My family celebrated five years in Uganda last week. We left a beautiful house (okay, it was a drafty 1955 ranch, but we loved it!), and a vibrant community of believers. We left a family who is crazy about our children and us. We chose to raise our children in a place where other kids scream “mzungu” (white person) at them, and try to steal their toys. There are no soccer leagues or gymnastics classes, and there are no air conditioners to shelter you from the equatorial sun. This might be understandable if we had been kidnapped by pirates and sold as slaves on the black market, but why would anyone (including our family) choose this kind of life? Paul articulates the reason well:
We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore, we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men. (2 Cor. 5:8-11a)
No one can live an authentic Christian life without keeping eternity set before their eyes. I’m not talking about creeds and doctrinal statements, or what you believe on paper. I’m talking about living like eternity is real, living like what I do today radically affects how I will live in the forever and ever. There is a Day coming where we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account for every deed we did in this life. The judgment that will be given by Him on that Day – whether rewards or punishments – will last forever. That Day is the most important day of your life.
The Day of Judgment
When I speak of the Day of Judgment, I’m not only talking about Heaven and Hell. Good works won’t get you into Heaven on that Day, only grace will (Eph. 2:8). Nevertheless, Paul says “we all” must appear before the judgment seat of Christ. That includes Paul himself and all the other believers saved by grace. On that Day we will be judged according to our works – whether good or bad – and be repaid for each one. Some will receive eternal rewards, others will have their works burned up and suffer loss.
Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:13–15)
Most of us would say, “Yeah, I know all that,” but do we live like we know that? Do you live like a steward who will have to give an account to your Master for what you bought today, for what you watched on TV, for how you spoke to your spouse and children, or to your employees at work? Do you live like a steward who has made it your primary “ambition” in life to please your Master, to whom you must give an account, and in whose hand lies your eternal future?
The Fear of the Lord
Paul lived with the ever-present weight of eternal judgment pressing upon his heart like a vice grip. He called it “the fear of the Lord.” Not that he feared eternal punishment, but he understood he was a steward who would be called to account by his master (Luke 19:11-27). His eyes were set on eternity. This caused him to live in a way that was different than the world, a way that was authentically Christ-like.
The worldly-minded live like this life is all there is. They pursue a lifestyle of pleasure and comfort since this is their only chance to get it. Paul summarized this mentality, “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32). Today it goes something more like “as long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters.” Sound familiar?
But happy for how long? Only a fool will trade long-term happiness in the future for a fleeting pleasure in the present (e.g. Esau). A wise man would rather deny himself a few pleasures now, even to the point of suffering, in order to have greater and longer lasting pleasure in the future (e.g. Paul):
For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. (2 Cor. 4:8)
Paul knew that the Day of Judgment was on a collision course with every man and woman on earth. The “fear of the Lord” was the burning fuel in the engine of Paul’s preaching ministry, as he endeavored to “persuade men” – both believers and unbelievers – to live in light of that Day.
An Appeal to Live Wisely
Be as a wise man or woman; live in light of the Day of Judgment. As His steward, your Master has entrusted you with valuable resources: time, energy, money, words, relationship, position. Use these not for your own glory but for the glory of God. “It is required in a steward that one be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). Will you be found faithful when you are called to account?
Jesus told us to look and see that the harvest is ready and that “the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life” (John 4:36). That is the call of missions and all of us play an indispensable role in seeing that it gets done: by praying, giving, or going.