March 17, 1992
SHOE is not my all-time favorite cartoon but I did like the one where he says, “That’s the thing about working for a newspaper, everything you write is garbage a day later . . . ” Then, as his editor tosses his latest copy over his shoulder, Shoe remarks, “. . . and sometimes earlier than that.”
It reminded me of a man whose big ambition in life was to do the artwork for a cover of Fortune magazine. He worked hard and finally achieved his goal but not too long afterward — while still high-headed with the glory — he was walking down a busy street and a garbage truck passed. It was piled with, you guessed it, copies of Fortune — with his illustration on the cover.
The rather short life of most of our accomplishments is not fate’s idea of a cruel joke. Rather, the Bible suggests it’s God’s reminder that what we do for our own glory has no eternal value. The limelight may feel good and so does the achievement of goals, but the glory is short-lived.
Two Scripture passages brought this home to my heart. One is in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seem by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” He adds that we are not to be like the religious hypocrites who do that because “. . . they have received their reward in full.”
Jesus is teaching that human praise and glory here and now is fine, but that is all it is — the praise of people, here and now. If I do what I do for an earthly reward, that’s all I get. There is no reward from God.
1 Corinthians 3 broadens the concept. It talks about building our work on a foundation of faith in Christ. It says, “If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day (of judgment) will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire; and the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved . . . .”
We illustrated this a few years ago with a class of teens. I had them write in pencil on a small piece of paper some area of their life (either an outright sin or something else) that they knew was worthless to God. Next, on pieces of metal using permanent markers, they wrote some quality they could see in the person sitting on their right that was definitely from God. When they were finished, we put both paper and metal into a large aluminum pan, read these verses and tossed in a burning match and tested both with fire.
When God does the evaluation however, there will be a difference between His assessment of good or worthless, and ours. He sees us not according to human evaluation, but through the foundation of Christ. Without Jesus, and faith in Jesus, all is worthless before God, no matter how good it seems to us. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah said, “All our righteousness is like filthy rags . . . .”
But notice those verses from Corinthians again — it is not the quality of what we do that saves us because that only determines our heavenly rewards. What really counts is that foundation of faith in Christ. Should we foolishly build on it with worthless activity (wood, hay, and stubble) we will lose our rewards and suffer loss . . . but the rest of the verse says after the worthless is gone, we “will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”
This concept radically changes the value of praise, getting awards, and even the goals of life. By God’s grace, even SHOE’s humor could line a bird cage next week but still have eternal significance for its author.