The judgment of believer's works will be on the basis of how one has lived for God after becoming a Christian, and the result will be either a reward (called a "crown") or a lack of reward. The believer's sins were judged at the cross of Christ; the believer's works will be judged as to how one has utilized his gifts/talents/resources for the Lord.
We are commended to be ready, so that "When He shall appear, we may be confident, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming" (I John 2:28). Perhaps our sorrow at the loss of any reward, may be the tears that God will wipe away (Rev. 21:4).
I. That Which Leads To A Reward - In I Corinthians 4:1- 5 we see that being stewards of the mysteries of God prepares us for eternal reward. A mystery in Scripture is not something mysterious, as we might think, but refers to something that in the ages past was hidden from our understanding, and is now revealed by God to us. In this sense our stewardship of the "mystery" is understood in Colossians 1:27 where we see that as God's children we are to proclaim the truth of God, "Which is, Christ in you the hope of glory". Our commission as part of the church, the body of believers, as stated in Matthew 28:19,20 is to proclaim the message of Salvation to all mankind. This was revealed by Christ to the Church when He came the first time. Faithfulness in carrying out our commission prepares us for reward.
As stewards of God's grace, we also are responsible for being trustees of our material possessions, as to how we use them. The way of the world is to selfishly acquire and use what can be gained. For the Christian there is a Biblical formula as to the gathering and dispensing of one's material wealth (See: Matt. 25:14-30; Gal. 6:7; Matt. 6:20; II Cor. 8:12;9:6). Proper utilization of one's material possessions on earth, will prepare one for an eternal heavenly reward.
Since the Christian lives in basically a self centered and greedy world, we are commended to do good unto others, and be of help to them (Gal. 6:2), especially unto the family of believers (Gal. 6:10). A kind word, even a "cup of cold water" will prepare us for eternal reward.
Persistence in life, as a Christian, since we live in an evil environment, will prepare us for eternal blessings and fulfillment. This too prepares us for a reward (Matt. 5:11,12; Luke 6:22,23; II Tim. 2:12).
II. The Time of the Reward - In Matthew 16:27 we see that it will come on the day when Christ shall return, and "Then shall He reward everyone according to his works". This is emphasized again in Revelation 22:12.
III. The Nature of the Reward - The Bible envisions the rewards as "Crowns" to be bestowed on the victor. Our responsibility today is to run the race of life, keeping our eye on Jesus Christ, and trusting Him for our eternal reward. See: Hebrews 12:1,2.
1. An Incorruptible Crown (I Cor. 9:25-27). This is God's reward to those who strive for mastery in the Christian faith. Since God's primary desire for His children is to become more Christlike in character, it behooves us to keep our eyes on Him, and mold our character after the Lord. As we meditate on the Word of God (Joshua 1:8; Ps.1:2,3), and allow the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and discernment (I Cor. 2:14; James 1:5), then our lives come into conformity to God's design for us. Then we will be able to be a good witness for Him (I Peter 3:14-17).
2. A Crown of Rejoicing - (I Thess. 2:19). This reward is for souls we win to the Lord. We are to let the light of the Gospel of Christ shine through us to others, so that they may see Christ in us (Matt. 5:16). A Christ like life is the best witness, for others are more impressed by who we are, than by what we say. In Prov. 11:30 it says, "He that winneth souls is wise".
3. A Crown of Glory - (I Peter 5:4). This reward is to the shepherds of the flock, who have oversight, but are also to be examples. Though this primarily refers to the spiritual leaders in the family of God, I believe it also pertains to parents who raise children as overseers, to faithful Sunday School teachers who minister to their classes, to anyone who influences others in the things of God's Word. In this sense each one does shepherding, and God is not unmindful of that influence we have in shaping other's character for the Lord Jesus Christ. It too will gain the reward. This should be an encouragement to every Christian.
4. The Crown of Life - (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10). To those who endure the testings of life and are faithful, God will give a reward. God's children, past and present, have endured many trials and tribulations, even unto death for His name sake, and God is keeping a record, and they will not lose their reward for faithfulness.
5. The Crown of Righteousness - (II Tim. 4:8). Christians anticipate Christ's return. To those who long for and anxiously await His coming, God promises this reward. The anticipation of Christ's return, in this day of increasing wickedness becomes even greater in the lives of those who know Him and love His Word. This love knows no bounds.
The Apostle Paul had a fitting conclusion to the understanding of these rewards in II Timothy 2:10-15, when he instructs us to, "Give diligence to your exhibit of works before God, that you may be approved of Him, a workman who has no cause for shame, because you have cut in straight lines the truth of His word". What an admonition to us today.
A medical missionary in Africa, many years ago told of a native whom he had ministerd to his physical needs, was asked to care for something for the doctor, who was in a hurry to go to a meeting. The native respond by saying, "I'll take your alms, but I won't be your servant". As Christians, do we respond at times to God because of our selfishness like that man, or are we mindful of what He has done for us, so that we desire to love Him, to please Him, and to serve Him, for in so doing, "Great is your reward".
Shall I empty handed be, when beside the crystal sea,
I shall stand before the everlasting throne?
Must I have a heart of shame, as I answer to my name,
With no works that my Redeemer there can own?
When the harvest days are past,
Shall I hear Him say at last,
Welcome pilgrim, I've prepared for you a place?
Shall I bring His golden sheaves,
Ripened fruit, not faded leaves,
When I see my blessed Savior face to face?
When the books are opened wide,
And, the deeds of all are tried,
May I have a record whiter than the snow?
When my race on earth is run,
May I hear Him say, "Well done",
Take the crown that love immortal doth bestow.