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:
The title of this post represents a list I received that I will never forget. A seasoned pastor passed it on to a group of us many years ago. In the room sat about two dozen pastors, all of us engaged in various roles of responsibility at different local churches. We had invited this wise servant of God to address the perils facing our church leaders. He didn’t beat around the bush. Throwing diplomacy to the wind, he looked us squarely in the eyes and warned us against those four “occupational hazards” that can easily bring down people who serve the public as God’s representatives.
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Go back and read the list again. See if you don’t agree. Those are the four most common battlegrounds of those in ministry. Trace the reasons great men and women have fallen . . . search for the common threads in the tapestry of tragedies. You will find most often a breakdown in the realm of personal morality.
How refreshing it is to come across individuals who realize they have their parents to thank for so much of what they have in life. Marian Anderson was one of those individuals.
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She had a magnificent contralto voice that gave her worldwide acclaim.
On one occasion, a reporter asked her to name the greatest moment in her life. Those in the room hearing the question wondered what she would say.
There were so many great moments, like the night Arturo Toscanini said publicly,
For as long as I have been in the ministry I have asked the Lord for a balance between a tender heart and a tough hide. It isn’t an easy balance. In fact, the latter is more difficult to cultivate than the former.
In order to be fully engaged in ministry, job number one is to have a tender heart. The challenge is developing a tough hide.
Wanted: A Tough Hide
Those of us in ministry are big targets. We make great lightning rods! Know what I mean? We are dead ringers for criticism. Every passionate pastor, every Christian leader, and every Christian author I know can list a litany of things that have been said and done against them—many of them unfairly.
Few handle criticism well. But we’d all have to agree, there was one man who handled it with grace and grit.
Two Ways to Balance Being Tender and Tough
In Acts 24, Paul is on the witness stand before Governor Felix while a shady lawyer named Tertullus pontificates through some trumped-up charges. As you read along in this chapter, you will notice Paul waits for the smoke to clear and then calmly steps up to offer a defense. Paul’s words illustrate seven ways to maintain a tender heart and a tough hide while enduring criticism. I’ll mention the first two now and devote next week’s post to the remaining five.
1. Paul refused to get caught up in the emotion of the charges. That’s the first mistake we usually make, isn’t it? Everything in us prefers to lash out, to protest, to defend ourselves, to cry, or simply walk out. Paul refused to overreact. His opening line is disarmingly pleasant, “I cheerfully make my defense.”
Cheerfully? By now the man ought to be royally ticked off! Even though labeled as “a real pest” and a ringleader of a cult (see Acts 24:5), Paul graciously acknowledged the opportunity to make a defense. Refusing to let his emotions take the lead, he stayed controlled and courteous.
When we lower ourselves to the overcharged emotions of accusers, our anger is triggered. When that occurs, straight thinking caves in to irrational responses and impulsive words. Paul didn’t go there. Neither should we.
2. He stayed with the facts. He said, in effect, “You can check my record. Twelve days ago I went up to worship. You can ask those who were there.” He reported, “Neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot. Nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me” (Acts 24:12–13).
The apostle never blinked. He calmly stood his ground with stubborn facts. That strategy not only kept him on target, it enhanced his credibility in the eyes of Governor Felix.
And Then There’s You—and Me
What about you? How do you deal with judgmental remarks, those unkind put-downs made to your face or, worse, behind your back? When a congregant mocks your teaching on biblical parenting, when that couple in a small group questions every decision you make, when you find out a fellow Christian (or pastor) you thought was your friend has been spreading rumors about you, how do you respond?
Are you tough and tender or do you become brittle and bitter?
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.
A few sentences in the diary of James Gilmore, pioneer missionary to Mongolia, have stayed with me since the day I first read them. After years of laboring long and hard for the cause of Christ in that desperate land, he wrote, “In the shape of converts I have seen no result. I have not, as far as I am aware, seen anyone who even wanted to be a Christian.”
Let me add some further reality to that statement by taking you back to an entry in Gilmore’s journal made in the early days of his ministry. It expressed his dreams and burdens for the people of Mongolia. Handwritten in his journal are these dreams: “Several huts in sight. When shall I be able to speak to the people? O Lord, suggest by the Spirit how I should come among them, and in preparing myself to teach the life and love of Christ Jesus.” That was his hope. He longed to reach the lost of Mongolia with the gospel of Jesus Christ. How different from his entry many years later, “I have not, as far as I am aware, seen anyone who even wanted to be a Christian.” What happened in between? He encountered the jagged edge of an authentic ministry.
When I write about succeeding in the work of the Lord, I’m not promising success as we define it in human terms. I’m not saying because you are faithful to proclaim the Word of God your church will be packed or continue to grow larger. Some of God’s most faithful servants are preaching their hearts out in places where the church is not growing. A great temptation for pastors in those difficult settings is to turn to some of the other stuff that holds the promise of more visible results. Don’t go there. Stand tall. God is at work.
If you know the Lord has called you into His work, and you would not be fulfilled doing anything else, then press on and never look back. Even if the results often seem disappointing. Like James Gilmore, stay at it.
As a follow-up from last week’s post, let me urge you to use this spring as an opportunity to get next to your children.
- To come to grips with the barriers that are blocking the flow of your love and affection (and theirs).
- To face the facts before the bruise leads to a permanent, domestic fracture.
We’re not Immune
Three biblical cases come to my mind:
- Rebekah—who favored Jacob over Esau . . . and used him to deceive his father, Isaac, which led to a severe family breakdown (Genesis 27).
- Eli—who was judged by God because of his lack of discipline and failure to stand firm when his boys began to run wild (1 Samuel 3:11–14). Eli especially stands out for us as pastors, because he was in the ministry!
- David—who committed the same sin against his son, Adonijah, by never restraining him or crossing him throughout his early training (1 Kings 1:5–6).
You see, no one is immune . . . not even Bible characters . . . not even pastors!
So then, let’s move ahead. Let’s refuse to pamper our parental negligence any longer.
Okay, let’s be honest. How’s it going with you and the kids? Maybe that question doesn’t even apply to you. You may have already raised your brood and had them leave the nest. But I have a hunch that many of you pastors are still in the process of training and rearing.
So—how’s it going?
Eli was a great preacher, a seasoned priest. As the high priest, he was responsible, once each year, for entering the Most Holy Place and offering an atoning sacrifice on behalf of the nation. No one else had that privilege. He judged, he instructed the people in matters of worship, he gave counsel, and he devoted his entire life to serving in the tabernacle of God, ministering to the needs of His people. But he was also a passive, inactive father who indulged his sons (1 Samuel 3:1–18). Those boys of his were reprobates!
According to the law of Moses, priests were to burn the fat as an offering and take whatever didn’t burn from the altar. In this way, they were to receive only what the Lord provided. But Eli’s worthless sons defied God’s instructions and reserved the choicest cuts of meat for their dinner table.
Along with their audacious disrespect for the sacrifices of God, they were perverse men who took sexual advantage of the women who came to worship. And they did so without shame, within the sacred spaces of the house of God. And Eli knew it!
You would think that a genuine man of God like Eli would be outraged. Remember, he also served as Israel’s judge, meaning that his responsibility was to carry out justice on behalf of God. These rebellious sons of shameless lust should have been carried to the edge of town and stoned to death. Instead, they receive a mild scolding. How pathetic is that?
God has preserved these stories to leave us with enduring lessons. Fathers, listen up! Take heed! It has been my observation that Eli’s paralysis of parenthood is not uncommon . . . even among those in ministry. As a father whose vocation is service to the Lord, I have intentionally sought to avoid the failure of Eli. I’ve often reminded myself: passivity is an enemy. I urge you to do the same.
Each one of us today must recognize that our family could very easily end up like Eli’s. Let’s face it: any family can come unraveled—an elder’s family, a pastor’s family, an evangelist’s family, a missionary’s family—even one whose father walks with God and faithfully pours his heart into a congregation. And that includes your family.
Please, my friend, do not be passive. It is an enemy.
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.