Question from a reader:
Will our judgment of works be private, or will our friends and family witness and know what God says to us?
Answer from Stephanie Anderson, EPM staff:
To be honest, we just don’t know as God’s Word doesn’t specifically spell out the details. But we can look at some Scripture that might provide insight.
“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). The ESV Study Bible says this about this verse: “The ‘judgment seat’ (Gk. Bēma) was the tribunal bench in the Roman courtroom, where the governor sat while rendering judicial verdicts. …many interpreters hold that the believer’s deeds will provide public evidence to indicate the measure of rewards that the believer will receive, corresponding to the believer’s ‘obedience of faith’…”
Scripture doesn’t shy away from sharing about good deeds done by God’s people. The Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8 are held up as a wonderful example of sacrificial giving and love. Using their example, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to also give, and the idea of it all being to God’s praise and glory is found throughout these verses:
You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others. (2 Corinthians 9:11-13, emphasis added)
Whether we personally witness others stand before the Lord and receive commendation from Him, or hear about it later throughout eternity, it seems reasonable to suppose that we will know about the good works that our friends and family did to glorify Jesus, and they will know about ours. We will celebrate how these actions honored the Lord and how He worked in our lives and used us to grow His kingdom. The praise and worship will all be due Him!
The harder part to consider is the negative side of the judgment. It’s helpful to remember what we do know: there won’t be envy or shame, and there won’t be rejection, from Jesus or others. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Everything that originates from our sin nature will be completely gone. But will some believers feel regret that they weren’t as faithful as they should have been? Randy writes this in regard to 1 Corinthians 3:1, which says some will “suffer loss”:
God will do away with the suffering (Revelation 21:4), but that is after the judgment, after our giving account to the Lord. The suffering of regret will be there at the judgment (how could it not be?) before entrance to the eternal state, but then there is the learning and purifying and eternal rejoicing. Perhaps a very short “I really feel bad and regret my lack of faith and faithfulness” and expressing this to a God who graciously forgives. Then, that forever behind us, we move on to eternal joy. But there will be no ongoing suffering, for all our regrets about our past will be overshadowed by God’s grace.
We don’t know for certain if this will be witnessed by or shared with others, but we will certainly have an eternal perspective and understand and embrace the truth of this Scripture: “It is before his own master that he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4).
Randy added this:
I would only add that by implication rewards will be known. For instance, the reward of ruling a city will obviously be something that others are aware of, so this suggests the reasons for those rewards would also be known. Hence the good works we do others would be aware of. They are even written in a book (see this article), perhaps for any to read.
On the negative side, there is also the possibility that this verse would apply, but I’m not sure that it will, just a possibility: “Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!” (Luke 12:3, NLT).
Finally, Randy shares this reminder in his book The Law of Rewards, which I think is always helpful when we’re discussing the topic of eternal rewards:
God promises great reward for all who have served him faithfully. He will reward every loyal servant for works done in this life: “At that time each will receive his praise from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5). This is a particularly encouraging passage, suggesting that God will find something to praise and reward each one of us for.
Here’s a longer article from Randy about rewards.
And here’s an audio clip from Randy answering a question about rewards and envy.
Stephanie Anderson is the communications and graphics specialist at Eternal Perspective Ministries.