Eternal Rewards and God
A clarion call throughout the Bible – is the call for individuals to serve God (See Ex 23:25, Jn 12:26, Col 3:24, etc.). He has decided to use people in the expansion of His Kingdom. He pays for this service with … eternal rewards. “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me” (Rev 22:12). While there are some clues as to the character of these rewards, this cannot be meaningfully related to us in our present circumstance. We are assured they are incorruptible and eternal … but, they also surpass anyone’s comprehension. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth … but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” (Mt 6:19,20) and “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1Cor 2:9). It is by faith one takes God up on this offer. His records are impeccable. He knows exactly who to credit with what.
For two summers during college, I sold books door-to-door. The goal was to maximize work hours, minimize expenses, and send as much cash as possible into company headquarters. Then at summer’s end – pick up one big paycheck. The gaining of eternal rewards has some similar elements. We are looking to one big Payday. “Well done, good slave. Because you have been faithful in a very little thing, be in authority over ten cities” (Lk 19:17).
The case for dismissing “rights” to eternal rewards for anybody is quite strong. For starters, “Salvation is from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). While Jonah was probably referring to deliverance from the belly of the great fish, those with already a cursory Bible understanding know that “to God the Lord belong escapes from death” (Ps 68:20). Our most urgent need is deliverance from the deaths of sin – all three of them; spiritual, physical and eternal. But, on our own initiative “there is none who seeks for God” (Ro 3:11). Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (Jn 6:44). The Bible is clear on this matter. Scores of verses sustain this. If you think you are going to stand before God and say, “Yeah, I woke up one day and knew I needed You in my life. I started reading the Bible and I figured out who Jesus was and what that meant. Then I decided to accept Him, and I … I … I ….” Let me break it to you this way. If you think you engineered your faith and understanding of the things of God – you have deceived yourself. So, such a one has “rights” to eternal rewards?
But, already as Christians, we cannot claim total credit for our service. We do become “God’s fellow-workers” with each receiving “his own reward according to his own labor” (1Cor 3:8,9). But, thorough behind the scenes of our willing service, we find these assertions: “We are His workmanship, produced in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10) and “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). So, God prepares labors for us and motivates us toward them … and already grants spiritual abilities (gifts or aptitudes – 1Cor 12:4-31) … and then grants eternal rewards for cooperating?
Notice … we “should” walk in these prepared opportunities. But, in an exercise of free will, we can stupidly choose otherwise. John told his audience, “Watch yourselves, … (so) that you might receive a complete reward” (2Jn 8).
Everyone who gets already one eternal reward will concede it is undeserved. It is He “who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist” (Ro 4:17). He not only makes us “alive together with Him” (Col 2:13), but He then empowers our efforts for Him … so actual spiritual progress occurs. It is “God who causes the growth” (1Cor 3:7).
So, are there “conditions” one must meet to be used by God – and consequently receive eternal rewards? Well, John would not have exhorted his audience, “watch yourselves … (so) that you might receive a complete reward” if these rewards were automatic. Jesus would not have warned of the wicked slave who “hid” his talent … unless it is possible we could do the same (Mt 25:14-30). In Revelation, He admonished the churches to “repent … be faithful … conquer … keep up fast” and rewards would follow (Rev 2:5,10,17,25). Paul warned Christians to build properly on the foundation, as fire “will test the quality of each man’s work” – some efforts ending in eternal reward and others burning up (1Cor 3:10,13-15). So, here are a few points.
To be used by God is a moment by moment, event by event, transaction. God is not obligated to use everything a Christian does. An individual must actively continue the relationship with God – in actions and responses. His will must be sought and one must be deemed by Him as ready to be used. This privilege is never owed. It is an undeserved honor to ever be used by God – already once in this life. One’s educational level, titles, or publicly ordained locaiongs have no effect on the God of the Bible in this matter. He employs individuals based upon present standing … with one’s heart being the measure. For example, while there are many sins that move a person into an “idle” position with Him, one that God hates … is pride. “If anyone thinks he is something, being nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal 6:3). Pride is often a very subtle wickedness that remains undetected until some event brings it to the fore (Just ask Job). Then, one is in for “a season” of self-examination and corrective action … before God can deploy him/her. In this matter, “God shows no partiality.” (Paul said this of the other apostles “who were of high reputation”! Rest assured, when Peter and Barnabas, were operating in their pride, that chapter of their Christian lives only produced fuel for the fire [Gal 2:6-9]). Do you think God is somehow obligated to eternally reward error and impure motives, known or unknown by the perpetrator, and expand His Kingdom with that?
But, what if there is a group of Christians – say, a local church – representing God? Is He obligated to use, and reward, their efforts? Or, are its activities weighed moment by moment, event by event … as is done with the individual?
Let’s look at it this way. Have you ever heard this one? “How will the church’s bills be paid if you don’t give?” Well, there are two presumptions behind this question/statement. First, the activities of that church are being used by God, and second, people in the pews are responsible for that church’s bills. But, … is God using that place – now? already if He has in the past, that doesn’t average He is now … and the present is all that matters. This basic question – indeed this basic test – is always present and applicable. And, what about those bills? Well, we already know of at the minimum one place God had inhabited – and then abandoned. Somewhere around 35 AD, He left the Most Holy Place at the Temple in Jerusalem … never to return. Of course, people nevertheless came to the Temple, and it was populated with priests, and councils, and all kinds of religious ceremonies for another 35 years. During that time … all the bills for that “ministry” kept rolling in. Did those “investments” by those “parishioners” end in eternal rewards?
If individuals, or groups, want investment into their ministry(s), they should look chiefly to God Himself to impress on possible donors the validity of their cause. God is quite capable of doing that – and has no need of coercion or manipulation. He simply opens eyes … and those eyes see, and respond to, the eternal opportunity.
In my own personal crucible, I have come to some determinations. One is this: “Lord, I would rather be used by You one time in my remaining days, than to have a lifetime of plastic ‘achievement’ – pursuing what I think, or others think, should be done.” This takes effort to seek God on such a level … but, what is the different? Fuel for fire?