Dr. Richard L. Strauss
February 9, 1992
Purpose: To motivate us to live for Christ by helping us understand the doctrine of rewards.
Picture yourself an Olympic athlete training for the marathon. You run, run, run--day after day, week after week, month after month. There are days you think your body cannot put out another ounce of energy, but you keep pushing yourself, because you know that it's going to take that little bit of extra effort to win. The day of the race finally arrives; the gun sounds and you're off and running. The competition is fierce, but you stay with the leaders, giving it everything you've got. Every cell in your body is crying out for relief, but you keep running, right up to the final kick. Your lungs are about to burst; your arms and legs feel like lead. But you keep pressing on.
And now it's time for the awards ceremony. You take your place on the top step. The judge drapes that gold medal around your neck. The national anthem is playing, the crowd is cheering, tears of joy are streaming down your cheeks. Was it worth the work?
Or picture yourself a student. (Some of you are, but many of you are long beyond that time. A formal student, that is. I hope you all are students till death.) You have some ambitious career goals, and you know that graduating near the top of your class will help you attain them. So you sacrifice your social life, and you burn the midnight oil, and you work until there's no more work left in you. And then the news arrives: you've made valedictorian. You give the address at commencement and you do a superb job. Your family and friends are so very proud of you. Scholarship offers come pouring in, and you have your choice of the best schools available. Was it worth the work?
Or picture yourself a young executive. You've poured your life into the company for several years and have been largely responsible for its spectacular growth. And one day the president walks into your office, sits down, and announces that he wants to offer you a position as vice-president, along with a stock option package that could set you up financially for the rest of your life? Was it worth the work?
I would imagine that most of you would agree that it was, in all three cases. But suppose you came up short in each case, by just a whisker. You just missed out on a medal. Your grade point average was just a trifle too low. The president says, "You know, if you had been able to produce just a bit more, we would have been able to offer you the moon. But Jake here is a little more valuable to the company and we're going to offer him the position." If you had known what was going to happen beforehand, would it have made any difference in how you lived in those preceding months? I would think so.
Did you know there's an evaluation coming for Christians that far outweighs any the world has ever seen: athletic, academic, or job performance? It's called the judgment seat of Christ.
It's revealed to us in 2 Corinthians 5:10. "For we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad."
The words "judgment seat" are the translation of one short Greek word pronounced "bay-ma," or when it is transliterated into English, we pronounce it as "bee-ma." In the Greco-Roman world the bema was a raised platform, like a speaker's platform, mounted by steps, and used by an official of high rank. It might be the seat of a king addressing his subjects, or a judge carrying out his official duties, or a commander giving instructions to his troops. In the Greek Olympic games it was the seat of the president of the games before whom the winning athletes came to receive their awards. For the believer, there's going to be a bema, a judgment seat. The bema will be a place of evaluation.
The thought of a judge examining and evaluating us is surely in Paul's mind, since he says that we are going to receive what is due to us for the things we've done while in our bodies. When he mentioned the bema to the Romans he said, "So then each of us shall give an account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12). There's a day of reckoning coming for the Christian.
Some Christians seem to think that they can live completely unexamined lives. They've trusted Christ as Savior, their sins are washed away, heaven is a sure thing, and that's all there is to it as far as they are concerned. And now they can live as they please and never answer to God for their actions.
Not so! A day is coming when the divine Judge is going to evaluate our lives--all of us as Christians. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ." Every one of us, without exception--and it will be a time of evaluation.
It will also be a time of compensation. The idea of the rewards at the Olympic games is also prominent in Paul's thinking. He uses that very analogy in 1 Corinthians 9:24. "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run"--ah, we're at the Olympics again--"but one receives the prize?" Only one can break the tape. Only one can win the gold. Only one can win the prize.
The beautiful thing about it is that in the spiritual race, every Christian can win the prize. That's why Paul says to run in such a way, that you may obtain it. All of us can get the gold. All of us can be valedictorians. All of us can have positions of prominence and status in God's kingdom.
And now we've moved into the Biblical doctrine of Rewards. You see, after the evaluation, certain things are going to be rewarded.
Read 1 Corinthians 3:8-14 (especially vv. 8 and 14). "Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the first will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward."
Rewards. That's what we're talking about here. It's probably one of the most neglected doctrines in the Bible--that's what Dr. Rodemacher (sp?) said when he was here and that's what got me interested in studying it. It's probably one of the most misunderstood doctrines, too.
You know, when I started this study, I counted nearly 100 references to eternal rewards in the New Testament. I had no idea there were that many references to this subject, and I probably missed some. And yet we hear very little about it.
I have a fairly extensive library at home of theological works. Most of them are virtually silent on the subject. This is a subject that can have a profound impact on our lives. In fact, if properly understood and practiced, it can affect just about everything we do for a long as we live, until the time that we see Jesus. That's how important I think it is. I'm not exaggerating in the least.
As we introduce the subject, I would like to answer three questions:
- What is the purpose of rewards?
- What is the basis for rewards?
- Why should we care about rewards?
The answer is simple. Rewards are one of God's primary means of motivating us to obey Him.
God motivates us in a variety of ways. For example, He motivates us by love. He just keeps on loving us, and that inspires our love for Him in return (1 John 4:19). And if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15).
Another way He motivates us is by fear. We don't like to hear that, but the Apostle Paul was pretty frank about it. After talking about the judgment seat of Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:10, he goes on to say, "Knowing, therefore the fear (phobos) of the Lord, we persuade men" (2 Corinthians 5:11). Not necessarily fright or alarm, but a deep sense of awe and respect before His infinite holiness and power, and the knowledge that his disciplinary work in our lives is not pleasant.
So God uses love and fear to motivate us, and He also uses rewards. Rewards are also one of God's prime motivating forces in our lives. He used it with His Old Testament people Israel, though in a purely temporal sense. I could only find one place in the Old Testament, in Daniel, where God speaks of eternal rewards. Most of the rewards in the Old Testament are temporal, earthly. But the principle is there. God told them over and over again, "If you obey Me, I will bless you" (cf. Deuteronomy 7:12-15). There was compensation for their manner of life. It's a Biblical principle.
It was the Lord Jesus who consistently referred to this principle in the gospels. Look at it in the Sermon on the Mount, for example, in Matthew 5:11-12. "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven."
Over in chapter 6 (Matthew 6:19-20), we learn that we can lay up treasure in heaven. See it in verse 20? "But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." Are you laying up treasures in heaven for yourself? I want you to think about this.
Look at it again in Luke 6:35. "But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great."
Jesus told a couple parables about this subject--for example, the parable of the minas, or the pounds as the King James put it. That's a unit of money. It's in Luke 19:11-28, remember? And the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. And that's only a small sample.
The epistles are likewise filled with motivation by reward. I want to show you a few references, so you can get the flavor of it.
Read Colossians 3:23. "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance."
Look at 1 Timothy 6:17-19. "Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life"--that is, to enjoy it to the full.
You see, this is not an isolated doctrine tucked away in one obscure passage. The principle of rewards fills the pages of the New Testament.
Some will inevitably ask, "Isn't that a rather selfish motive: obeying God so I can get something for myself?" Our desire for rewards should be accompanied by other motives as well: our love for the Lord, our gratitude to Him for His goodness to us, and our pure desire to bring Him glory and pleasure. But enhanced and enriched by those motives, the desire for rewards is wholesome and good.
There isn't anything wrong with it at all. We don't question the rightness of the athlete wanting to win the trophy, do we? We don't say, "Oh, that's terrible. That's selfish for him to want to win that trophy!" Or the student wanting to make the honor roll? Neither do we need to question the rightness of the Christian wanting to win the favor of his Lord. There's nothing wrong with that. It's Biblical. It should be one of our motives for living the Christian life.
When I was a boy, I obeyed my father for a number of reasons--because I loved him, because I respected him. I also obeyed because I feared him. My father believed in corporal punishment. He didn't hesitate to use it and I experienced it on a number of occasions when I disobeyed! But that was OK; it was one of the motives.
But I also obeyed my father because I enjoyed the privileges my obedience got me, and I hated the loss of privileges that disobedience brought me. It was a perfectly acceptable motive. And I obey my heavenly Father for the same reasons. Obeying is going to earn me some privileges.
So what is the purpose for rewards? To serve as a motivation to obey our Lord.
That's the first question. Now the second.
The answer to this one is likewise crystal clear in Scripture. In the last chapter of the Bible, the Lord Jesus speaks: "And behold I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work" (Revelation 22:12; cf. Revelation 2:23, Revelation 14:13).
That's the same thing He said when He was here on earth: "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and He will reward each according to his works" (Matthew 16:27).
And that's what the Apostle Paul taught as well. Turn again, please, to 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. "Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." We won't be burned, but our works will. We'll talk about that next week.
2 Corinthians 5:10, which we read at the outset, says the same thing. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad."
Deeds. Works. That's the basis of our reward. (We'll talk about which works earn us rewards in the weeks to come).
Works are not a condition for our eternal salvation. You know that. You've been around long enough to understand that, right? Salvation is by faith alone. The Scripture is very clear on that subject. Faith is the only condition. Jesus did everything necessary to secure heaven for us when He died in our place and paid for our sins at Calvary. There isn't anything we can add to what He has done. We can only rest in it. And that's what faith is: resting in the finished work of Christ.
The Scripture is so plain. I hate to repeat these verses, you hear them so often from me. But they are so important. Ephesians 2:8-9. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."
And as Paul wrote to the Romans, "And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace" (Romans 11:6). Grace refers to something "freely given," a gift. And eternal life is a gift (Romans 6:23). A gift can obviously not be earned by works; it can only be received by faith. And that's how we get the gift of eternal life.
"He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on Him" (John 3:36).
But while we are not saved by good works, we are saved for good works. And the Scripture is clear about that. Ephesians 2:10--"For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works."
Titus 3:8--"Those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works."
And it is those good works that determine our rewards. We need to keep that straight. Entrance into heaven is determined by belief, but our reward in heaven is determined by behavior--what we do while we're on this earth.
Many people have that confused. Because of the emphasis on works and rewards in Scripture, they think they can earn their way into heaven by doing good deeds. But that is Satan's deceptive lie. Make no mistake about it. Heaven is a gift, received by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and His finished work at Calvary's cross, and His resurrection from the tomb.
But not everybody who enters heaven will receive the same benefits. What you get in heaven will be decided by what you do on earth, according to a hundred passages in the New Testament. There are consequences for what you choose to do in this life. Someone suggested you get on heaven's payroll by faith. But now that you're on the payroll, you can earn wages for eternity.
Some folks don't like that. They think it's unfair. They insist that if Christ died for our sins, then everybody who has believed in Him for forgiveness of sins should get the same things in heaven.
Transfer that kind of thinking over to your job for a moment. What would happen in a company if everybody got the same paycheck? It didn't matter how well you did your job, how much responsibility you had, how faithful you were, whether you showed up every day or not! Do you think productivity would go up or down? No question--it would plummet! The person who does a superior job is worthy of superior compensation. If that is fair with us, why should it be any less fair with God? It's not unfair at all. It's what the Scripture teaches.
And that leads us to the third and final question...
After all, if I get into heaven, isn't that good enough? What difference does it make if I don't get any rewards? I know people who feel that way.
That's a difficult question to answer at this stage of our study, without knowing what the rewards are and what their loss will mean to us when we see Jesus. But let's take a quick stab at it in this introductory lesson just to get us thinking.
Let me ask you a few questions. When you were a child, did it mean anything to you to have your parents praise you? Some of us got it and some didn't, but most of us wanted it. Praise from our parents meant a lot to us. How did it feel when they scolded you? Part of our reward is praise from our Savior, the One person who will be more important to us in that day than anyone has ever been. His words, "Well done," will mean everything. But not every Christian will hear them (cf. Matthew 25:14-30, in the story of the talents, two of the three heard, "Well done, you good and faithful servant."). Some will experience shame instead.
Shame. Does that shake you up a little bit? Turn over, please, to 1 John 2:28. "And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming."
The only way we're going to avoid shame in the presence of Jesus Christ is by abiding in Him: Living in His fellowship. Being conscious of His presence. Depending on His power. Obeying His Word. Wrapping our lives up in our Lord Jesus Christ. That's abiding in Him.
If we don't abide in Him, there's going to be shame. Think about that word. "Ashamed" (aischuno)! Do you understand that word? Disgraced, embarrassed, humiliated! Does that sound like fun? Are you looking forward to that? "Oh boy. I just can't wait until I stand before Jesus where I intend to be disgraced and embarrassed because of my slip-shod Christian life." That may sound attractive to you, but it sure doesn't to me.
A few more questions! How do you feel when you are passed over for a promotion at work, and they give it to someone else whom you think is less worthy? Or how would you feel if some generous and wealthy person walked into the room and started passing $1000 gifts to everyone around you, but when he comes to you he says, "I'm sorry, but you don't deserve any." How would you feel if you were standing in line at the bank, and they kept calling the people behind you, leaving you standing there? And when you protest, they say, "I'm sorry, but you don't deserve to be waited on."
You say, "But that couldn't possibly happen in the presence of Christ." Really? Do you remember Christ's parable of the minas (Luke 19:12-27)? A mina was a large unit of money, and each servant was given one to invest. The first earned ten with his one. The second earned five with his one. But the third didn't earn any. He didn't do anything with what God had given him. Nothing.
And what did the Master say to him? Now remember, this is looking forward to the judgment day of believers. What did the Master say about him? "Take the mina from him and give it to him who has ten minas" (Luke 19:24). Wow! Kind of sounds like the bank line, doesn't it? Take it away from him. He doesn't deserve it.
That's the kind of thing that is going to happen in that day. Would you rather be one who receives a greater reward, like the servant who earned ten, or would you rather have yours taken away and given to somebody else because you don't deserve it, because your Christian life was basically unproductive? Do you think it will matter to you in that day? You bet it will. You can bet your life it's going to matter. That's why Jesus told this story--so you would know how much it's going to matter.
You say, "But I'll be perfect then, so I won't feel bad if I lose my reward." Did it occur to you that our perfection will mean that we will no longer want to offer all the excuses and rationalizations that we try to use now to justify our spiritual indifference and disobedience? In that day it will matter more than it does today by a long shot.
Now I suspect that this raises all kinds of questions in your mind, and I will try--by God's Word--to show you the answers to those questions in the days to come. Just remember this for now: God hears every word we speak and sees every deed we do, and He is going to reward us accordingly. Nothing will be overlooked. In Luke 8:17, Jesus said that "nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light." No good deed performed for the glory of the Lord will be forgotten.
Hebrews 6:10 says, "For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister."
Nothing will be forgotten that deserves reward. It will be worth the work.
One stormy night many years ago, an elderly couple entered the lobby of a small hotel and asked for a room. The clerk said they were filled, as were all the hotels in town. "But I can't send a fine couple like you out in the rain," he said. "Would you be willing to sleep in my room?" The couple hesitated, but the clerk insisted. The next morning when the man paid his bill, he said, "You're the kind of man who should be managing the best hotel in the United States. Someday I'll build it for you." The clerk smiled politely.
A few years later that clerk received a letter from the elderly man, recalling that stormy night and asking him to come to New York. A round-trip ticket was enclosed. When the clerk arrived, his host took him to the corner of 5th Avenue and 34th Street, were stood a magnificent new building. "That," explained the man, "is the hotel I have built for you to manage." The man was William Waldorf Astor, and that hotel was the original Waldorf-Astoria. The young clerk, George C. Boldt, became its first manager (Our Daily Bread, December 29, 1989).
I tell you that story by way of contrast. If a man, a finite earthly being, was that careful to reward a good deed, how much more will our infinitely loving and faithful Father reward us for the things we do for His glory? He's going to make it worth the work it takes for you to live for Him and obey Him. You can count on it.
Question: Is that going to make any difference in the way you live your life between now and then? Only you can answer that. I want it to make a difference in my life. I hope it will in yours.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Now remember, no amount of good deeds are sufficient to earn you entrance into heaven. Jesus already paid for that. We can't possibly do enough to earn eternal life. Jesus paid for our salvation in full at Calvary's cross. The question is, have you put your faith in Him alone? Are you on the payroll? Have you acknowledged your sinfulness and your need of a Savior? Have you believed that Jesus is the One who paid for your sin? Have you put all your confidence and hope in Him.
"He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36).
Let's bow before His presence, prayerfully. If you're not certain that you have put your faith in God's Son as your Eternal Savior, would you settle that issue right now, please? In the quiet of your own heart, right where you sit, talk to Him and tell Him of your desire to be saved. Just say something like this--not out loud, just in your own heart:
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I believe that Jesus paid for my sin at Calvary, and I want Him to be my Savior. Lord Jesus, I'm trusting you as my Savior from sin."
Would you tell Him that right now?
And if you've made that decision, you've put your faith in Christ, would you commit yourself to doing His will, to obeying His word, remembering what lies ahead for you?
Father, I pray that those who have yet to trust Christ as Savior will do that today, and enter into that new realm of life--eternal life. And I pray that those of us who have made that decision will start thinking about our inheritance in heaven--the treasure, the reward that can be ours--and begin to live in such a way as to earn that reward, not just for our own pleasure but for Your eternal glory. Lord, I pray that You will use Your Word to transform our lives. In Jesus' name, amen.