Dr. Richard L. Strauss
March 1, 1992
Purpose: To motivate us to live for Christ by understanding how God will repay us.
One day, in the hearing of His disciples, Jesus said to a rich young man who wouldn't admit his sinfulness--in Matthew 19:21--"If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow Me."
"Treasure in heaven!" Wow, treasure. That sounds good! Who wouldn't want treasure in heaven? Peter's ears perked up, and as soon as he had the opportunity he said to Jesus in Matthew 19:27, "See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?" Sounds kind of selfish and unspiritual, doesn't it? "We've done exactly what you just told him to do, Lord. So what's in it for us? Huh? What are we going to get?"
And Jesus turned to him with a scowl on His face and said, "Why you selfish fool! How can you even think about what's in it for you? Your only desire should be to glorify Me." Is that what your Bible says? Good! I'm glad some of you are awake! But that's what some Christians seem to think Jesus said, or at least what He should have said! But Jesus didn't say that. In fact, there is not one tinge of rebuke in His answer. On the contrary, He assured Peter that there was a whole lot in it for him, that his sacrifice would be repaid many times over.
Read Matthew 19:28. "So Jesus said to them, 'Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration'--that's the renewal of the earth in the millennial kingdom--'when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.'"
That's quite a reward. Because they left everything and followed Him, they are going to rule over Israel during the millennium. If there is one thing that stands out, it's that serving the Lord for reward is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Now I'll come back to this story again and we'll talk about it in more detail, but I just want you to see that this is very obvious: serving the Lord for reward is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.
If we are willing to live for the Savior in this life, we can expect Him to repay us richly in the life to come. And He holds that out to us as a motivation to live for Him. But the question in our minds is, "What will our compensation be? What are these rewards that the Bible says so much about? Will they really be that great? Are they worth working for? Won't it be good enough just to get into heaven? Why should I care about rewards?"
Paul talked about running the Christian race in such a manner as to win the prize in 1 Corinthians 9:24 (cf. Philippians 3:14). So what is the prize? We can't be expected to work for it unless we have some idea of what it will be. So let's examine what the Bible says about that. While the rewards God gives us are totally up to Him in the final analysis, I found at least nine different things that can be part of our reward. And they are wonderful things.
Paul was so excited about these things, he said, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). Sounds pretty exciting, doesn't it? So let's look at some of the things God has prepared for us. The first--the best known--is the victor's crown.
1. The Victor's Crown
There are two words for crown in the New Testament. The first, "diadem" (diadema), is never used in relation to believers. It is the second, the "stephanos"--from which we get the word Stephen, by the way--that we can win. That was the wreath-crown, woven as a garland of pine, oak, ivy, parsley, myrtle or olive, and given as the medal of honor to the winners in the Olympic games. It was the first-place trophy, the highly valued prize for the victor. And yet it was perishable. Eventually it turned brown and brittle. The stephanos we can win will last for eternity. Paul says it is "imperishable."
Read 1 Corinthians 9:25. "And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown."
I don't know whether they will be literal crowns, or whether they are symbols of honor. There is a lot of symbolism in Scripture. But in some way, there will be a very tangible reward that we will enjoy forever. Imperishable. Something we shall enjoy eternally.
Besides that reference to an imperishable crown, which may actually be a description of all the crowns--and I rather think it is--there are four other crowns mentioned in the New Testament:
- The crown of life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10)
- The crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20; Philippians 4:10)
- The crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
- The crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4)
We'll talk about how to earn each of them in future lessons, but the thing I want you to see here is their supreme value. They meant everything to the Olympic athlete, and they will mean everything to us when we see Jesus.
What are we going to do with them? Are we going to wear them for all of eternity? If we get more than one, are they going to piled on top of our heads? Turn over to Revelation chapter 4.
We meet 24 elders in verse 4, clothed in white robes, and it says they had crowns of gold on their heads. While in Revelation 4:4 they are being worn, in Revelation 4:10 they are laid at Jesus' feet as an act of worship and praise, to exalt and magnify Him. Those with more crowns will evidently have a greater ability to exalt Christ.
"So what," you say. "Why will I care about how much I can exalt the Lord. I just want to get in." Really? Think about how much you enjoy honoring somebody on earth whom you truly love. The more you love them, the more pleasure it gives you to honor them. You just can't wait for the surprise party you planned for them. You find great joy in watching them open the present you bought. It brings you joy to see them honored.
I can testify to that. Somebody I love very much is going to be honored tonight. I want you to know it wasn't my idea--if it was my idea she would've killed me! But I'm going to enjoy this very much, because she's the greatest treasure I have on this earth, and I love her with all my heart. And because some people have chosen to honor my wife for her 60th birthday, that's going to bring me great joy. But you know, that isn't going to come close to the joy that I'm going to have when I get into heaven's glory and I have the privilege of honoring my Savior. The One whose love exceeds any known on this earth. Our capacity to honor Him is going to be the greatest pleasure we will ever be able to conceive of.
And some are going to have a far greater capacity than others. That's what the Scripture teaches. It isn't going to be a one-time worship service that's all over in a matter of minutes either. We're not just going to come in and throw the crown down, and that's it. Paul's emphasis on the imperishable nature of the crowns would indicate that they will be on display somehow for eternity in continual praise to Jesus. What a distinguished honor that will be for those who earn them! Certainly worth working for!
The second category of rewards, after the victor's crown, is positions of authority. It is abundantly clear in the New Testament that we shall reign with Christ. But that privilege is not automatic and equal for every believer. It is part of the rewards we earn.
In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:21, 23), the master of the house said to the faithful servant, "...you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things." Because he was faithful, he ruled. Not just because he was in heaven or in the millennial kingdom. There was a condition, you see. It was granted to those who used God's resources entrusted to them, for His benefit.
In the parable of the minas (Luke 19:17, 19), one faithful servant was given authority over ten cities, and another faithful servant was given authority over five cities? There will be different levels of governmental authority and responsibility delegated to believers when Christ establishes His kingdom on earth. Different status for different saints.
I know we don't like to hear that, but that's what the Scripture teaches. Jesus taught us that very clearly. And it seems as though those differences will continue in some way throughout eternity. They are permanent. You see, that's what we're going to do in eternity--we aren't going to sit around on a cloud and play a harp. Revelation 22:3 tells us what we're going to do in eternity: "His servants shall serve Him."
We're going to serve Jesus. And some will have more honorable service than others. It's an honor today to serve a notable person here on earth--someone we all respect like Billy Graham. Suppose he was going to eat here in Escondido at the house of a friend of yours, and your friend called you and said, "I need somebody to come over and help serve dinner." Would you consider that an honor to come over and serve Billy Graham? I would. That would be an honor. How much more the Lord! And to serve Him with higher positions of responsibility and authority would be even greater honor.
Not everyone will enjoy the honor of serving Christ by ruling with Him. Peter and the other disciples were promised positions of authority because they left all and followed Christ (Matthew 19:28). Paul wrote to Timothy, "If we endure, we shall also reign with Him" (2 Timothy 2:12). In other words, patiently endure trials in our lives.
It is to the overcomers that Christ promises power over the nations (Revelation 2:26-27), and the privilege of sitting with Him on His throne (Revelation 3:21). Some Bible teachers think the term overcomer refers to all Christians (on the basis of 1 John 5:5), but it is more likely that they are a special group of believers who have overcome sin, and Satan, and suffering and temptation, and have stood courageously for their Savior in spite of opposition. They have truly been victors, overcomers.
Some may be saying, "I don't care how much status I have. Just so I get there." But think about it. Authority and responsibility, and the honor of that goes with them--they do mean a great deal to us now, don't they? For example, your promotion at work--more people answering to you, a bigger office, a view window, a private secretary, higher pay, use of the executive lounge, a company car, and other fringe benefits. They mean something to us today.
It feels good to be elected class president. Or chosen as chairman of the committee because of the capabilities we have. Those things are important to us. What makes you think they won't be important in eternity? With our old sin natures removed, there will be no pride or jealousy involved. But it will certainly not be sinful to enjoy and appreciate the honor of a more responsible position of authority.
A third category of eternal rewards is an eternal inheritance.
There is a sense in which every believer is an heir. In Galatians 4:7 we read, "Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ."
But there seems to be an additional inheritance for some, both in the millennial kingdom and in the eternal state. Let's talk first about the earthly kingdom.
Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). Have you been allowing the Spirit of God to develop in you the spirit of meekness? A gentle spirit, having the strength which you possess under control, and using it to bring blessing and edification to other believers? That's meekness. The meek will inherit the earth. Not everybody. The meek.
When Christ returns to the earth, He will say, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). Everybody knows what it means to inherit something. It means that it becomes their property. They own it. They possess it. It is possible to live in a house you don't own. And will be possible to live in the Kingdom of God and not own it, or inherit it. The heirs of the Kingdom are the owners, not merely its residents or citizens (Zane Hodges, Grace in Eclipse: A Study on Eternal Rewards, p. 71).
Read Luke 22:28-30. Jesus is speaking to His disciples. "But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." You see, there is a special place for heirs of the kingdom. They sit at His table. That sounds like an honor, doesn't it?! And there is a special place of honor for heirs of the Kingdom which Christ shall establish on earth. Like sitting at the captain's table on a cruise ship, because you own stock in the cruise company.
There is also a special inheritance in heaven for those who meet certain conditions. For example, turn to Romans 8:16-17, which we studied not long ago in our series on Romans. "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together."
We often read that so glibly and assume that it was meant for every believer. But there is a condition attached. Our joint-heirship with Christ is dependent upon our willingness to suffer with Him. "If indeed we suffer with Him."
There are some other verses I'd like you to look at. One is Colossians 3:23. We'll be back to this one when we talk about our jobs and earning rewards. Did you know you can earn a reward tomorrow morning when you go to work? Colossians 3:23.-24. "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; for you serve the Lord Christ." There is a reward of inheritance for those who do their jobs heartily, as to the Lord.
Read 1 Peter 3:8-9. "Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing."
Inherit a blessing. In other words, if we respond to mistreatment as Jesus did--in a forgiving spirit rather than a retaliatory spirit--we will inherit a special blessing. That would have particular meaning for a believing wife married to an abusive husband, or a Christian employee with an offensive boss, or gracious believers who have cantankerous neighbors. There is some kind of special inheritance for those folks in heaven.
There's another one you might jot down. Acts 20:32, where Paul promises an inheritance to those who are sanctified. "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." Being more fully set apart for His glory, earns an inheritance in heaven. I don't know what it is, but it will be good.
Fourth, there is treasure in heaven. Not only can we have an inheritance, but we can have treasure in heaven. For example, go back to Luke 12:33. Jesus says, "Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys."
We're not told what that treasure is, but it sounds good! Anything called a "treasure" has to be extremely valuable and worthwhile. And Jesus assured us that we can be laying up for ourselves that valuable treasure in heaven right now (cf. also Matthew 6:19-21). It's a treasure that will be ours to enjoy when we arrive and for eternity. Not everybody in heaven will have treasure. We have to lay it up. The question is, will you?
This is a major point in the parables Jesus told about the talents and the minas. In both there is a word of commendation. "Well, done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21; cf. also Luke 19:17; 1 Corinthians 4:5).
I know, I know. Some are saying to themselves, "So what's so great about a word of commendation? I just want to get in. I'll be able to get along just fine without this." Really? Think for a moment about somebody who means a great deal to you--maybe your husband or wife, or your parents, or some other loved one, or maybe a boss whom you greatly respect. You long for a word of approval and appreciation from that person, don't you? I have talked to people who literally ached for a word of commendation, and they felt as though they could not live without it.
You do know who will be the most important person in your life throughout eternity, don't you? The Lord Jesus Christ. He will be far more important to you than any human being has ever been on earth. Even one word of commendation from Him will bring you greater joy than all the pleasures of earth combined.
What have you done this week that will earn you a word of praise from your Savior at the Bema?
6. A Royal Welcome
A sixth category of reward that I found in the New Testament is a royal welcome. There's a very interesting thought tucked away in 2 Peter 1:10-11. "Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
An abundant entrance! The idea is a rich and blessed reception into Christ's kingdom. The Savior will be there to roll out the red carpet and welcome us warmly. We may not like to hear this, but some people are going to have a more elegant reception into heaven than others. What will yours be like?
And some are going to have VIP treatment in heaven that others won't have. That's back in Luke 12:37. "Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching"--He's the Master. "Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them."
We learned that it would be an honor to sit at His table. We learned that it would be an honor to serve Him. Now, He's going to serve us! Can you imagine being served by the Lord Jesus Himself, the eternal Son of God? What an honor!
Are you watching for Him? That's the condition. When He comes, those watching will sit down to eat and He will come and serve them.
A royal welcome and VIP treatment.
7. Greater Glory
Our occupation in eternity will be to glorify the Lord Jesus. But as song writer Charles H. Gabriel reminded us, that will be glory for us as well: "O that will be glory for me." Paul taught us that some believers are earning greater glory than others.
Read 2 Corinthians 4:17. "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
Glory can refer to high position, status, honor, praise, fame, recognition--all the things that we've been talking about. But glory will also be our capacity to reflect the radiance of the Lord. Jesus said, "Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:43; Jesus borrows this from Daniel 12:3). We're going to shine. That will be exciting to you in heaven. The more of His glory we reflect, the more He is glorified.
But we won't all shine with the same brightness. J. Dwight Pentecost likened it to a great chandelier containing some 25 watt bulbs, some 50, some 75 and some 100, each shining to the peak of its ability but not all shining with the same brightness. How brightly do you want to shine? If you think it won't matter to you in that day, then you still do not comprehend what heaven is all about. You don't have the slightest idea about what makes Heaven heaven.
8. Greater Joy
This idea comes again from the parable of the talents. To those who had invested with eternity's value in view the master said, "Enter into the joy of your lord" (Matthew 25:21, 23). Peter was there with Jesus on the Mount of Olives when He told that parable, and he picked up on the same theme in his first letter.
Read 1 Peter 4:12-13. "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed"--when He comes, in other words--"you may also be glad with exceeding joy."
If we accept trials with a willing and gracious spirit, we are going to have exceedingly great joy when Jesus returns.
9. Special People
Did you know that people will be part of our reward in heaven?
Read 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20. "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy."
We'll say more about this when we deal with the crowns because this is one of them: a crown of rejoicing. But for now, the point is that it is people who are there because of us. Can you imagine the pleasure it will bring you to have people in heaven whose very presence there is an honor for you, and a testimony to your faithful witness? If Jesus doesn't come today or you don't die today, you still have a little time to work on that one.
Several years ago, Bob Shank spoke at our men's retreat and gave a series on rewards. It got a lot of men thinking about this subject, before I ever began thinking seriously about it, frankly. He suggested when he was here that people have three innate desires. Just about every television and magazine ad plays on one or more of these things: Pleasure, power, and possessions.
Industry uses all three to motivate us. Pleasure: they may offer a trip of excellent performance. Power: they hold out the possibility of advancement, position, title). Possessions: they give bonuses and raises.
Life is based on this principle. And it's interesting to observe that all nine of these heavenly rewards fit into one or another of these three categories. They are either pleasure, power, or possessions. God promises us pleasure, power and possessions in heaven.
Satan tells us to get it all now, indulge yourself now. You only go round once, and there's nothing beyond this life, so get all the pleasure , all the power, and all the possessions you can right here and now. Well, you can believe him if you want, and have a little bit for a few years. God says that it pays to defer our gratification. If we live for His glory now, whatever that costs us or whatever sacrifice it requires, He will lavish us with rich rewards for eternity. Who are you going to believe? Believe Satan: have it temporarily. Believe God: have it forever. Are you willing to believe God, and live with eternity's values in view?
C. S. Lewis made an interesting comment about serving God with the desire for reward, which so many people think is carnal and unspiritual. "Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promises in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased" (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory).
Believe God and go for the gold, the highest and the best, the eternal prize! Let's live for Him rather than ourselves.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
We've been talking about rewards in God's kingdom. But you have to enter the kingdom before you get any rewards. Not everyone will be in the kingdom. You don't get in by doing good things. So how do we gain entrance into God's kingdom?
Jesus made that perfectly clear in a conservation with a man named Nicodemus: by being born again. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Have you been born again?
Nicodemus didn't understand. He asked, "How can you be born again? Can I get back into my mother's womb and be born a second time?" And Jesus said, "No, no. You don't understand, Nicodemus. This is a spiritual birth. Your first birth brought you temporal life, physical life. Your second birth brings you eternal, spiritual life. It's a birth from above." "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). "That's what it is, Nicodemus."
Maybe there are some here today who are not sure that they've been born again. It isn't by doing good things, or going to church, or giving your money to charity. Once you've been born again, that counts for something. But the way that you are born again is by putting your faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. By acknowledging your sin and believing that Jesus died in your place and paid for your sin. And by receiving forgiveness and that gift of everlasting life. Have you done that? That's where it all begins. Now if you've never made that decision, we invite you to do it right now.
Let's bow together in Christ's presence, prayerfully. With our heads bowed, reverently before Him, may I ask you whether you know for a certainty that your sins are forgiven and you're on your way to heaven? That you have eternal life. Make sure, right now. It's just a matter of turning from sin, in faith, to Christ. So do that, would you? Just in the quiet of your own heart, right where you sit, you talk to the Lord:
"God, I'm a sinner. I believe You sent Your Son to Calvary in my place to pay for my sins, and I'm putting my faith in Christ for my eternal salvation."
That's where life begins.
Now, if you've done that, the question is, what are you living for? The power and pleasure and possessions of earth--which one of these days will be gone--or the power and pleasure and possessions of heaven--which you will be able to enjoy forever. Does it make any sense to choose the former? Maybe some of us need to readjust our priorities and tell the Lord right here and now that by His grace, we want to live for His glory from this day forward. Because it is going to count for something worthwhile.
Father, I pray that You will move among us with great power. How I pray that you will stir into my heart and the hearts of others the fires of revival, that we may live for Jesus Christ and make an impact on the world in which you've placed us, for His eternal glory. We ask it in His name. Amen.