We must each personally realize that we will be judged for what we do—we cannot use the greater errors of others as an excuse for our own sin.
When a person first began to learn the basic truth of the Bible, there is often a great personal struggle trying to obey. He or she may need to discontinue Sabbath jobs or activities, clean up his or her diet or vocabulary. Each person certainly must learn to view his or herself in a completely different perspective—as a person that needs the Eternal for forgiveness, salvation and new life.
But as the years go by, the “first love” for the truth of many tends to fade. As long as we show up for services, continue contributing and do not “rock the boat” the other brethren seem to be happy with us. If, in addition to this, we are spending a reasonable amount of time in prayer and Bible study, we can easily become very content with ourselves. But is that what our Father expects of us? Are we being judged for what we do now?
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10). Not only are deeds important, but also our words: “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt 12:36-37).
While it is the sacrifice of our savior that will ultimately make us clean in the day of judgment (1Jn 4:17, Rev 1:5), we are still accountable for what we do now. We will be rewarded based on what we do in this life.
The entire chapter of Luke 12 contains an excellent message for how we should live if we hope to be judged favorably for what we do now. The Messiah was addressing his disciples as well as a huge group of people. The whole chapter is excellent reading, but we will quote parts most relevant to the topic of personal judgment.
“...Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12;1-3) We should think of these verses whenever we say something like “what they don’t know won’t hurt them.” We are responsible even when no one else knows that a problem is our fault.
“And He said to His disciples, ‘Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; not about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.... And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you” (Luke 12:22-23, 29-31).
There is nothing wrong with material things—they are promised here as a reward to the faithful. But do these things consume our lives? Are we constantly talking about our quality of food, clothing, housing or entertainment? Is our religion limited to a certain amount of prayer, study, and financial contributions? Are we growing personally and being a light to others?
“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.... Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’” (Luke 12:35-37,40). We are to be a light to others, they should be able to see our works. We are to be serving, doing the work until the end. Our Messiah and the apostles endured life-threatening events to preach the Gospel. Will they be satisfied if we tell them “the Church corporation that had the most money went astray, so we couldn’t preach the Gospel?”
“Then Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?’ And the Lord said, ‘Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has’” (Luke 12:41-44). Peter wondered who the Messiah was talking to here, just the disciples, or to everyone? The answer was He was talking to whoever it would be that was doing the work—there is no emphasis on apostleship or some other rank, but on being a faithful servant.
“But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and maidservants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers” (Luke 22:45-46). Some of us expected the Messiah to return many years ago, but He did not. Some “leaders” of the brethren are spending their energies attacking their fellow servants.
“And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:47-48). Whether these are physical or spiritual stripes is a topic for another article. Anyone that has ever been beaten knows that it hurts—it is something to be avoided. It was our merciful saviour that felt so strongly about this issue that he used this graphic terminology. What category of person are you and I? Do we know our master’s will or do we not? Do we have an understanding of the Truth? Are we a living example of it? Do we know that it was through the preaching of other men that we heard the Gospel? Can we prove that there are no more to be called and chosen? What are we doing about it?
“Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Luke 12;51-53). The context of these verses is still the same as above: doing the Master’s will when he returns. We can expect divisions among His servants, even among families. The Master is judging His servants, he wants to know who is seeking him and who is going along for the ride (1Cor 11:19).
“For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world” (1Cor 11:31-32).
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and Godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire?” (2Pet 3:10-12.)
—Norman S. Edwards, 3/1995