The Judgment Seat (Bema) of Christ is a solemn and searching subject that challenges the heart of every believer. It is a significant event that will take place, we believe, immediately after the rapture of the church and before the marriage of the Lamb in the "day of Christ" (Phil 1.6,10; 2.16). God is infinitely holy, therefore everything has to conform finally to His perfect standards; it is God's prerogative to exercise and execute judgment at all levels in every sphere. He is "the Judge of all the earth" (Gen 18.25). Judgment is inevitable and inescapable - "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (Eccl 12.14; Is 45.23). The Lord Jesus is the appointed judge (Jn 5.22; Acts 17.31).
The Judgment Seat of Christ only concerns believers in the Lord Jesus in this present dispensation of grace: "we shall all (without exception) stand before the judgment seat of Christ" (Rom 14.10; 2 Cor 5.10). We will have at that time our glorified bodies, but it will still be an awesome experience to be presented before Christ in all His glory. However, there is nothing to dread as it is not a penal assize. The judge is our Saviour, so our sins and guilt cannot be raised; salvation is not in question - whatever the outcome the person "himself shall be saved" (1 Cor 3.15). Assessment is the leading thought; hence character, conduct, service and motives will all be revealed, reviewed and rewarded. It will be righteous appraisal for "the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed" (1 Sam 2.3); and again "the Lord pondereth the hearts" (Prov 21.2; 24.12). In this connection the parables of the vineyard (Mt 20.1-16), the talents (Mt 25.14-30), and the pounds (Lk 19.11-27) contain principles relevant to the review of our service and its rewards.
In the assembly, spiritual and moral judgment has its place, but great care and sensitivity is needed, for some of us are too hasty in judging our brethren. Let us heed the warning of Scripture: "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God" (1 Cor 4.5). From Scripture there seem to be three main areas of our lives that will come under scrutiny at the Judgment Seat.
Relationships with Christians - how I loved? (Rom 14.10-13)
This chapter has to do with non-moral, non-doctrinal, cultural and personal matters - some were only eating certain foods, others had no such scruples; some were keeping certain days, others treated every day alike - and these matters were causing some division among the saints. There was no fundamental Scriptural principle at stake. Today there are other issues that arise about which Scripture is silent. Each believer must "be fully persuaded in his own mind" (v.5) before the Lord - opinions may differ, but mutual respect must prevail. A critically legal spirit is harmful and disturbs the precious unity and harmony of the saints; the law of love must rule. We will have to answer for unkind words and attitudes for, "every one of us shall give account of himself to God" (v.12). The Scripture questions and deplores our judgmental attitude: "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant?" (v.4); "Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at naught thy brother?" (v.l0). In view of the Bema let us behave "With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" (Eph 4.2). It is imperative that we endeavour to seek always the good and welfare of other believers - "Let brotherly love continue" (Heb 13.1).
Responsibilities in the Church - how I laboured? (1 Cor 3.9-16)
This passage refers mainly to those who teach and minister in the local churches. They are builders of churches and must take heed how and what they teach. The principle, of course, can be extended to us all, for we all contribute to the building up of the church by our influence, example and activities. The person and work of the Lord Jesus is the foundation on which we build, but with what materials - gold, silver, precious stones? Is our contribution worthy of, and consistent with, the glorious foundation? Wood, hay and stubble are worthless and combustible; will my life's work and labour finally turn to ashes and smoke? God desires quality more than quantity, value more than volume. "Every man's work shall be made manifest...the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is…If any man's work abide…he shall receive a reward" (vv.13-14); faithful spiritual work building into the assembly divine truth, holiness and the fruit of the Spirit will withstand the fire. Spiritual cowboys and jerry-building are not wanted! It is not the size or success of our service, but the faithfulness of our service that counts with God.
Revelation of Character - how I lived? (2 Cor 5.9-10; 1 Cor 4.3-5)
These Scriptures indicate that what we are, as well as what we say and do, will be manifested at the Bema. Our true character, the motives and hidden counsels of the heart will be on display. There will be no hiding place, no mask, no veneer, but everything "naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb 4.13). "What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?" (1 Cor 2.11); only the Lord knows and He will bring them to light in that day. Paul was not prepared to judge himself; other men's judgments can be prejudiced and premature. Daniel lived up to his name which means, "my judge is God", Paul likewise was more concerned about God's judgment than men's, and even the Lord Jesus "committed himself unto him that judgeth righteously" (1 Pet 2.23). Christian character is formed and manifested in the diverse circumstances, conditions and crises of life that the Lord brings us through. Our response to, and behaviour in, these situations reveal the sort of persons we really are - in the family, in the work place, in society, in assembly life. All these, no doubt, will be taken into account at the Bema, and our true character nakedly exposed. How will we feel in that day? May this simple study encourage us to live meantime with integrity, sincerity and transparency in the light of that great day of manifestation. May we look forward confidently as Paul did: "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Tim 4.8).
There will be feelings of shame and joy - "ashamed before him" (1 Jn 2.28), and "Well done, thou good and faithful servant…enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Mt 25.21). There will be commendation and disappointment, some "shall suffer loss" (1 Cor 3.15) - that is loss of reward they could have received. The first shall be last and the last first; a cup of cold water, a loaf of bread, a widow's mite, a kind word will not lose its reward - many unnamed, unknown, unsung heroes will not be forgotten by the gracious Lord. There will be many surprises! There are victors' crowns to be won or lost - the incorruptible crown (1 Cor 9.25); a crown of life (James 1.12); a crown of glory (1 Pet 5.4); a crown of rejoicing (1 Thess 2.19); a crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4.8) - and there are places in the kingdom to be allocated. May we covet a crown, not for the glory of the recipient but for the glory of the Giver. However we may fare at that heavenly tribunal "then shall every man have praise of God" (1 Cor 4.5). Yet whatever pleases Him in that day is only the result of His grace. What a wonderful God we have!
Deeds of merit as we thought them
He will tell us were but sin;
Little acts we had forgotten
He will own were done for Him.