In the many passages treating this subject, we’re told God judges two categories of things – works and motives (e.g., Eccl. 12:14). They are both judged against God’s Word. Works are single actions that also comprise one’s ways and words. The kinds of works people do regularly are their ways. Once a way is formed, it will produce more similar works. So, a “way” is someone’s habitual behavior that began with a single action. That single action came from following some impulse or idea, whether it was good or evil. Fruit refers to the effects or results of works. Works, ways, words and fruit determine one’s nature, a nature that remains fixed whether righteous or wicked, unless one turns away from it.
God will also judge the secrets of men’s hearts – the motives behind what they do (Lu. 12:2, 1 Cor. 4:5). Even the motives of the Lord’s people will be examined. They are judged because they determine a deed’s worth. For example, one can distribute all his goods to the poor yet have no love. No doubt the gift blesses the receiver, but it profits the giver nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). However, God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). Hypocrisy ruins a good work. “Therefore when you do merciful deeds, don’t sound a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may get glory from men. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward.” (Matt. 6:5)
Selfish ambition is another bad motive as some of the preachers in Philippians 1 had who tried to grieve Paul. Some fulfill their ministry without their hearts being fully in it. They’ve become indifferent or despondent. Perhaps like Jeremiah, they have grown weary from not seeing any obvious fruit from their work. Maybe the fervency has been reduced to a smoldering wick. Others have lost their first love and are involved with useless works. Or they’re intimidated by people like Timothy was, who needed to conquer his fears through the Spirit. These are some of the wood, hay and stubble so common to our nature. That’s the thing about those elements, how accessible they are, how easily they can beset us; cheap, useless materials of the soul, unfit to build anything of eternal value upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.
However, good traits and motives are called gold, silver or precious stones (1 Cor. 3:12-13), of which are such things as, holiness, faith that works by love, willingness, cheerfulness, diligence, humility, integrity. These things will survive the fire of divine examination. What fault could be found in a cheerful giver whose left hand doesn’t know what his right hand did when he gave? Where is the harm in telling the truth in love? Who can lose out who endures temptation and is patient in trial? How can someone who prays for his enemies not be rewarded by the Lord who prayed for his? The value of gold, silver and precious stones is obvious and why they stand for good traits and motives. Their rarity, beauty, and permanence are what makes them prized, unlike the common wood, hay and stubble easily
destroyed by fire.
Jesus counseled the self-satisfied Laodiceans to buy from Him gold tried in the fire. As rich as they were materially, their spiritual houses were made of the wood, hay, and stubble of trust and self-satisfaction in their earthly wealth. But that had left them poor, wretched, miserable, blind and naked. They were dead again. They were about to be vomited out of the Lord’s mouth. They needed to become zealous and turn back to the Lord whom they pushed outside their church. Yet, Jesus did not act in kind by shutting them out. He said He loved them. He stood patiently outside out of that love, knocking on the hardened door of their hearts. He further proved it by rebuking and chastening them. He didn’t want them to lose in judgment. Nor does He want anyone of us to. How many of them responded and opened up the door again to him, Scripture does not inform us; but it was necessary for them to open that door to him if they didn’t want Jesus to fulfill his threat of vomiting them out of his mouth.
I’m sure that God’s people have a mingle of both classes of building material in their lives. What we can expect is that God will seek our betterment, or as Jesus put it, “Every branch in me that bears fruit, he [the Father] prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” What is this pruning except God replacing the worthless motives and deeds with the valuable ones? He delights in rewarding us abundantly; that’s what he desires, given his gracious nature. But, given also his impartiality, he renders to each one according to what he actually finds in our deeds and motives.
What is the secret to building with Gold, Silver and Precious Stones and rejecting the Wood, Hay and Stubble? God’s Grace, of course. These valuable building materials come from Heaven, from its Throne of Grace by petition of the saints to the Father of Lights. Our journey is one of Faith, not human effort devoid of God’s working in us to will and to do of his good pleasure. His yoke is easy and his burden light. The life we live we are to live by faith and not to put our trust in the arm of flesh as the self-satisfied Pharisee in the Parable of the Pharisee and Publican in Luke 18:9 ff. Are your motives bad, and your deeds earthy, sensual and devilish? Acknowledge it. Ask for mercy and “buy from Jesus gold tried in the fire” with which to build upon the foundation laid for us by the words of the Apostles. Then, on the day of Judgment, you might receive a wide welcome into the eternal kingdom. Amen.