I wrote a blog on 1 Cor 4:1-5 and praise at the Bema for the faithful (see here). I was moved by this question in response to my blog:
Bob, I have a question related to faithfulness. I have quite a bit of resentment toward God due to my childhood environment and the actions of some ministers when I was a teenager and in my early twenties. It’s certainly gotten better as I’ve worked on it over the years but still affects my level of trust in God. I work at obeying Scripture because obviously God is always correct despite how I may feel about Him, and passages like the two sons in Matthew 21 show that actions are more important. But I can’t help wondering if I’m genuinely being faithful in the manner that applies to the Bema. Do you have an opinion and any recommended passages? I’m not a snowflake, so give me an honest answer.
Super question. It hits me especially since I grew up in an alcoholic home. There was a lot of pain in my childhood as well.
First, I sense in your letter a strong desire to be found faithful by Christ. That is terrific.
Second, I hear elements that sound a bit too centered on dedication. For example, you say, “It’s certainly gotten better as I’ve worked on it.” And you say, “I work at obeying Scripture.”
While I am not exactly a “Don’t try, rely” guy, I do think that transformation does not come by working at it or by working at obeying. As I read verses like Rom 12:1-2 and 2 Cor 3:18, I see that transformation comes “by the renewing of your minds.” The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and changes our mindset. As we think differently, we act differently.
So the only real way we can “work at it” is by longing for the pure milk of the word (1 Pet 2:1-3). As God feeds us, we become stronger because our worldview changes.
Third, while it is good to do what God says, as the parable in Matthew 21 illustrates, what produces right action is right thinking. Wrong thinking is antithetical to right actions. I’m not saying it is impossible to do what God says when we lack “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). But it sure is extremely difficult.
Fourth, as Paul says in 1 Cor 4:1-5, we are not to judge before the time. We are not even to judge ourselves since it is the Lord Jesus who is our Judge. It is a good thing that you desire to be faithful. It seems to me we can be confident that we are currently faithful. That is certainly Paul’s attitude in 1 Cor 9:27, though he knows he can’t be sure he will remain faithful. Nor can you or I.
So don’t be hard on yourself. Make sure you are getting solid Bible teaching. As you do, your thinking will continue to change.
Those of us from dysfunctional homes often are very hard on ourselves. But that is not what the Lord wants. We need to give that up as part of the mind renewal process.
Finally, realize that God takes into account everything about us. He considers our giftedness in all areas–mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. He takes our genetics into account. He also considers our childhoods. “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). Remember that in the Parable of the Talents one servant was given five talents, one two, and one was given just one talent. Each was required to be faithful to what he was given. The two-talent man doubled his talents to four. We might think that he would only have 40% of the reward of the five-talent servant who doubled to ten. But no. Both were equally praised and rewarded by the Lord Jesus (Matt 25:21, 23). The Lord’s words to both are identical.
So let’s say you are a five-talent man and your pastor is a two-talent guy. If you both maximize your lives for Christ, your reward will be equal to his. Not greater.
We are not to compare ourselves with other believers for the purpose of our self-evaluation. Yes, we are to consider the faith of other believers and learn from them. See 1 Cor 11:1; Heb 13:7, 17. But our purpose in doing that is learning how to follow Christ better, not figuring out who is going to get more rewards at the Bema.
Comparison typically has two different results, both bad. Some are puffed up and think they are better than most other Christians. Others are deflated and discouraged, thinking they are slugs in the Body of Christ. Neither is true. We are made in the image of God. The Spirit of God lives within us and empowers us. We have been crucified with Christ, and we can and should live by faith in the Son of God. We have the giftedness God has given us. If you and I are the best we can be, then that is terrific.
The issue is not the amount of productivity per se. The issue in faithfulness is what we do with what we have been given.