Reaching The Winner’s Podium
2 Cor. 5:10, 1 Cor. 3:11-15
Owning the Podium
It is actually shocking to realize how, in the grand scheme of our never-ending life, our existence on earth is shockingly short and brief. But our short earthly life also settles the big questions of where we live our never-ending life and what we will do with it.
If anyone had told us how the momentary blip of this earthly life shapes our never-ending next life, surely we would have lived our lives differently!
It’s almost like the Olympics. Who would have thought that owning the podium and standing there with a gold medal around your neck would usher in a whole new world of celebrity status, commercial endorsements, financial reward and heroic leadership?
Who would have thought that owning the podium would determine the shape and size of the rest of your life with a gold medallion opening up all kinds of opportunities.
It makes the hours of practice and of perfecting your craft all worth it!
The sweat, tears and sacrifice fade away in the light of that glorious moment on the podium that determines the reward, the direction and the impact of the rest of your life.
If that is true in the arena of athleticism, then how much more is it true in the arena of your never-ending life?
Do you realize that the life between your birth and death – this relatively short blip on the line graph of your never-ending life -
determines not only where you will spend the rest of your life but also the size, shape and quality of that life?
Let’s go back to the analogy of the Olympian for a moment.
At some point this heroic Olympian was a little girl or boy with many other little boys and girls. At some point, our hero decided that she was going to train for a particular sport.
That was the beginning of her eventual Olympian life and that decision set her apart from most other boys and girls. It got her into training, made her set up a regimen, making commitments and sacrifices, etc.
The same thing goes for you, me and everybody else around us. At some point we decided to become followers of Jesus, where we asked Him to come into our lives. That was like the little boy or girl deciding to commit to a certain sport.
Take it one step further. While a ton of kids try out certain sports and even commit to it for a while, only a few rise to athletic status and fewer yet to Olympic status.
The difference between kids trying out and becoming an Olympian is the amount of training that goes into it; the discipline, the sacrifice and the sweat and tears that go into an incredible regimen of training.
How often is the kid told that the sacrifice pays off, the discipline pays off; the pain, crazy hours and forgoing of pleasures really does pay off!
Stick with it! Keep your eye on the prize. Keep your eye on the podium because once you reach it and own it, not only will you be known as an Olympian but it will open up a world of entitlement, endorsements and status that most will never enjoy!
My Short Christian Life on Earth!
I am here to tell you this morning that if this is true in sports or in the pursuit of any other discipline, then how much more is it true of the pursuit of the Christian life on earth!
Your status in eternity, your stature and the kind of life you will enjoy is determined by how you live your short Christian life between birth and death.
The discipline, sacrifice and earnestness of serving Jesus and humanity, with everything you have in this life, will determine your Olympic status in the next life.
Being committed to living for Jesus and serving humanity is like the countless hours of practice on a skating rink, ski slope or track somewhere and the willingness to forgo the normal pleasures that others so easily pursue.
The discipline, the training and the sacrifice in this short life will pay off handsomely in the next part of your life.
Living a disciplined, generous, pure and compassionate life will set you up to owning the podium some day, and in turn, will shape the kind of eternity you’re going to have.
So again, it’s mind boggling how this brief life will influence the quality of the rest of your never-ending life in eternity!
Paul on ‘Owning the Podium’
Don’t take this as coming from me. Let me show you this from the Scriptures.
Nowhere better does this come through than in Paul’s writings to the Corinthians.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” II Cor. 5:10
That’s his way of saying “be sure to own the podium”! Before we look at this more closely, look at the context in which he says this:
“1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. “
In other words, while living on earth Paul has his eyes on the prize of the next life, which he calls “the eternal house in heaven”!
Next, he talks about the kind of groaning that you normally only hear in a gym, on a ring or a track; the groaning associated with training, sacrifice and discipline that will bring you to the podium:
“2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”
Lest you think that it comes down to only your sweat and tears; as much as you are made to be in this ring, Paul reminds them of the coach that trains them, works with them and actually empowers them, namely the Holy Spirit:
“5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
This is the power and energy that makes them commit to a life of training, regimen and selflessness that he mentions next:
“6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.”
All of that then leads them straight to the podium that he mentions in verse 10:
“10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
The picture he paints is one of a judge who will make the determination of your standing, and what your reward for your standing will be.
Tribunal in Heaven
This is a major theme in Paul’s writings both here, in his first letter to the Corinthians, and also in his letter to the Romans.
Some have suggested that his brush with earthly judges left a deeper impact on him than at first thought.
For example, one of his arrests happened in Corinth where the marble platform on which the provincial judge sat was known in Greek as the bema or judgment seat, the very phrase Paul used two years later when he wrote: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”
It seems that his brushes with the law shaped Paul’s understanding that there will be a tribunal in heaven at the onset of eternity, that will determine who owns the podium and who does not.
I don’t want to make this too complicated, but I need to mention that this is not the court that determines whether you get to heaven or not.
The court that determines that is known as the Great White Throne Judgment; and while it’s on John’s mind, it is not on Paul’s mind in these writings. That’s a whole other sermon for another day.
This court is the known as the Judgment Seat of Christ and is more akin to sport judges determining your standing.
This is very much about rewards. Notice that it says: “so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
I know that we usually hear this in connection with punishment (“you just wait till your father gets home and gives you your dues”), but this is not about punishment but rewards.
“What is due him” actually means rewards. This is a reference to the rewards owed to you!
Rewards based on what? “For the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” ‘Good or bad’ literally means worthwhile or worthless, and it refers to how you lived your life as a Christian.
The Judgment Seat of Christ will determine how strong your performance as a Christian in this brief life was, with an eye toward rewarding you with owning the podium.
This is exactly what Paul means when he tells the Romans: “We shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ….each of us shall give an account of himself to God.” Rom. 14:10,12
The account has to do with how well you trained and how proficient you became in this “sport” called Christian living!
Did you become an expert in Christian living? Did you commit yourself to a life of regimented training in the area of Christian living, so much so that you have become an Olympian Christian?
Show and Tell
I would be amiss if I’d not show you Paul’s thoughts on this in his first letter to the Corinthians:
“10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” I Cor. 3:10-15
Notice how “the Day will bring it to light.”
Bring what to light?
Not what foundation you have poured. That was settled long ago. You’ve poured the foundation of Jesus Christ. Jesus is your foundation and chief cornerstone. That’s not at issue here.
What’s at issue is what you’ve built on that foundation. How you have lived your life while in this body.
Is your so-called Christian life one of worthless hay, wood or straw, in other words, meaningless fluff that goes up in flames?
Or is it worthwhile gold, silver and costly, stones that stands the test of time and follows you into eternity?
“So what is tested at the bema? Your works. What you did with your life will endure like gold, silver and precious stones in a fire. Or will it burn up like straw – not a trace will remain, no matter how sensible, enjoyable or even religious these activities might have seemed while you were alive.” Bruce Wilkinson in “A Life God Rewards”
Of course, what we want is the gold standard described here as “gold, silver and precious stones”; and what makes this tricky is that wood, hay or straw isn’t always what it seems.
One woman’s gold is another woman’s wood and one man’s straw may very well be another man’s precious stones.
So much of this is about the motive and attitude behind a deed as it is about the deed itself.
Which is why we can never be judges over each other’s Christian lives.
We can never say he lived a better Christian life than she did. While we may see a deed or the lack of a deed, we do not see the motive behind it.
“ Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” I Cor. 4:5
The Gold Standard
So what’s the gold standard for the Christian life that has you owning the podium? What distinguishes the Olympian from the “wanna-be”?
Some would point to the five crowns as the gold standard:
1. The Crown of Glory for faithful volunteering & service. (I Pet:5:4)
2. The Crown of rejoicing for leading people to Jesus (I Thess. 2:19)
3. The Crown of Righteousness for those who live for his return (2 Tim. 4:8)
4. The Incorruptible Crown for a living out a consistent Christian life (I Cor. 9:24,25)
5. The Crown of Life for those who suffered for their faith (Rev. 2:10)
Do five crowns equal the gold medallion, with lesser numbers coming in as silver or bronze?
While it’s true that these are the crowns, however, it’s not only that you did these things but the reasons underneath it!
You can do all these things but if your heart is all wrong, if your motive is off and your attitude needs major adjusting, then it doesn’t matter. It does not matter how great your sacrificial service was, who you told about Jesus, how much you are interested in the end times, how clean your life is, and how you had to endure ridicule or persecution!
That’s why Wilkinson talks about the gold standard being about the motives underneath actions and deeds.
He talks about the three-fold test of the gold standard. Do you want to know what it is?
1. The Test of Relationship: specifically, your relationship with Jesus. Is he near and dear to you? Do you talk to him often, listen to his Word frequently and obey his voice? Jesus said: “Without me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
2. The Test of Motive: specifically, why you do what you do. Is it for self-glory, ego and reputation, to be noticed and paid back somehow or is it to serve God and bring him glory? Jesus said: “Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matt. 6:1
3. The Test of Love: specifically, your primary concern being the other person. Paul wrote: “If I give all I possess to the poor but do not have love, I gain nothing.” I Cor. 13:3
So, do you want to know what the gold standard is?
It’s being committed to sacrificial service, telling others about Jesus, living with an eye toward his soon return and living a consistent Christian life regardless of ridicule or pressure, motivated by love for others and the glory of God and out of a close relationship with Jesus.
You do that and you will own the podium!
You do that and you will hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” Matt. 25:23
Here’s the kicker: Sharing your master’s happiness for all eternity will include being put in charge of many things in the life that is to come (more on that next time).
Run to Win the Prize
So, for this morning, as we close, nothing would thrill God more than to have you renew your commitment to not lead a wasted life but to pursue righteous living, sharing the gospel with others, living for his return, happily active in His service even under pressure.
And, best of all, is when it is motivated by a life of love for others, concerned for the glory of God and in His mighty strength!
Will you be that athlete here and now, which is so clearly captured in Paul’s writings to the Corinthians?
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” I Cor. 9:24-27
Gun to own the podium! Make that podium yours and you will shine like the brightness of heaven and the stars forever!
Heaven’s Reward Program
Cause and Effect
It’s funny how life has consequences; how what you do now in the moment can start a ripple effect that has consequences forever.
It’s interesting how an action is never just an isolated action but starts a process that determines a certain course and direction that can shape an entire destiny.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Who would have thought that when Leonard Kleinrock wrote his paper on “packet switching” in 1961, that Larry Roberts would use it four years later to create the first long distance computer network between two universities? Those actions led to the social phenomenon we now call the world wide web or the internet.
Neither Kleinrock nor Roberts knew that they would change the world!
Did Gavrilo Princip know that his bullet that killed Archduke Ferdinand of Austria would start events that would lead to World War 1? Or that these events would eventually create the conditions for World War 2?
Did Sir Frank Whittle know that when he invented the turbojet engine that he would usher in the jet age, which makes long distance travel and space travel possible?
If this is true for actions that lead to big consequences, it is equally true of every action regardless if the consequence is big or small.
Friends, what I am talking about this morning is a law called cause and effect. Every action causes an effect.
A deed or a behaviour, even a reaction, never happens in isolation and is never an event by itself that quickly fizzles away.
Every action has consequences both in this life and in the life to come.
In particular, it’s this idea of how I live my life affects my future forever that is both revolutionary and life altering.
Do you realize how you act and react actually shapes your eternity? I am not making this up, folks.
Jesus linked the rewards in the next life to our actions and reactions in this life. For example, in Luke 6 he links enduring suffering and persecution in this life with the rewards of the next life.
“Blessed are you when men hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and cast out your name as evil for the Son of Man sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy for indeed your reward in heaven is great.” Luke 6:22, 23
The leaping for joy has to do with the thrill of anticipating the rewards in the next life, which are linked to enduring persecution and suffering in this life.
Lest you think this is just an isolated reference, the promises of a reward in heaven for how you live your life in this world are everywhere in the New Testament:
“He will reward each according to his works.” Matt. 16:27
“You will have treasure in heaven.” Matt. 19:21
“You will be blessed for you shall be repaid at the resurrection.” Lk. 14:4
God keeps track of what you do for him, with an eye toward an eventual reward.
Cause and effect, that’s what this is, where what you cause here and now affects things then and there.
The Timeline of Your Life
To appreciate the enormity of this celestial cause and effect interplay, we need to take a second look at the timeline of your life.
The real timeline, that is; since most assume their timeline is life between birth and death.
Well, what if I were to tell you that your birth and your death are only two points on a much bigger timeline of your life?
What if I were to tell you that your life will not end at your death and that, while you had a definite beginning, you will have no definite end.
Would you think me crazy if I were to suggest to you that yours is a ‘forever life’; and that in this ‘forever life’ there are not two markers (birth and death) but multiple markers that include these two?
That is looking at things a little different, isn’t it?
The markers of your forever-life are actually birth, death, destination, resurrection, reward and eternity.
Bruce Wilkinson, in “A Life God Rewards”, articulates six markers along the path of your forever life.
Every one of us had a definite beginning and we live on earth as body, soul and spirit: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Gen. 2:7. That’s the first marker.
Secondly, every one of us will some day die; it will be a physical death but not a spiritual death. Your soul and spirit will live on!
Paul talks about this reality: “We are confident and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Cor. 5:8
Most people would then stop and say, “That’s it! That’s your life and that which happened between birth and death was your life”.
The shocker then is when you realize there is more to life than just this life.
Upon your death, you will live on, either with God in heaven or without God in hell. Destination is the third marker.
The story is told of two men who upon their death woke up in the next life: “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with (the beggar) by his side.” Lk. 16:22, 23
The difference between the two that determined eternal destination was not riches nor poverty but belief and unbelief, as it says in Jn. 3:18 “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
Therefore what you believed on earth in terms of Jesus as your Lord and Saviour determines your eternal destination.
The fourth marker is resurrection. You will be resurrected in the next life. Those with Jesus will, at the end of the ages, receive a new body:
“We eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
Phil. 3:20, 21
Next, rewards! What you will do with your new life in your new body will be determined by the kind of rewards you get, which in turn will determine your position, your assignments and your responsibilities.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Cor. 5:10
Let me explain that: This is not the tribunal that determines your entry into heaven. That was settled at your death, based on whether you believed and called on Jesus.
Nor is “Receiving what is due us” a reference to punishment (‘receiving your due’).
But instead, this is about the talents that will be given to you based on how you lived your life as a believer and whether you pursued worthwhile or worthless things (which is what “whether good or bad” means).
Finally, eternity! That is the beginning of your real life. Your never-ending life. Not just a state of mind; a real life in a real place.
In fact, Jesus will say to those in his heaven: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” Matt. 25:34
This kingdom will never end. This is our eternity. We will live in this kingdom forever and ever. This will be our never-ending life.
So again, the timeline of your never-ending life starts with birth and quickly goes to death and destination and then moves into resurrection, rewards and eventually eternity.
Belief Determines Destination
Looking at the timeline of your never-ending life, can you connect the dots to see which stage of your never-ending life makes the greatest difference?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the time between your birth and death is the most critical part of your never-ending life. Your physical life, this teensy-weensy little period, determines everything that comes beyond death!
Your life here and now determines your destination, the kind of resurrection, whether you receive rewards which in turn determine your position, responsibilities and the kind of life you will have for all eternity!
It’s crazy but true! How can a few short years on earth determine so much beyond this life?
As you ponder that, don’t confuse destination with compensation both of which are determined by your decisions and actions in this life.
What do I mean? Your destination – heaven or hell – will be determined by whether you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ or not.
When the jailer asked what he had to do to be saved from going to hell, he was told, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Acts 16:32
That word ‘believe’ is loaded! It’s not passive but active. It means to trust in and to call on and it always carries the idea of relationship. That’s what ‘belief’ means.
Believe in the Lord Jesus means to call on him and reach out to him with everything you have, and it always ends in a close relationship whereby you end up with Jesus living in your heart!
So your destination is determined by whether you have called on the name of Jesus in this life.
If you have and He is in you, then you are going to heaven. If not, then you’re not.
That is what settles your destination! (BTW, have you settled this all-important matter?)
Actions Determine Compensation
So, if your belief determines your destination, then your actions determine your compensation.
What do I mean? Listen to what Jesus said to the host of a party:
12 “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Lk. 14:12-14
This is more than just a lesson on social etiquette or the do’s and don’ts of hosting a great party.
In Fact, this isn’t actually about a party but about doing things in this short little life that will bring great rewards in the next life.
Do things and live your life in such a way that you will be “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous”!
In this case, if you are going to throw this kind of a party, invite people over not to impress, to play favorites, or to have the favor returned but to serve and help those who are without and cannot help themselves.
So look for the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind – those who cannot help themselves – without passing comment on why they are poor and crippled or how they deserve being lame and blind.
In other words, serve the least and the lost, without judgment nor anticipation of being paid back.
Do your deeds of kindness anonymously, without expectation of a return, from the goodness of your heart and out of your love for Jesus.
For if you do, great will be your reward in heaven!
“You will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Vs. 14
Folks, connect the dots: Your loving, kind, compassionate and sacrificial actions on earth will not be repaid in this life but in the next, which will determine your standing, stature and level of responsibility for all eternity.
When you connect the dots that way, it is mind boggling to realize how I live my very short life determines the shape of my eternity.
The blessings, the benefits and rewards will come in the next life. There is nothing promised for this life.
He doesn’t promise that if you work for him now that you will have riches and ease in this life!
To be sure, God blesses us here on earth out of His unmerited grace, and he might provide temporal rewards for right choices.
But if the truth be known, the rewards Jesus most often talks about are those given to us in the next life.
You earn them now; you cash them in there. You earn them now and they will affect your life far into eternity!
Mindboggling, isn’t it? It makes you want to live your life completely differently, doesn’t it?
Let me go one step further. These things which we call rewards are actually much more than rewards.
When we think of rewards we think of a bonus, a tip or a nice gesture. But it is actually much more than that. It almost borders a legal transaction of a debt outstanding that is paid.
I once worked for a man who upon my employment termination decided not to pay me out my final wages and related expenses. He not only deprived me of what was owed to me, but he actually stole my wages.
I want you to know that the rewards that will come to you for your deeds in this short little life are a legal transaction akin to wages.
When Jesus said: “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” Lk. 6:23, the Greek word He uses for reward (misthos) literally means wages.
That’s what it is. These are your wages. It’s neither a tip, nor an appreciation for service rendered, but these are the wages owed you for the work you have done for Him.
No deed is too small. Even something as simple as giving a cup of water will be repaid: “Anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.” Mk.9:41
In today’s terminology it would be mean that even a cup of coffee given to someone in need, a kind word spoken to a stranger, a child sponsored somewhere, will all be repaid!
You know what else? Your prayers will be repaid. You may not have the stamina any longer to provide physical support but you can pray!
Every prayer is recorded as a wage to be repaid. Did you know that?
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matt. 6:6
Even your prayers will bring you a reward, friends. Your service, your faithfulness, your perseverance, your sacrifice, your sharing of talents, all of it and much more will be repaid!
These rewards are our eternal wages that will be repaid in full! Can you imagine how much must be stored up in heaven’s bank for you?
I want to finish this morning with the idea that there is no sense of entitlement or somebody owing me something in how we go about this.
We serve Jesus and those around us with no expectation or desire for rewards or repayment.
That’s not the nature of the beast. We do it because we love Jesus. We do it out of a grateful heart. None of us are in it for the rewards.
Friends, listen to me, this is not about our motivation nor is this about rewards because we are inclined this way. This is not about us.
This is about God’s incredibly generous heart! There is nothing that you could ever take away from what God’s heart is really like.
If you were to say no or turn down his rewards, if you were to downplay his desire to reward you, or somehow be embarrassed about it, then you would actually insult God’s very generous, giving nature and show how little you really know Him.
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Heb. 11:6
You want to please him? Then you must believe that God is a rewarder! Believing who God is includes believing that He is a rewarder.
So revel in His desire to want to reward you. Don’t take that away from him and don’t try to make Him stop.
Let God be God. Let him be the rewarder that he truly is!
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.