Most people judge by what they see in a person. God is more impressed by the unseen. Samuel received a gentle rebuke from God when he was trying to discover which of Jesse’s sons he should anoint as king. ‘You’re looking at his stature,’ said God, ‘but the Lord looks at the heart.’ People might be very impressed by actions, but God is far more interested in what goes on behind them. We read, ‘The Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed’ (1 Sam. 2:3) and, ‘All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord’ (Prov. 16:2).
Focus on motivation
When you’ve come to the end of your life, you’ll receive an appraisal based not so much on your achievements as on your motivation. You might remind God, ‘I was involved in the conversion of over a hundred and twenty thousand. You must be impressed by that. It was a tremendous revival. That’s what you were looking for, wasn’t it? So now the curtain can fall.’
No. God is looking for more than success. He’s interested in the secret motivation of his individual servants. Your 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 man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames’ (1 Cor. 3:13-15).
This passage isn’t talking about salvation, which is a work of grace through faith in Christ. Here the emphasis is on reward for ministry. It concerns things which are left standing after God has searched your motivation. Some will suffer loss, while others will be rewarded. But for all of us, there will inevitably be a ‘chapter four’ – when the crowds have gone, with no one around to be impressed by externals, when it’s just God and you; and he’ll look right into your heart.
The apostle Paul wasn’t concerned by what people thought of him. He said, ‘I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me’ (1 Cor. 4:3,4). Although Paul felt that his conscience was clear, he didn’t finally even trust those feelings; he realised that God knew better than his conscience. ‘He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God’ (1 Cor. 4:5).
You can have a great career, you can bask in the praise of men, but nothing will ever compare with the ‘Well done’ that comes from God. Imagine being praised by God! Imagine hearing him say to you, ‘Well done! I’m really pleased with you.’ Surely that prospect must be one of the most exciting in the entire universe! Surely it is your highest desire: to live to please God and, at the end, to hear his words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant … Come and share your master’s happiness’ (Matt. 25:21).
I have had some exciting days. I remember the day I was saved. I remember the day I got married and the days when our children were born. I remember tremendous, exciting days in my life, days to treasure. But there will never, never be a day to compare with the day when I receive my praise from God, when I hear him say, ‘Well done.’
When the curtain rises for the last time, there will be a great turning around. Jesus said, ‘The last will be first, and the first will be last’ (Matt. 20:16). The people who wanted and received their acclamation from men will be disappointed when they meet God. But those whose hearts were truly seeking after righteousness will be rewarded.
God is interested in hearts and no one except God knew what was going on in Jonah’s heart. When Jonah reached his chapter four, God confronted him, saying, ‘I want to talk to you about your motivation. I want to reveal what’s hidden inside.’ And so the spotlight goes on and we’re allowed to eavesdrop on this extraordinary encounter.
‘Man sees your actions, but God your motives.’ Thomas à Kempis