6.3 The Judgment and the Quality of our Brethren
There are a number of passages which indicate that our reward at the judgment will take into account the spiritual quality of those with whom we have had close association. An appreciation of this will have numerous, sobering practical outworkings. To motivate us to rise up to these, we present the evidence:
- Paul explains how that in his preaching he laid the foundation of the Gospel of Christ, but other brethren were building on it, as in his earlier parable he spoke of his planting the seed of the Gospel and Apollos watering it. He warned these 'builder' brethren to "take heed how he buildeth thereupon", because "every man's work (cp. "ye are my work in the Lord", 1 Cor. 9:1) shall be made manifest: for the day (of judgment) shall declare it...the fire [of judgment] shall try every man's work, of what sort it is...gold, silver...wood, hay, stubble...if any man's work abide which he hath built...he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire" (1 Cor. 3:6-15). This clearly teaches that successful building up of brethren will have its specific reward at the judgment; and that to some degree their rejection will be a result of our lack of zeal, and we will thus lose the extra reward which we could have had for the work of upbuilding. No doubt if the brethren we have laboured hard with to help, are with us in the Kingdom, this will greatly increase our joy- as compared to the brother who has not had such intense fellowship with his brethren during this life, and whose close friends in the ecclesia have been rejected, he himself only barely passing through the fire of judgment himself ("Yet so as by fire").
- For this reason Paul could say that his great joy at the judgment would be to see his dear brethren enter the Kingdom (1 Thess. 2:19,20; Phil. 4:1; 2 Cor. 1:14); not just joy for his own personal acceptance. In this moment, "he that soweth and he that reapeth [will] rejoice together" (Jn. 4:36)- the letter writers, speakers, writers, travellers... Hence Paul "held forth the word of life" to his converts at Phillipi, "that I may rejoice in the day of Christ (through their acceptance) that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain". This explains the intensity of his efforts to strengthen his brethren: "As though God did beseech you by us: we pray you...be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20). And later he could write from prison "Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 1:10). Thus even in this life John could write: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth...I wish above all things that thou mayest (spiritually) prosper" (3 Jn. 2-4).
- Paul felt he would have "run in vain" if his converts didn't in their turn preach (Phil. 2:16). The quality of our converts affects the nature of our final reward- for Paul elsewhere uses the image of a race as a symbol for the Christian life which ends in the victory of the Kingdom. But whether he won or lost, he felt that the whole thing would be meaningless if they did not spiritually develop.
- The Spirit gifted elders of the first century "watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy (as they saw their growth) and not with grief" (Heb. 13:17). Now the miraculous gifts are withdrawn, we each have a responsibility for each other as those elders did then- and we may well have to give account of our stewardship of the resources God has given us to help our brethren. Thus in 1 Pet. 5:3,4 the reward for the elders who were good examples to the flock was to receive a great "crown of glory".
- Thus responsibility for those who fall away can only be discharged if we have made every possible effort to win them back. This explains the intensity of Paul's striving for the spiritual success of others:
"Ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable to any of you (at the judgment)".
Therefore "being affectionately desirous of you (i.e. their spiritual welfare?), we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the Gospel of God only, but also our own souls (cp. Moses' attitude) because ye were dear to us...ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a (spiritual) father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God". Because of their obedience Paul therefore thanked God "without ceasing" (1 Thess. 2:7-13).
"For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith" (1 Thess. 3:5)- such was his concern for their spiritual state.
"We preach, warning every man...that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (at the judgment): whereunto (to this end) I also labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me" (cp. being a labourer together with God for their salvation, Col. 1:28,29; 1 Cor. 3:9).
And thus when things went wrong: "I am afraid of you (i.e. what your position will result in for both you and me at the judgment?), lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain" (Gal. 4:11).
Some of the practical results of this are now offered:
- To have little contact with one's brethren through isolation of whatever kind means that we cannot be taking this principle seriously. Remember that we can 'go into isolation' by putting in a scanty attendance at meetings, leaving early, avoiding discussion etc.- as well as going into geographical isolation.
- We will be on the look out for spiritual selfishness- building ourselves up through Bible study of our own interest to the detriment of others who cannot benefit, or by doing so to the neglecting of the responsibility to preach. Our Lord Jesus, with His supremely deep and spiritual mind, is surely the highest example of self sacrifice in this.
- It will become natural to truly desire from our hearts the spiritual growth of others in the ecclesia. So the empty conversations will stop, halted by our questioning 'What am I really giving this brother spiritually by this talk?'. The lengthy discussions about the peripheral things of the Gospel will give way to discussion of the Kingdom, the beauty of our Lord's character, how to overcome temptation, the nearness of the Lord's return. And as we talk and perhaps write, our planning, analysis of style and relevance of content will have a verve to it which is born of a desire to serve and give true spiritual help.
- Any we are privileged to 'bring to the truth' become our lifelong responsibility- constant letters, gifts of books and tapes, visits (especially), above all many prayers- especially when you feel tired and depressed yourself- will be a vital necessity. Those who have tutored students up to baptism on the correspondence course have a special responsibility here. There can be no rest for us until our spiritual children are safe in that Kingdom. Surely our love and care for our spiritual little ones should be comparable with that for our natural children in the things of this life? This is setting a challenge. But the haggard faces of our Lord, his matchless disciple Paul, set us the standard. And surely the selflessness of that great, lonely shepherd Moses brings a lump to many throats: "Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin-; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book (of life and salvation, Rev. 13:8) which Thou hast written" (Ex. 32:32). Misguided maybe- but matchless amongst men, glorious in selflessness for the salvation of his flock, a superb type of the Master Himself in this regard.