By Kathryn Wright
For Your Consideration
A few years ago, I got the chance to work for the state fair in South Carolina. A friend is a supervisor for one of the main buildings at the fairgrounds; she is in charge of the submissions for homemade items. The quilts, crafts, and baked goods come to her building to be judged and displayed during the fair. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot about how state fairs function.
In case you have never submitted anything to a state fair, let me fill you in on some of the details.
It is free to submit goods to the South Carolina State Fair. And anyone is allowed to do it—we had men and women, young children and seniors submit things.
Every item was judged, no matter its condition, and every item was displayed, regardless of whether or not it received a ribbon.
There were four categories of ribbons that people could win. You could either receive nothing, second place (a red ribbon), first place (a blue ribbon), or best in a category, which we call “Sweepstakes” (a huge purple ribbon).
Our state fair uses the Danish scoring system. Whereas the typical American system has exhibitors compete against each other, in the Danish system, each exhibitor is judged according to specific standards, and there isn’t a limit to how many blue or red ribbons can be awarded. If there were fifty chocolate chip cookies and all were blue ribbon quality, they could all receive a blue ribbon. And if they all tasted terrible, all would get nothing. In other words, every item was judged on its own merits and not compared to the other entries.
I was in charge of the candy admissions. I would bring the candies to the judges to eat and then hand out ribbons. Hundreds of beautiful caramels, chocolates, fudges, and hard candies covered the tables. It smelled like a bakery all day!
It’s hard not to notice all the work that goes into some entries, compared to the less than appetizing ones.
One lady admitted minuscule mint candies no bigger than a postage stamp—like sad-looking white squares.
Another lady turned in these elaborate caramels, topped with chocolate and nuts.
It was always a game trying to guess who would win the Sweepstakes for the different categories.
During my time at the fair, I was struck by how many parallels I saw between it and the truths of the Biblical distinction between salvation and rewards.
Just like the fair, admission into heaven is completely and totally free (John 4:10; Eph 2:8-9; Rom 4:1-5; Rev 22:17). The Lord invites every person to believe in Him for eternal life as a free gift (John 3:16; 1 John 2:1-2; Heb 10:10). No exceptions.
No Getting Kicked Out
And also like the fair, once you have entered the kingdom (i.e., once you have believed in Jesus for eternal life), you cannot be kicked out. Every single item was kept and displayed at the fair, regardless if it received a prize.
The same is true for the believer in Jesus Christ. Once a person believes in Jesus, he will be in the kingdom. No matter how he lives, even if he failed the Lord a million times, he cannot lose his salvation (John 10:28-29; John 6:35)
Every Item Evaluated
While every single item was allowed in for free, every item was also judged to determine its prize. And the same will be true for believers.
In 2 Cor 5:10, we are told that every believer will stand before the Lord and be judged according to his or her works. That is called the Judgment Seat of Christ, or the Bema. The issue at the Bema is not salvation from hell (believers will never be judged for their eternal destiny; cf. John 5:24), but a matter of determining the believer’s “prize” or reward.
What “ribbon” are you going to get?
Some believers will receive a red ribbon, some blue, and some are going to get nothing. All still have eternal life, just like none of the items were kicked out of the fair, but some will be rewarded better than others depending on how faithful they were to the Lord.
In Matt 25:14-30, the Lord presented the Parable of the Talents where a man gives three servants different amounts of money. One gets five talents, another two, and the last gets one. The man goes on a journey, and when he returns, he finds the first and second servants have doubled their money, while the last buried it, earning nothing. The man rewards the first two servants equally (vv 21, 23), while the last servant receives nothing (v 28).
This parable is talking about the Judgment Seat of Christ.
The Lord has given every believer different abilities and resources, and He will return one day to see what each did with those things.
Like those items judged at the fair, each believer will be judged according to his own merit and will not be compared to others. I will not be judged compared to what you did, but according to what I did with what I was given. The same goes for you.
Notice, both the first and second servants receive the same reward, based on what was given. Just like the judges at the fair, the Lord can give us all blue ribbons. There are no limitations to the rewards that the Lord can give to those who have been faithful to Him. My hope is that we all strive for the better prize (Heb 10:34).
Sadly, some entries received nothing, just like the last servant in the parable. The same will be true for unfaithful believers. As Christians, if we live a life that is displeasing to the Lord, we can’t lose our salvation, but we can lose the reward that comes from faithfully following Him in this life. While the no-prize items were still displayed in the fair, they had to experience the shame that comes from being disapproved by the judges. The same can be true for the believer in Jesus Christ. While we won’t lose our place in the kingdom of God, we can experience the disapproval of our Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Tim 2:12-13, 15).
The last thing that I think the fair can teach us deals with those little white mints I told you about earlier.
During the judging, the staff looked at the entries and tried to guess who would win the Sweepstakes. I thought the fancy-schmancy caramels were going to win. But in the end, it was the tiny, unassuming mints that won. The judges said those small mints were the perfect size and balance of flavor. While you couldn’t tell by looking at them, the mints were perfect inside.
I think that illustrates a Biblical truth about rewards. We cannot always tell by outward appearances how the Lord will reward us. Humanity is easily deceived by outward appearances (1 Sam 6:7). For example, it is easy to look at people in ministry and think they will be great in the kingdom to come, while a stay-at-home mom or a local plumber won’t be as great.
But that is not necessarily true.
Anyone can be great in the kingdom if he or she is faithful to the Lord.
The Lord speaks to this issue in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matt 6:1-21, Jesus warns His audience not to do things to be seen by the world (6:1-2, 5, 16), but rather do things in private in order to be rewarded by God.
After all the chocolates and caramels the judges ate that day, the refreshing mint stood out. I think we can learn something from those small, simple candies. First, we should be careful in judging other believers because we cannot always judge a book by its cover (Rom 14:12-13). Second, in a world full of caramels, strive to be a mint.
Kathryn Wright is a graduate of Luther Rice and teaches for GES both online and overseas.