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Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. Col. 3:23-24, NASB
As Christians we sometimes fall into one of two traps concerning our future rewards.
Some Christians become obsessed with the idea of rewards and heaven. As the saying goes: They become so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good. A false eschatology, that has arisen in the last 100 years or so, has derailed a lot of Christians in this area. One of the reasons the world is in the shape it is today is that many Christians have withdrawn from their responsibilities in the world. This belief that the world is going to Hell and they are going to be raptured out of all their troubles to enjoy mansions in heaven has ruined many lives and perhaps nations.
The opposite error that some Christians have fallen into is to disregard all future reward as mercenary. They believe that Christians should have no other motivation than love for God and people. To actually work for the Lord with the hope of a reward seems to them to selfish, immature and beneath their dignity. Yet these same people expect to get paid for the work they do for earthly employers.
The first thing to make extremely clear, as we have in our Master Life course, is that we do not work to earn our salvation or maintain our relationship with God. It is by faith , through grace, not of works… [Eph. 2:8-9].
However, we were also created in Christ Jesus to do prearranged good works [Eph. 2:10]. God is not going to be outdone by earthly employers who pay for work rendered. God is no man’s debtor.
As Paul approached the end of his life, what did he look forward to?
As for me, I feel that the last drops of my life are being poured out for God. The glorious fight that God gave me I have fought. The course that I was set I have finished, and I have kept the faith. The future for me holds the crown of righteousness which God, the true judge, will give to those who have loved what they have seen of him. 2 Tim. 4:6-8, Phillips
For his faithful service, he knew he would receive a reward. He was not embarrassed about it. I am not saying it was the primary motivation for his life. He lived to please God and accomplish his mission, as we all should. However, he did not shy away from the reward he had earned in false humility or a rejection of the grace of God in providing it.
In fact, Paul used his knowledge of future reward to encourage himself and others when he went through tough times.
These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever. 2 Cor. 4:17-18, Message
We all face hard and discouraging times. Knowing that God has a generous “pay check” at the end of our work day here on earth can be an encouragement. It can help us stay on track and make sacrifices that seem to have no personal benefit. It can be a comfort to us when we see a young Christian’s life cut short because we know God has something better for them on the other side.
One of the ways Paul encouraged Christians to think of life was as a race, with a prize that was to be won.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 1 Cor. 9:24, NASB
He also told us that there were different levels of rewards. Some Christians, who have wasted their lives, will make it with no extra rewards. Others, who faithfully followed God’s plan for their lives, will earn maximum eternal benefits [1 Cor. 3:12-15]. No matter what we have to go through in this life or how long it lasts, it is only the blink of an eye in light of eternity. In death, it will all be past and we will enter a glorious future. [Note: God chooses the time and manner of our death, not us.]
What is our reward going to be? The Bible does not give us detailed specifics. I think that is because in our present state we would be unable to comprehend the greatness and true condition of our future reality. Imagine trying to explain to a child in the womb the wonders of the world he or she is about to be born into. Impossible. They have no frame of reference for blue skies, gentle breezes, loving embraces, good food or just about anything in world. Likewise, the world to come is so much greater than our ability to comprehend.
This is similar to the joke about the man who brought a suitcase to the Pearly Gates. St. Peter told him that he wasn’t allowed to bring anything into heaven. The man said he had a special arrangement with God that he could bring one suitcase. After St. Peter confirmed his story, he wanted to know what the man was bringing into heaven. So the man opened the suitcase. It was full of gold coins and bricks. St. Peter looked at the man in surprise and said, “You brought pavement?”
Do we get rewards now? We can have a growing relationship with Jesus, which is the greatest possible reward. As far as physical rewards the answer is maybe. God has a generous heart. He wants to bless His children in every way. For some that means earthly blessings, for others not so much. We can see in the Hebrews chapter 11 Faith Chapter that they all had faith, but some were delivered and some were not. Reward after death for the faithful Christian is guaranteed. Reward on earth sometimes, sometimes not depending on the will and purpose of God in individual situations. On this earth, we are in a war. War requires sacrifices to reach the final objective.
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