God Judges the Heart
In my last post I said there were three reasons we can’t know who will be greatest in God’s Kingdom. The first is because God judges the heart and we’re no good at that. 1 Corinthians 4:1-5:
So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
Notice our motives for what we did will be exposed. Also, notice we are not to judge other people’s motives (many Christians commit this sin). Paul even says that he doesn’t even judge himself. You see, God judges the heart and in the Lord’s considered opinion your motive for doing what you do can be more important than what you do. Remember 1 Corinthians 13:1-3:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Doesn’t this passage tell us that we can deliver the best sermons, teach the best apologetics lectures, or write the most respected books but if we don’t do it from love, then from God’s perspective, we “gain nothing”? That is what it says, right?
There are, after all, a lot of outward rewards for doing well in public ministry. There can be fame, respect, travel, and honorariums. That’s a lot of worldly stuff and we are naturally attracted to that stuff. This can motivate Christians to seek public ministry and then to work very hard to make their ministries ever bigger. It can also lead to a lot of worldly pride: “I have more respected degrees from better schools, teach bigger crowds, write more books, have more Twitter followers than he/she does.”
When we build our self-worth on our ministry success slights are hard. When I was at Simon Greenleaf University a 30 something prof came into my office and ranted on about how Talbot should have hired him for a theology post. He said he was eminently more qualified than the person they hired. When he left my office I thought he just might be academically more qualified but the Lord tends to resist those who vaunt themselves.
Sadly, “I’m more qualified than they are” tempts all of us. Benjamin Franklin’s saying “if you want to know a person’s faults, praise him to his peers” is all too true. We are tempted to bring others down a notch (or ten) to make ourselves look better. I’ve done this. Haven’t you? Thankfully, I’m not perfect at this but I’ve learned that when I feel slighted, when I’ve been passed over for an opportunity, my mental refrain has become, “I work for you, Father. I work for you.” After all, if He is pleased with us, the value of what others think isn’t very important. On the other hand, if He is displeased, then standing ovations are dangerous. God judges our hearts and if we’re not great in God’s eyes, then it doesn’t matter what our mother thinks or even what a million other Christians might think. So, as Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart.”
I find this thought comforting and humbling. It is comforting because our praise from God won’t be based on my one-upping other ministers or their one-upping me. It is humbling because I know that too often my motives aren’t what they should be. By the way, sometimes I’ve heard Christians say that they aren’t going to minister in this way or that because their motives aren’t pure. That’s mistaken: We need to be of service and employ the gifts God has given us even when we don’t run on pure fuel.
So who is greatest by this standard? Only God knows and soon we will all receive our praise from Him.
I find this freeing.