Erwin W. Lutzer

B. Childress
Dec 28 2011

There is a story about a man who was trudging  through a blistering desert.  He was faint with thirst, and to his delight
he came across a well with a pump.  Next to the pump sat a small jug of water with a sign, "Please use this water to
prime the pump.  The well is deep so you will have enough water for yourself and your containers.  Please fill the jug for
the next traveler."

Should the man play it safe and drink the jug of water, assured that his parched lips would at least get some relief?  Or
should he take the risk of pouring the water down the pump in hopes of getting all he would need?

Do we believe God's promises that He will repay us if we take the risk of serving Him with a whole heart?  Or do we live
as if this is the only life that matters?  Christ warns, "He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life
for My sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39).  If I give up the control of my life to God, I shall find it; if I maintain control, I
shall lose it.

If we think of heaven as a theme park, we must emphasize that the entrance ticket is free.  Christ must be received by
faith; we are saved "not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:9, KJV).  But if we want to go on some of the
rides, if we want to be rewarded and not be embarrassed at the sadness we cause Christ, we must be faithful on earth.  
The entrance is free, but some additional benefits are based on merit.


Perhaps the most vivid picture of the judgment seat of Christ is Paul's metaphor given to the church at Corinth.  He
pictures a building with a strong foundation, capable of holding the weight of the walls and roof, but these materials
must be tested.  What kinds of substances were used in the building?  Can this structure withstand the test of time?  
Only when the building is set aflame is the answer made clear.  And yes, some builders will suffer loss.

Unfortunately, this passage has often been interpreted as a reference to carnal Christians who supposedly believed on
Christ but lived lives of open fleshly rebellion.  And yet, when they die, we are told, they will be in heaven, "saved as by
fire."  But Paul did not write this to give carnal Christians at least a bit of comfort.  His point, I believe, lies in another

He begins by saying that he cannot speak to the believers at Corinth as to spiritual men, but as to "men of flesh, as to
babes in Christ" (I Corinthians 3:1).  But keep in mind that these believers are learning how to exercise their gifts, they
were supporting the church and interested in spiritual growth.  They were not modern carnal Christians who made a
commitment to Christ in their youth, then wasted their lives in wanton sin.  Their carnality revealed itself in the immaturity
of putting their favorite man on a pedestal; some followed one leader, others another (verses 3-4).

To address these petty jealousies, Paul uses two metaphors.  The first is agricultural: "I planted, Apollos watered, but
God was causing the growth" (verse 6).  The praise is given to God's part in the work namely, the miracle of life, the
marvel of growth.  Rewards are never far from Paul's mind, so he adds, "Now he who plants and he who waters are one;
but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor" (verse 8).

Then second, he presents an
architectural metaphor.  "According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise
master builder, I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it, But let each man be careful how he builds upon it"
(verse 10).  He is speaking about the leaders who build churches; he is giving both warning and encouragement to
those who have responsibility within the congregation.

Now we come to the crucial verses:

    Now if any man builds upon 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 upon it remains, he shall receive a reward.  If
    any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire (I
    Corinthians 3:12-15)

Paul's point is that some leaders are trying to build the church with poor materials; they gather a congregation quickly,
but there is nothing transforming about their ministry.  They might work hard, but because their energy is misdirected,
they will have nothing that last in glory.

Others are trying to build with precious stones; they have a ministry based on the Word of God, prayer, and the Spirit.  
They value character, which D. L. Moody defined as "what a man is in the dark."  They know that they will be judged, not
just for what they
did but for who they are.  As veteran missionary to India Amy Carmichael used to say, "The work will
never go deeper than we have gone ourselves."  These shall receive a reward.

The person who is "saved so as by fire" is indeed a Christian, but his leadership has been flawed.  He has relied too
heavily upon himself, his techniques, and his training.  He did not approach the work with a spirit of dependence and
faith; he did not do the work with Spirit-directed faithfulness.  He will be "saved so as by fire."

Though Paul's point is intended for the leaders of the church, it can be applied to all of us.  We are all building our lives,
day by day; each of us will be tested, and each life will reveal a mixture of precious stones and stubble.

Imagine for a moment that all of our deeds were turned into either precious metals or trash, and then torched.  The kind
of life we lived would become evident by the size of the fire.  The question would be: What was left when the flames died
out?  The more carnality and selfishness, the more "wood, hay, straw" and the less "gold, silver, precious stones."  This
metaphor helps all of us come to terms with the thoroughness of God's judgment.

The Final Judgment of Sin

Will we actually see our sins at the judgment seat?  Perhaps Hoekema is right when he suggests that the sins and
shortcomings of believers will be "revealed as forgiven sins, whose guilt has been totally covered by the blood of
Christ."  If so, we could see our sins, which would be represented to us as forgiven by God's grace.
What we do know is that Paul taught clearly that we will receive the consequences of our wrongs at the judgment.  He
reminded slaves to serve their masters as they would Christ, "knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of
the inheritance" (Colossians 3:24).  Then he adds, "For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong
which he has done, and that without partiality" (verse 25).  Even if our sins are represented as forgiven, we cannot
escape the conclusion that our lifestyle is under judicial review, with appropriate rewards and penalties.  We will suffer
for our "wrong doing."  And even what is hidden will be brought to light.

The respected theologian John Murray, when speaking of the judgment seat of Christ, says that God will leave nothing
at loose ends; in fact, since believers will be fully sanctified, they will desire such a judgment: "Besides, it is against the
gravity of their sins that their salvation in Christ will be magnified, and not only the grace but the righteousness of God
will be extolled in the consummation of their redemption."

We should not think that the loss of rewards means that Christ takes from us something we once had.  As Woodrow
Kroll says, "We are not stripped of rewards as an erring soldier is stripped of his stripes."  We receive no heavenly
rewards on earth, so there is nothing that can be taken away from us; only when we stand before our Master are
rewards given out.  But the absence of rewards is serious indeed.

If we do have rewards coming to us, no one can take them from us.  Christ warned the church at Philadelphia, "I am
coming quickly: hold fast what you have, in order that no one take your crown" (Revelation 3:11); He did not mean that
someone can steal our reward.  Indeed, Christ said that those who have treasures in heaven will not have them stolen.  
Christ warns, however, that we
can forfeit our reward by default and by failing to use the opportunities God gives us.  
Someone else can take our crown only if we let him get in the way of our relationship with God.

Three descriptive phrases help us visualize just how thorough this judgment will be.  Paul wrote that our works will
"become evident," for the day will "show it" because it is to be "revealed with fire" (I Corinthians 3:13).  The imagery is
that of a person who has his pockets turned inside out to reveal every particle of lint.  We will  watch as Christ does the
revealing, the analyzing, the judging.

The Kinds of Materials

Two kinds of materials are contrasted.  We can find a pile of wood, hay, and stubble almost anywhere, especially in
rural areas.  Precious gems are quite another matter.  Hold them in your hand, and they are of more value than mounds
of wood and straw.  So it is not how
much we do for Christ, but rather what we do and how we do it.  Of course, this does
not mean that we should do as little as possible for Christ, insisting that we have made up for our slothfulness through
"quality."  Paul's point is simply that much of what we do, if done in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons, is

Why do our works have to be subjected to the flames?  The natural eye cannot easily tell the difference between these
building materials.  Not even Paul was confident that he could always separate junk from gems.  From our perspective,
a believer might have nothing but an impressive pile of combustible material; but when torched, nuggets of gold might
be found embedded in the straw.  Conversely, what we thought was a gold brick of some notable saint might just be the
end of a wooden beam.  Only the fire can separate the real from the fake.

  •    Our thoughts and intentions will be judged.  "For the word of God is living and active...and able to judge the
    thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and
    laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:12-13).  We who are adept at hiding our true
    selves from others and even fooling ourselves, will suddenly have no place to hide.  The piercing, probing,
    omniscient eyes of Christ will see through us.

  •    Our words will be judged.  "And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render
    account for it in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36).  And that which is spoken in a bedroom will be shouted
    from the housetop, for "there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known"
    (Luke 12:2).  Obviously, not everything said in our bedrooms will be shouted from the housetops.  Christ is
    speaking of those sins we have covered and refused to bring to Him in confession and repentance.

  •    Our motives will be judged.  "But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any
    human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.  I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this
    acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.  Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time,
    but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the
    motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God" (I Corinthians 4:3-5).

If we should not pass judgment before the time, it can only be because the unresolved disputes among believers will be
adjudicated at the
Bema.  There the injustices among God's children will be brought to light, truth will triumph, and the
righteous will be vindicated.

  •    An American missionary organization raised money for property, including buildings, in a country of Europe.  
    When the chairman of the European board resigned, a local board member was able to usurp authority, rewrite
    the constitution of the organization, and declare himself owner.  This Christian leader, in effect, stole the property
    from the Christian organization, expelled its leadership, and put the church and newly built apartments in his

  •    A Christian couple had a bitter divorce.  There were so many lies, deceptions, and deep hurts that counselors
    couldn't establish agreement on so much as a single point.  The husband eventually abandoned his wife and
    children and yet used their names as dependents on his income tax forms.

It might be tempting to think that these Christians will walk through heaven's gates hand in hand, with old animosities
forgotten.  Yes, of course, at that time all believers will have new natures and will not be subject to grudges and
bitterness.  But this does not mean that what happened on earth will be hidden.  Paul taught that the believers in
Corinth should not think they have to settle every issue, but wait for Christ to do it.  What is the purpose of exposing the
secrets of the hearts if it is not to bring final reconciliation to unresolved disputes?  (See I Corinthians 4:3-5, quoted

If you have had your reputation ruined by a vindictive believer, take comfort in the fact that the truth  shall some day be
revealed.  Is not the
Bema the place where injustices on earth shall finally be addressed?  Is not this why Paul said we
should not take revenge but leave the matter with God?  "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the
wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:19).

Christ will untangle the disputes that baffled us on earth.  He will bring to light "the things hidden in the darkness and
disclose the motives of men's hearts" (I Corinthians 4:5).  Justice can only triumph if the participants see injustices
addressed and resolved.  The judgment seat of Christ will be the place where God will satisfy our craving to have masks
torn away, lies exposed, and reality prevail.  The wrongdoers will finally admit the truth, and the victims will be
vindicated; forgiveness among believers will be both given and accepted.  Only then will justice prevail.

Recently, I was told that a known Christian leader is actually a fake, a man who is using gullible Christians to garner
funds for himself and his family.  Yet he preaches messages that have biblical content; he is generally believed to have
been converted out of an atheistic family.  Perhaps people have been converted from hearing him preach.  Whether he
will be judged at the
Bema or the Great White Throne, we can take comfort in the fact that someday the facade will fall
and all that will be left is reality.

What would it be like to "suffer loss"?  What would the consequences be if we did see our deeds disintegrate behind a
cloud of smoke?  What memories might we take with us into eternity?  Notice the contrast between the two men.  "If any
man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward.  If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer
loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire" (I Corinthians 3:14-15).  The man who suffers loss is pictured
as running out of a building that is engulfed in flames and collapsing behind him.  He is saved; indeed, he arrives in
heaven just as surely as his faithful brothers and sisters.  But he has lost the opportunity for a full reward.


What kind of lifestyle might cause us to lose our inheritance?  We can lose our reward both by the sins we commit and
the opportunities we squander.  Certainly all believers inherit heaven with its opportunity to serve Christ and worship at
the throne.  But there is another inheritance, a special reward given to the faithful.  This second kind of reward is
sometimes spoken of as "inheriting eternal life."

Earlier I pointed out that some scholars teach that to enter the kingdom is one thing; to inherit the kingdom, quite
another.  We say that King Hussein inherited the kingdom of Jordan, which he has ruled for many years.  But there are
many other people who live within the country but are not participating in his rule.

possess eternal life you simply need faith in Christ; to truly inherit it, you need faith and obedience.  If we keep in
mind that to "inherit eternal life," or to "inherit" the kingdom, is an extra reward for faithful service, we will read many
passages of Scripture differently.

Paul wrote, "For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has
an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God" (Ephesians 5:5).  Who are these people who will not have an
"inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God"?  In context, Paul is warning Christians about their behavior.  He
assumes that Christians can be deceived and live like the "sons of disobedience."  We have all known Christians who
are greedy and idolatrous.  We've all known Christians who live with these sins even when coming under God's heavy
hand of discipline.  The Bible assumes what we know by experience, namely, that Christians can do evil deeds and be
caught in terrible sins.  Some die in such a spiritual condition.

Covetousness, which is also listed as one of these transgressions, lies deeply buried within everyone of us.   We all can
identify with the war for ownership that rages within the soul.  If with Christ's help we do not master such sins, they will
assuredly master us.  If Paul meant that those who practice such vices will not enter the kingdom, our own assurance of
final salvation would be in constant jeopardy.  Any one of us could be overtaken by such a sin and die in disgrace.

Perhaps what Paul meant is this:  Those who practice such sins will not be barred from entering the kingdom, but will be
barred from inheriting it.  If one or more of these sins characterizes their Christian lives, and they refuse to judge the
evil, they will forfeit the honor of kingdom rule.

Similar teaching occurs in Paul's instructions to the church in Galatia.  In fact, here the list of sins that will prevent
people from "inheriting the kingdom of God" is even longer.

    Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities,
    strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things
    like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not
    inherit the kingdom of God.  (Galatians 5:19-21, italics added)

Again Paul speaks of those who will forfeit certain kingdom privileges because of their sinful lifestyle.  Although we must
admit that many so-called carnal Christians are not Christians at all, we also must recognize that serious failure is
possible for genuine Christians.  And this will be revealed at the

I freely admit that most scholars disagree with the above interpretation.  They teach that Paul's description refers to the
unconverted, who will miss the
Bema entirely and be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment.  To live a lifestyle
characterized by these sins, it is said, is proof that one is not a Christian.  They would argue that Christians might
into these sins, but their lives will not be
characterized by them.

It is not my intention to settle this interpretive question.  Either way, Paul's words are a sober warning to all of us.   First,
we must examine whether we are living lives that are free of these sins which God so strictly judges.  Surely many who
claim to be believers and yet practice these sins are self-deceived.  We must remind ourselves that it is possible to
profess to have eternal life, and not possess it.  In other words, many whose lives are characterized by these sins will
find themselves on the wrong side of the celestial gates.

But second, I'm sure we would agree that when genuine Christians allow such sins to become a part of their lives, their
reward will be diminished.  Faithfulness not only means that we are committed to good deeds, but also that we are free
of evil ones.  One result of the new birth is a love for God and a dislike for sin.  If as a child of God we tolerate what our
Father hates, we will incur His discipline in this life and the next.

If we ask the question how God evaluates lives that are so mixed with failures and successes, if we wonder how God
balances twenty years of faithful ministry with a year of moral failure, we cannot answer.  If God spelled out specifically
what we must do to "inherit" the kingdom and the number of failures that we must have on our record before we "forfeit"
it, you can be sure that some of us would want to do the bare minimum to balance the ledger!

Certainly, those who lives were characterized by these sins shall suffer greater loss than those who struggled with such
sins but continually judged them through confession and repentance.  Indeed, even if the sins we have forsaken and
confessed will only be represented as lost rewards, they shall still greatly affect the outcome of our judgment.  If we
have wasted our lives, we will still suffer loss even if we should repent just before our death.

When the church at Corinth was experiencing God's heavy hand of discipline for disrespect at the Lord's Table (indeed,
some were smitten with sickness and others had actually died), Paul had this admonition: "But if we judged ourselves
rightly, we should not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be
condemned along with the world" (I Corinthians 11:31-32).

The more consistently we judge our sins through repentance and yieldedness, the less severe will be our future
judgment.  Even if we should lapse into known sin, we must never make our peace with it.  Unjudged sin, that is, sin that
we presumptively commit, can, I believe, bar us from enjoying the full potential of our rule with Christ.

Don Carson, professor at Trinity International University, says that when he was in Europe he spoke to a student who
was cheating on his wife while far away from home at a university in Germany.  When Carson pointed out that this would
incur the discipline of God, the adulterer responded, "Well, of course, I expect God to forgive me - that's His job!"
Carson did not believe that this man was a Christian, but if a believer were to adopt such an attitude, he most assuredly
would be reprimanded and denied a reward.

In the Scriptures there are many warnings to those who would misuse the grace of God.  There are also many
encouragements to those who strive against sin but at times lose the battle.  The desires of our hearts and the direction
of our lives will all be taken into account when we stand before Christ.  Keep in mind that our entire life will be
evaluated.  The times of spiritual victory will be assessed along with our failures.  Because God is generous, He will find
more good in our lives than we know is there.  Remember, Paul assured us that in that day "each  man's praise will
come to him from God" (I Corinthians 4:5).

A second way we can forfeit our inheritance is by refusing to accept the joys of sacrifice and single-minded devotion to
Christ.  Rewards are based on our consistent faithfulness to follow Christ, even at great cost.  God gives each of us
time, talents, and treasure.  To squander these, living as though these gifts are ours and not His, is to risk forfeiting our
right to rewards.

In the next chapter we will consider more specifically what Christ will be looking for when He judges us.  We will list ways
in which we can please or displease Him.  Not everyone need leave father and mother; not everyone need suffer
persecution to have an abundant entrance into the kingdom.  But if we neglect our duties we will answer for our


We all struggle with the concept of negative consequences at the judgment seat of Christ.  Many Christians think that
Christ would never reprimand us at the
Bema.  Our sins have been washed away, and God cannot judge us for our
carnality, selfishness, and wasted lives, we think.  Because we are not under condemnation, we feel secure that any
loss we suffer cannot be too serious.

But, as we have learned, God does judge His people on earth even though they are forgiven and justified.  Ananias and
Sapphira were judged by death for their dishonesty; carnal believers in Corinth died because of their disrespect for the
Lord's Table (I Corinthians 11:30).  The simple principle is that God does not let His children get by with disobedience
even though their place in heaven is secured and their transgressions legally forgiven.  He judges them even though
they will not have the opportunity to do better next time.

I agree with Kendall, who says, "We must deduce that there is no contradiction between Paul's doctrine of justification
and his conception of the judgment of God; and that being declared righteous so as to escape the wrath of God...does
not exempt us from rewards and punishment in the Last Day.  Thanks to Christ's sacrifice for us, we are spared the
eternal penalty for our sin; we will, however, be judged for our response to opportunities that were laid before us.  I can't
lose my salvation, but there is something I
can lose!

Let us try to imagine what the judgment seat of Christ will actually be like.  If only we could meet someone who
experienced it!  The closest we can come to a firsthand account is to recall a parable Christ told about a man who
suffered loss - significant loss - though he apparently was "saved...so as through fire" (I Corinthians 3:15).

A nobleman called his servants and gave each of them some money and then left on his journey.  One was given five
talents; another, two; and a third, just one.  Two of the servants seized the opportunity.  "Immediately the one who had
received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents.  In the same manner the one who had
received the two talents gained two more” (Matthew 25:16-17).  

When the master returned, he called his servants to give an account of his money.  When the five-talent servant
presented him with ten talents, the master commended him.  "Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a
few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master" (verse 21).  The servant whose two
talents were now four talents heard the same kind words.

This corresponds to life as we know it.  We are not given the same number of talents in life; some are given one,  others
are given two,  while a few are given five or ten.  God does not expect five-talent ability from a two-talent man.  But since
rewards are based on faithfulness to opportunity, both the two-talent man and the five-talent man received the same

The third servant had hidden his money in the ground where no thief could find it.  Perhaps he expected to be awarded
for prudence, but he surely was not prepared for the response that awaited him.  "You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that
I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed.  Then you ought to have put my money in the bank,
and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest" (verses 26-27).  

Then he added, "'Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.' For to
everyone who has shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even
what he does have shall be taken away" (verses 28-29).

Wicked!  Lazy!

The master's words stung.  What had this servant done to receive such harsh condemnation?  Apparently feeling
inferior because he had compared himself to those who had more talents than he, he said, in effect, "If I can't have five
talents, I won't use the one I do have!"  If he couldn't be a five-talent man, he didn't want to be a one-talent man.  The
sin of comparison crippled him.

This servant also feared failure and lacked the motivation to overcome his fears.  This was not just pessimism about the
economy; he had made a willful decision to choose the easy path.  He didn't want to take the risk of investment.  He
thought that a box in the dirt would be safer than an investment at the bank.

He was discontented with his talent, and so he was discontented with his God.  God was cruel and powerful, reaping
where He had not sown and gathering where He had not scattered.  He was making unreasonable demands.  I believe
the servant was a bitter man because he felt cheated.  He thought he was digging a hole for his talent, but actually he
was digging a hole for himself.  But God wasn't buying his excuses!

What did he lose?

First, he lost the approval of his master.  "You wicked, lazy slave" (verse 26).  Perhaps Christ will speak similar words to
some of us in the day of judgment.  These words are, after all, an expression of disappointment and grief.  If we have
been unfaithful, we shall be rebuked.

Second, the servant faced
temporary rejection.  "Take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten
talents" (verse 28).  Perhaps this helps us understand Paul's words:

    It is a trustworthy statement:
    For if we died with Him, we shall also live with him;
    If we endure, we shall also reign with Him;
    If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
    If we are faithless, He remains faithful; For He cannot deny Himself.
    (II Timothy 2:11-13)

Paul seems to be saying that it is possible that we will not endure, in which case we might not reign with Him; it is also
possible that we can deny Him, in which case He will deny us.  If so, we can rejoice that even if we are faithless He will
remain faithful.  He will not reject us as one of His children, but as one of His servants.

Or consider the words of Christ: "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My word in this adulterous and sinful generation,
the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38).  
Imagine Christ temporarily being ashamed of us because we were ashamed of Him!

Again, I must point out that many interpreters would refer these passages of Scripture to the unconverted.  No believer,
it is argued, would ever permanently deny Christ; nor would any believer be consistently ashamed of Christ.  Yet, in
context, these warnings are addressed to believers.  Paul said that if "we" deny Him, He will also deny "us."  Apparently
he thought that such failure was a possibility for him.

Third, the servant was
denied rule in the kingdom.  "'Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who
has the ten talents.'  For to everyone who has shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but from the one
who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away" (verses 28-29).  In a similar parable in Luke, the
unfaithful servant explicitly forfeited rule over the cities (Luke 19:11-27).  

In the passage in Matthew, the text records that he was cast into "outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping
and gnashing of teeth" (verse 30).

It is difficult to know how the judgment of this servant should be interpreted.  Some scholars think that his strict judgment
proves he was an unbeliever and perhaps Christ intended that we understand the parable as a warning to those who
pretend to believe but their lifestyle belies their profession.

However, Warren Wiersbe represents those interpreters who point out that we need not see this treatment as
punishment in hell, but rather the deep remorse of a man who was an unfaithful servant.  He grieves deeply in the
darkness outside of the King's palace, but he is still a servant and thus will be welcomed back into the King's estate.  
Wiersbe writes, "The man was dealt with by the Lord, he lost his opportunity for service, and he gained no praise or
reward.  To me that is outer darkness."

We must caution that we should not build our theology on parables but remember that they were told to illustrate a
central point.  Christ used this story to alert His disciples to the danger of squandered opportunities.  There is warning
for all of us who are tempted to hide our talent in the dirt, either because of fear or self-centeredness.  And when we
stand before Christ in a state of purity with our glorified bodies, the sins we committed on earth will look more hideous
than we could ever have thought them to be.  Grief, deep grief, is understandable.

Can we say that some believers will be punished at the judgment seat of Christ?  Certainly our eternal punishment was
borne by Christ; thus, we are not under condemnation by God.   But is not God's severe discipline of His children on
earth a form of punishment?  Would not the rebuke of Christ and the loss of rewards be a form of punishment for lives
carelessly lived in the face of marvelous opportunities?  Is not the purpose of any judge to hand out rewards or

Let us at least boldly affirm that the negative consequences of the judgment are far-reaching.  This is a judgment, an
accounting of how our lives were lived, with appropriate rewards either given or withheld.  In fact, we do not know
whether it is even possible to recover from our showing at the
Bema.  Perhaps those who suffer loss shall miss some
opportunities for all of eternity.  Hoyt wisely keeps us balanced when he writes, "To overdo the sorrow aspect of the
judgment seat of Christ is to make heaven into hell.  To underdo the sorrow aspect is to make faithfulness

We should not think that the unfaithful Christian will spend eternity in the outskirts of God's kingdom, cowering in a dark
corner.  Heaven will not be comprised of two great companies, the faithful and the unfaithful.  Most of us will fall
somewhere in between; and, of course, everyone will be happy, everyone fulfilled, everyone serving.  But the unfaithful
Christian missed a splendid experience of receiving Christ's approval.  Everyone in the kingdom will be a child of God,
everyone a servant, but it appears that not everyone will get to rule with Christ.

People think that as long as their ledger shows neither gain nor loss that is sufficient.  No, the talent given to this
servant had to earn a profit.  He had to be willing to take a risk for the sake of the king and his kingdom.  He had to be
willing to take his jar of water and prime the pump, believing that his small investment would result in all the water he
would ever need.

There is a story, a legend that comes to us from India.  A beggar saw a wealthy rajah come toward him, riding in his
beautiful chariot.  The beggar took the opportunity and stood by the side of the road holding out his bowl of rice, hoping
for a handout.  To his surprise, the rajah stopped, looked at the beggar, and said, "Give me some of your rice!"

The beggar was angry.  To think that this wealthy prince would expect his rice!  Gingerly, he gave him one grain of rice.
"Beggar, give me more of your rice!"

In anger, the beggar gave him another grain of rice.

"More please!"

By now the beggar was seething with resentment.  Once again he stingily gave the rajah another grain of rice and then
walked away.  As the chariot went on its way, the beggar, in his fury, looked into his bowl of rice.  He noticed something
glitter.  It was a grain of gold, the size of a grain of rice.  He looked more carefully and found just two more.

For every grain of rice, a grain of gold.

If we clutch our bowl of rice, we shall lose our reward.  If we are faithful and give God each grain, He gives us gold in

And the gold God gives will survive the fire.


YOUR ETERNAL REWARD, by Erwin W. Lutzer, Copyright 1998, Moody Publishers.