today’s celebrity church culture, men praise famous preachers, but the Lord praises faithful preachers. Faithfulness means doing the hard work of exegesis. Faithfulness means do not compromise the word of God in fear of men. Faithfulness means doing the hard work of knowing God’s people and applying the Scriptures to their life. Faithfulness means praying for the flocks God has entrusted you even when no one knows it. Men praise famous preachers, but the Lord praises faithful preachers. Therefore, serve the Lord faithfully with the spiritual gifts the Lord has entrusted to you.
Your character in life determines how Christ will reward you in eternity.
(Explanation) Not only your motives and faithfulness in ministry will determine how Christ will reward you in eternity. Your character in life will also determine how Christ will reward you in eternity. I get the principle from 1 Peter 5:1-4. “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you, not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
Pastors are not only called to preach the word faithfully; pastors are called to practice the word faithfully. Pastors are also called to be examples to the flock of God. Pastors are not only called to apply the word to the flock of God; pastors are called to apply the word to themselves first. When the Chief Shepherd, Christ, returns, He will judge pastors based on their character in life and will reward those who reflect the character of the Chief Shepherd with the unfading crown of glory. Character matters.
(Illustration) When I was a young man, I used to love cycling. And Lance Armstrong was my hero. After beating testicular cancer that had already spread to other parts of his body in 1996, Lance Armstrong won Tour de France, the most prestigious and difficult race in cycling in the world, in 1999. Not only that, he repeated the victory seven times in a row before retiring at the age of 33! His status was really elevated, and he became one of the most revered athletes of all time. However, in 2012, US Anti-Doping Agency reported that Armstrong cheated in the races with illegal drugs. In 2013, Armstrong publicly admitted that he doped during each of his Tour de France wins. He was stripped of his seven Tour de France victories. Character matters. Because of his character, he lost all seven of his rewards. (pause)
(Application) Similarly, your character in life will determine how Christ will reward you in eternity. How you love your family will determine how Christ will reward you in eternity.
How you treat your friends determines how Christ will reward you in eternity.
How you love your neighbors determines how Christ will reward you in eternity.
How you serve the church will determine how Christ will reward you in eternity.
How you live for Christ in this life will determine how Christ will reward you in eternity.
Your character in life matters.
Therefore, you need to cultivate your character to be more like Christ starting today. Are you spending time with the Lord daily? Do you take time to reflect on your relationship with the Lord and with the people in your life? Are you constantly abiding in the Lord like a branch abiding in the vine? Does your family sense that you love them? Do your friends and classmates sense that you care for them?
I like to suggest two applications for you. First, no matter how busy you are, spend some time alone with the Lord daily. Talk to the Lord. Hear from the Lord. Cultivate your relationship with the Lord. Second, look around you and ask the Lord whom you can show the love of Christ in this stage of your life. Take a step of faith and reach out to that person. Help him, encourage her, support him. Cultivate your character starting today because a Christlike character is not formed in one day. A Christlike character is formed slowly over a long period of walking with the Lord, submitting to His will, trusting Him, and taking small steps of faith daily to extend the love of Christ to people God has put in your life. If you do that, slowly and surely, you will be more like Christ, the Chief Shepard, over time. And when you meet Him at the judgment seat of Christ, you will be rewarded with the unfading crown of glory. Your character in life will determine how Christ will reward you in eternity.
(Close intro Image, cast vision, repeat HP and main points) Imagine it is graduation day. But this time, this is not a dream. It is not DTS graduate day. It is your life graduation day. You are not standing in front of Dr. Yarbrough. You are standing in front of the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Chief Shepheard, your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Imagine the Lord praises you because the motives of your ministry are to express your love to Him and to glorify Him. The Lord praises you because you have served the Lord faithfully with the spiritual gifts He has given you. Imagine the Lord rewards you with the unfading crown of glory because your life as an undershepherd reflects the character of the Chief Shepherd. One of the Lord’s faithful preachers, CT Studd, missionary to the Chinese, Indians, and Africans, once said, “Only one life, it will soon be past; only what is done for Christ will last.” You only have one life, one chance, one shot; make it counts for eternity. (HP) How you live for Christ in this life will determine how Christ will reward you in eternity.