But are we not told in 2 Cor.5:10 "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body; according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad"? Yes, we are. Let us then examine this Scripture. First, it is to be remarked that the Greek word which is here translated "judgment-seat" is "Bema." At the time the New Testament was written the Bema was not a judicial bench upon which a judge sat, passing sentence upon criminals (an entirely different word was used for it), but was the throne from which the judge distributed prizes to the victors in the games. Such will be the Bema of Christ.
In the second place, the purpose of the appearing of believers "before the Bema of Christ" is not to test their title and fitness for Heaven, but in order that their works may be examined and their service rewarded. A Scripture which throws much light upon this is to be found in 1 Cor.3:11-15, "For other foundation can no man lay that that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day will declare it: because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire." Here we learn that the foundation of the believer's salvation is Jesus Christ Himself and that his subsequent works and service are likened to a building which he erects upon this foundation. The different kinds of works and service are likened to a building which he erects upon this foundation. The different kinds of works which the believer performs -- good and bad -- are regarded as two classes of materials which he employs in the building he is erecting. In the day of Christ's appearing his building is to be tested by fire, which means that his works will be examined and the motives which produced them carefully scrutinized. Those works which will endure the searching process will be rewarded, those which are worthless will perish, and in the latter instance, the individual, though saved, will "suffer loss."
When the Lord returns, every servant will be called upon to give an account of his stewardship. Notice will be taken of how our talents were employed and how our time was redeemed. The whole life of the believer will be examined in detail in the light of the Throne and his deeds measured by the Divine standard. Words spoken now and actions performed in this world, will then be weighed in the Balances of the Sanctuary. Things will then be seen in their true colors and labeled at their real worth by the impartial hand of the Omniscient Christ.
The difference between the two classes of materials mentioned in the above Scripture points to a most solemn truth. "Gold, silver, precious stones are of intrinsic value, whereas "wood, hay, stubble" are a natural growth. In Scripture "gold" symbolizes the Divine nature, "silver" Divine redemption, and "precious stones" the Divine glory. Those works of the believer which have issued from the Divine nature within us, are based upon Christ's redemption, and have been performed for God's glory, will receive reward; but those which were wrought by those who felt they must do something, those performed in the energy of the flesh, those done merely for self-aggrandisement will all be burned up. What a conflagration there will be in that day! What surprises there will be at the Bema of Christ! An hundred-dollar subscription, given to get a name, will be ashes in that day; while a dime given to help the poor for the Lord's sake will receive an imperishable reward.
"Deeds of merit as we thought them
He will show us were but sin:
Little acts we had forgotten
He will tell us were for Him."
No work done out of love for Christ will lose its reward. "For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have shewed toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints" (Heb.6:10). All that endures the test of that day will be publicly, abundantly and eternally rewarded. There, before His Father and in the presence of the holy angels, our gracious Redeemer will delight to say to the rewarded one, "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will made thee ruler over many things, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matt.25:23).
The subject of rewards is a wide one and we can only deal briefly with it here. Four crowns are mentioned in the New Testament: the Incorruptible crown (1 Cor.9:25), which is the reward for faithful service; the crown of Righteousness (2 Tim.4:8), which is given to those who love Christ's appearing; the crown of Glory (1 Pet.5:4), which is reserved for faithful pastors who have tended the flock; and the crown of Life (Rev.2:10), which is a special reward reserved for martyrs. Each crown is conditional, conditional upon faithfulness to an absent Christ. But to return now to 2 Cor.5:10.
The prospect of our manifestation before the Bema of Christ is both joyous and solemn. It is "joyous" because it is then that everything will come out into the light and all misunderstandings will be cleared up; because everything which will not endure the Divine test will be "burned up;" and because every work which was done with an eye single to God's glory will receive commendation from our blessed Lord Himself. It is "solemn" because then it will be seen how much of our work was nothing but "wood, hay, and stubble;" because we shall then discover how sadly we had failed to "redeem the time;" and because we shall "suffer loss." Ah! my brethren it behooves us to live in the light of that day now so near at hand. Let our chief ambition be that all we say and do shall meet with the approval of our Lord at the Bema. Yes, the contemplation of the Bema is solemn and searching. He who has lived in selfish ease and carnal gratification will be the loser throughout all eternity. But he who has "denied himself" out of love for and gratitude to the Saviour, shall yet hear His "Well done" and enter into His joy.