Some incidents shape us for a lifetime.
The year was 1952. The future President sat in front of the demanding Admiral. Jimmy Carter had applied for the nuclear submarine program under Admiral Hyman Rickover. For two hours Rickover grilled Carter on topics including current events, seamanship, music, literature and naval tactics. Each series of questions left Carter feeling less qualified and more inept.
Then came the question Carter was waiting for:
Carter’s chest swelled with pride and he answered, “Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 820.” He waited for the praise that would never come.
Rickover asked one more question:
Carter started to answer “Yes, sir,” but then recalled times he could have learned more about allies, enemies, strategies and weapons. Carter "finally gulped and said, ‘No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.’” Rickover looked at Carter for a long time, and then left him with a question he would never forget: “Why not?”
The interview was over!
As I reflect on this story I cannot help thinking about that day we will stand before the Admiral – Jesus Christ. Paul knew this event was coming. To the church at Corinth he writes,
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 ESV
Paul tells me that a judgment awaits believers. It is not a judgement about the Christian's salvation -- that has been settled at the cross. This judgement has to do with stewardship and service. We will all appear before Jesus to give an account of how we have handled the time, talents, and treasures which God has entrusted to us.
I appreciate David Garland's words on this:
It is this divine judgment seat (bēma), not Pilate’s (Matt 27:19; John 19:13), not Gallio’s (Acts 18:12, 16–17), not the court of public of opinion, that ultimately counts. No one, including Christians, can escape it. We cannot melt into the crowd. We will be held accountable for our individual actions and commitments.
As I ponder that upcoming event Rickover's question seems appropriate:
Am I giving my best as a pastor? Students, are you giving God your best to prepare yourselves for the future? Parents, are you giving God your best when it comes to praying for your kids? Dads, are you following Paul’s admonition to bring your children up “with the discipline and instruction approved by the Lord”? Employers and employees, are you giving God your best in your "9-to5"?
Is God getting our best thinking . . . our best service . . . our best devotion?
Grace and truth fuels this drive for excellence. Paul writes, "For Christ’s love compels us." The grace of God -- not slavish devotion -- is what drove Paul's passion to "perform." God had rescued him so Paul wanted to honor Him. Believers today live with the same mindset. At the same time we live with the sobering reality that we are administrators of all that God has entrusted to us and there will be an accounting for it.
There is a pernicious evil that hides in the shadow of grace. It touts self-indulgence while ignoring self-sacrifice. I am afraid that too often we settle for giving God our leftovers and console ourselves by leaning into "the marvelous grace of God," a grace that gives everything and asks for nothing. I think that is both unwise and unbiblical. Biblical imperatives to love, serve, give, pray, and show hospitality are still biblical imperatives.
We ought to ask ourselves the question Admiral Rickover posed to Jimmy Carter, “Did you do your best?” If we cannot reply with a resounding, “Yes!” then we need to answer Rickover’s second question: “Why not?” What has kept you from wholeheartedly serving the Lord?
The divine interview is coming. What will it take to give Christ your best today? Returning to Paul we discover some practical help:
- Be of good courage. John Wayne reportedly said, "Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway." Good courage is "saddling up" day-by-day to face hardships and to share Christ fully confident that God has your back. God has given you the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:5) as his guarantee that He has you now and you will be with Him forever. You have reason to approach today courageously.
- Make it your aim to please him. Paul lived for an audience of one. In this day of social media "likes" the only thumbs-up that matters is the Lord's. Aim to please Jesus.
- Get a gospel focus. Paul was doing his best to use each day to persuade others to follow Christ. When I see my ultimate goal in life as sharing the gospel and reaching people for Christ it changes my perspective on how I invest the time, talents, and treasures God has given me. Who will you encounter today that needs the gospel?
No one is granted tomorrow, but if you are reading this God has given you today. You are his ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20). Give him your best.
"The future President sat in front of the demanding Admiral ..." I first read about this interview in Ordering Your Private World, by Gordon MacDonald (p. 112.). The story can be found in Norman Polmar and Thomas B. Allen, Rickover: Controversy and Genius(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982), p. 267.
"It is this divine judgment seat ..." from David E. Garland (1999), New American Commentary: 2 Corinthians. Vol. 29: 2 Corinthians. The New American Commentary (265–266). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.