Scripture not only supports the idea of eternal rewards, it spells out the specifics. In 1 Corinthians 3:10–14, we find three primary facts about rewards. We’ll look at the first two today and complete the list next week.
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Before I mention the facts, let’s review the verses:
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. (1 Corinthians 3:10–14)
First, most rewards are received in heaven, not on earth. Please don’t misunderstand. There are earthly rewards. Even the world provides certain people with special honors:
A bewildered woman at church once asked a pastor friend of mine, “I was wondering, pastor, what DO you do all week?” Ever heard that question? My friend didn’t say it, but he wanted to reply, “Lady, just show up tomorrow morning at 5:30—and I’ll show you!”
How often have we preachers gritted our teeth at the layman who says to us, “I wish I had a one-day-a-week job.” When I hear somebody say something stupid like that, to quote Steve Martin, “It always makes me want to cut his lips off.”
I recently read the words of a confused churchgoer: “Trouble is, God is like the preacher. We don’t see him during the week, and we don’t understand him on Sunday!”
While we can’t help the first part, we labor hard to overcome the second, don’t we?
What DO we pastors do Monday through Saturday? I made a list.
Want a wonderful paradigm for ministry?
Paul’s message emphasizes the gospel to the lost and grace to the saved. As I’ve studied the life of Paul, particularly in his later years, I find two prominent themes woven like threads through the tapestry of his ministry.
First, his message offers the gospel to the lost. “Let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:38–39). Imagine the impact our churches would have on our communities if each Christian committed to sharing the gospel once a week with someone who expresses a need.
Second, his message includes large doses of grace for the saved. Just as the lost don’t understand the gospel, the saved rarely understand grace. There are few activities more exhausting and less rewarding than Christians attempting to please the people around them by maintaining impossible legalistic demands. What a tragic trap, and thousands are caught in it. When will we ever learn? Grace has set us free! That message streams often through the sermons and personal testimonies of the apostle Paul.
The lost need to hear how they can cross the bridge from a life filled with emptiness and guilt to a life flowing with mercy and grace, peace and forgiveness. We help build this bridge when we lovingly and patiently communicate the gospel. You don’t need a seminary degree. You don’t have to know a lot of the religious vocabulary. In your own authentic, honest, and unguarded manner, share with people what Christ has done for you. Who knows? It may not be long before you will know the joy of leading a lost sinner from the darkness of death’s dungeon across the bridge to the liberating hope of new life in Christ.
Once they’ve arrived, please release them. Release them into the magnificent freedom that grace provides. Don’t smother them with a bunch of rules and regulations that put them on probation and keep them in that holding tank until they “get their lives straightened out.” Making us holy is the Spirit’s work, not ours. You be faithful to dispense the gospel to the lost and grace to the saved. Then leave the results in the Lord’s hands.
That was Paul’s paradigm.
Strengthening God’s church is one of my lifelong passions. I know you share that passion. All of us as pastors do. It’s who we are.
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Mediocrity is fast becoming the by-word of our times. Every imaginable excuse is now used to make it acceptable, hopefully preferred.
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Things like . . .
- Budget cuts
- Time deadlines
- Majority opinion
- Hard-nosed practicality
These are outshouting and outrunning excellence.
Those forces seem to be winning the race. Even for pastors. Incompetence and status quo averages are held up as all we can now expect. The tragedy is that more and more people have agreed.
- Why worry over the small stuff?
- Why bother with the genuine now that the artificial looks so real?
- If the congregation buys it, why sweat it?
Whether from the outside or from the inside of the church, the Adversary will stop at nothing to try to disrupt and dismantle the body of Christ. But these struggles are not the demise of God’s people. On the contrary. They are our opportunities to apply biblical principles and priorities—the only solutions to the challenges we face.
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We must keep our fingers on the pages of Scripture like a boat moored to the pier in a raging storm. While we do not worship the print on the page, the paper and ink lead us to the knowledge of the One whom we do worship—Jesus, our Master and Savior.
We need to stay on our knees. As I wrote last week, prayer is a radical interference with the status quo. It is the means by which God grants power to those who rely on Him. This dependence never changes. Even as a sixty-something-year-old man who had been preaching faithfully for years, the apostle Paul continued to walk in a state of dependence on God. You have to love Paul’s humility.
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2–4)
There was no pretense with Paul. No degree of success or number of years in the ministry gave him a false sense of ultimate accomplishment. He knew he had not yet arrived. He remained dependent on the Spirit of God. And so with a genuinely thankful heart, he entreated his fellow believers for their prayers. Can you see the power of that kind of attitude? Very refreshing in the first century. And very rare in the twenty-first. No wonder the man made such a lasting impact for Christ! The Lord honored and blessed Paul’s ministry because he upheld prayer and promoted God’s Word.
Rather than trying to ape the world’s system, God points us in another direction. It’s a way of life that stays out of step with the world and yet is not aloof from those in the world.
The early church didn’t ask God to bless their gimmicks. So, the church today doesn’t need gimmicks to attract people—it needs pastors who lead prayerfully, biblical truth preached passionately, and Christianity lived out authentically.
See also: The Praying Pastor, Part 1
In spite of a growing church and urgent needs, the apostles continued to maintain their priorities. How? By devotion “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
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May I point out something obvious? Notice which one came first. Prayer is to be top priority. “First of all, then,” the apostle Paul wrote to young pastor Timothy, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men” (1 Timothy 2:1, emphasis added). I picture Paul’s stylus pressing hard into the parchment as he penned those words: “First of all, then, I urge . . .” Prayer should occupy the place of priority among the leadership of our churches. In yours as well as mine.
I have the privilege of pastoring a church whose elders and other church leaders are people of prayer. Our meetings are punctuated by prayer. Before one agenda item gets discussed, we pray. As the meeting proceeds and issues arise that are too difficult for us or that require special wisdom, we pause right then and lift them up to the Father. When we look over the financial report and witness how God has provided, we deliberately stop and give Him our praise in prayer. We never conclude a meeting before giving thanks for the congregation, the staff, and all in leadership. We spend valuable time in prayer . . . minutes that a “corporate model” for ministry would consider a huge waste of time.
I love the writings of the Civil War chaplain, E. M. Bounds. His insightful words, written over one hundred years ago, still read today as if the ink were wet on the page. Read them slowly. Read them thoughtfully:
We are continually striving to create new methods, plans, and organizations to advance the church. We are ever working to provide and stimulate growth and efficiency for the gospel.
This trend of the day has a tendency to lose sight of the man. Or else he is lost in the workings of the plan or organization. God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than of anything else. Men are God’s method.
The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. . . .
What the church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organizations or more novel methods. She needs men whom the Holy Spirit can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men—men of prayer![ref]E. M. Bounds, Power through Prayer (New Kensington, Pa.: Whitaker House, 1982), 9–11.[/ref]
But in addition to prayer itself, let me quickly add that it matters greatly what we pray. Only the Scriptures tell us what to pray, when to pray, why to pray, how to pray, who to pray for, who to pray to, and what to pray through! A prayer by any means other than submission to the objective, historical, body of truth revealed in the Scriptures is a heretical prayer. A “wrong opinion” is just that—it’s wrong. And as such, it will never be the right path to pursue for those who call themselves part of the body of Christ.
Unity was never to be sought after at the exclusion of truth. In fact, Jesus saw no contradiction between the two pursuits (John 17:17–23). Rather, they are part of the same Christian walk.
When someone says to me, “Chuck . . . I got a lot out of the message,” I usually try to respond in a way that allows him or her to be more specific.
After I say, “Thank you, I’m glad it was helpful,” I’ll usually ask, “Did it make sense?”
“How did it make sense?” I’ll probe. It’s very interesting to hear people say, “Well, in this way . . .” I find that their response often connects just as I had intended. And that’s a good feeling.
But it’s a terrible feeling when they tell you something quite the opposite of what you intended.
I’ll never forget my preaching on divorce one time to a large congregation in Texas.
If I have one strength in my teaching it would have to be the application of Scripture. For the life of me, I don’t know why that’s true. It might just be a habit of my life that I can’t let the text rest until it’s been applied. But I appreciate others telling me that it’s one of my strengths. I think it can be yours, too.
For this blog entry on application, I want to get very practical. Let me share with you in three short lists what I have found to be helpful in the process of drawing application from the Bible.
If I make one mistake more often than any other as a preacher, it is assuming more than I should about my congregation.
- I assume people want to know what the Bible says.
- I assume they know I have their best interest at heart.
- I assume they understand the context.
- I assume they have a theological frame of reference.
And having begun on those shaky assumptions, I begin building a great big sermon when the foundation has not been laid. I’ve discovered it’s better to keep the message simple (but not simplistic), to take it a little slower and to establish a good, firm foundation. Then I can build my case.
I’ll never forget when I was asked to speak to an audience who didn’t have a lot of biblical knowledge.