We have looked at the first two dimensions of Paul’s sanctified ambition—its height and its breadth. Finally, let us look at the depth of Paul’s ambition; let us look at the thing that motivates him in all of his striving.
What motivates you? No earthly reward, honor, threat, possibility, circumstance, or opportunity motivated Paul. He could take it all. Over in chapter 6 he says this about his earthly life:
[I’ve lived] in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet, behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things. (2 Corinthians 6:4-10)
Afflictions, beatings, sleeplessness, and hunger are not exactly someone’s first choice of life. And even though there are good things as well, Paul reports that his life is an experience of flip-flopping between suffering and comfort, dishonor and glory. He is distrusted by some, punished by others, and regarded as poor by many.
The point is that Paul is not motivated by these fluctuating circumstances. These earthly concerns don’t drive him. There is only one deep-seated reality that controls Paul: the fact that he will “appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
The word “appear” here is the word phaneroō, which means “to be made manifest” or “to be made clear.” When you go before Christ to have Him render the verdict on your life, all the hypocrisies will be over. All the concealments and all the secrets—all the fronts and the facades—will be stripped away. As Paul says, “[The Lord] 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” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
So, stripped of all pretense, disguise, and deception, and stripped of all external trappings, your naked soul will be unveiled at the judgment seat.
The word for “judgment seat” is bēma, and it would have been a familiar word to the Corinthians, who had a bēma on the main street of their city. The word itself simply refers to an elevated place, and the idea of judgment isn’t necessarily part of its literal meaning. In fact, in ancient Greek culture, a bēma was sometimes a platform for rewarding victorious athletes, similar to the podiums used at the Olympic Games today. However, the word is used a couple of times in the New Testament to refer to Pilate’s judgment seat, which was a place for deciding criminal cases.
For us as Christians, since Jesus already paid the price for all of our sins, Christ’s bēma will not be a place of condemnation, but of reward. When we come to the judgment seat, “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 on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).
All the wood, hay, and stubble of our lives will burn away. These things are not necessarily sin; they are simply junk that did not have eternal significance. The gold, silver, and precious stones are that which have eternal value, and on the basis of that we will receive an eternal reward.
Paul knew this, and he lived in light of it. It didn’t matter to him whether he received honors in this world, because he was motivated by the fact that one day he would stand before Christ, and all the worthless stuff in his life would disappear in a moment, and he would then spend eternity enjoying the reward for what he did in the power of the Spirit. This is how we have to live our lives. This is sanctified ambition.
When I was a kid, I heard my grandfather quote a certain poem in one of his sermons. And it struck me hard, so I memorized the poem. Over the years, I have often thought back on it:
When I stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ
And He shows me His plan for me,
The plan of my life as it might have been,
Had He had His way; and I see
How I blocked Him here, and I checked Him there
And I would not yield my will,
Will there be grief in my Saviour’s eyes,
Grief though He loves me still?
He would have me rich, and I stand here poor,
Stripped of all but His grace,
While memory runs like a hunted thing
Down the paths I cannot retrace.
Then my desolate heart will well nigh break
With tears that I cannot shed;
I shall cover my face with my empty hands;
I shall bow my uncrowned head.
Lord of the years that are left to me,
I give them to Thy hand;
Take me and break me, mold me to
The pattern Thou hast planned.
By Martha Snell Nicholson
I don’t want to stand there empty handed, and neither did Paul. May our highest goal be to please Christ. May our widest goal be to live the way we will in eternity. May our deepest motive be to live in light of judgment. And may the Lord help us to be faithful, spiritually ambitious people.
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