Someone may ask, Is the idea of a reward a right one for the Christian to entertain? Should a Christian ever by governed in his motives by a thought concerning the reward that remains for him in heaven?
You know it was the tendency, particularly in the early part of this century [one does not hear it quite so often now], for people to say, ‘I do not like these ideas of seeking a reward and of fearing punishment. I believe that the Christian life should be lived for its own sake.’ Such people say that they are not interested in heaven and hell; it is this wonderful life of Christianity itself that they are interested in.
You remember they used to tell the story of the woman who was to be seen walking in an Eastern country carrying a bucket of water in one hand and a bucket of fuel with live coals of fire in the other hand. Somebody asked her what she was going to do, and she said she was going to drown hell with one and burn up heaven with the other. This idea, that you are not interested in reward or fear of punishment, but are just wonderful people who, which no ulterior motive, are enjoying a pure joy in Christian living, appeals to many.
Now these people consider themselves to be exceptional Christians. But the answer we give them is that their attitude is quite unscriptural, and any teaching that goes beyond the Scriptures is always wrong, however wonderful it may seem to be. Everything must be tested by the teaching of the Bible: and here it is in this one verse - ‘Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.’ [Matt. 5:12] Are we not even told by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews…that Christ endured the cross, and despised the shame ‘for the joy that was set before Him’? It was by looking beyond it to what was coming that He endured.
We find this everywhere. The apostle says in I Corinthians 3 that what really controlled his whole life, and especially his ministry, was the fact that in the day that was coming every man’s work would be tried ‘as by fire’. ‘I am very careful what I build on this one and only foundation,’ he says, in effect; ‘whether I build wood, or hay, or stubble, or precious metal. The day is coming and will declare it. Every man’s work shall be judged and every man shall be rewarded according to his work’ [1 Cor. 3:10-15]. The reward counted a great deal in the life of this man. Again, in 2 Corinthians 5, he writes, ‘We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men’ [2 Cor. 5:10-11].
And when, in his second Epistle to Timothy, he comes to look back across his life, he thinks about the crown that is laid up for him, that wonderful crown which the blessed Lord is going to put upon his brow. That is the scriptural teaching. Thank God for it. These things are written for our encouragement. The gospel is not impersonal, it is not inhuman. This whole idea of the reward is there, and we are meant to think about these things, and to meditate upon them. Let us be careful that we do not set up an idealistic philosophy in the place of the Scripture and its plain teaching.
I thought that all was of grace and man was saved by grace; why speak of reward?’ The answer of Scripture seems to be that even the reward itself is of grace. It does not mean that we merit or deserve salvation. It just means that God treats us as a Father. The father tells the child that there are certain things he wants him to do, and that it is his duty to do them. He also tells him that if he does them he will give him a reward. It is not that the child merits a reward. It is given of grace, and it is the expression of the father’s love.
So God, of His infinite grace, ‘throws these things into the bargain’ as it were, and encourages us, and fills us with a sense of love and of gratitude. It is not that any man will ever deserve or merit heaven; but the teaching is, I say, that God does reward His people. We can even go further and say that there are differences in the reward. Take that reference in Like 12 where we read of the servants who are beaten with many and with few stripes. It is a great mystery, but it is clear teaching to the effect that there are rewards. No-one will have a sense of loss or of lack and yet there is a difference. Let us never lose sight of ‘the recompense of the reward’.
The Christian is a man who should always be thinking of the end, He does not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. That was the secret of those men in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Why did Moses not continue as the child of Pharaoh’s daughter? Because he chose ‘rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, that to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season’. He had his eye upon the end, ‘the recompense of the reward’. He did not stop at thoughts of this life; he looked at death and eternity. He saw the things that abide, he saw ‘Him who is invisible’. That is how he went one.
That is how they all went one. ‘Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth’ writes Paul to the Colossians. Does not this word condemn us all? Does it not make foolish the way we look so much at this world and all it has? We know perfectly all that it is all vanishing and disappearing, yet how little we look at those other things. ‘Rejoice,’ said Christ, ‘and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven.’
Well, the Bible does not tell us much about it, for a very good reason. It is so glorious and wonderful that our human language is of necessity almost bound to detract from its glory. You see even our very language is polluted. Take the word ‘love’. It has become debased, and we have a wrong impression of it. The same is true of many other expressions such as ‘glory’, ‘brightness’, and ‘joy’. So there is a senses in which even the Bible cannot tell us about heaven because we should misunderstand it. But it does tell us something like this. We shall see Him as He is, and worship in His glorious presence. Our very bodies will be changed, and glorified, and with no sickness or disease. There will be no sorrow, no sighing; all tears shall be wiped away. All will be perpetual glory. No wars or rumours of wars; no separation, no unhappiness, nothing that drags a man down and makes him unhappy, even for a second!
Unmixed joy, and glory, and holiness, and purity and wonder! That is what is awaiting us. That is your destiny and mine in Christ as certainly as we are alive at this moment. How foolish we are that we do not spend our time in thinking about that. Oh, how we cling to this unhappy, wretched world, and fail to think on these things and to meditate upon them. We are all going on to that, if we are Christians, to that amazing glory and purity and happiness and joy. ‘Rejoice, and be exceeding glad.’
And if people are unkind and cruel and spiteful, and if we are being persecuted, well then we must say to ourselves, Ah, unhappy people; they are doing this because they do not know Him, and they do not understand me. They are incidentally proving to me that I belong to Him, that I am going to be with Him and share in that joy with Him. Therefore, far from resenting it, and wanting to hit back, or being depressed by it, it makes me realize all the more what is awaiting me. I have joy unspeakable and full of glory awaiting me. All this is but temporary and passing; it cannot affect that. I therefore must thank God for it, because, as Paul puts it, it ‘worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’.
How often do you think of heaven and rejoice as you’re think of it? Does it give you a sense of strangeness and of fear, and a desire, as it were, to avoid it? If it does so to any degree, I fear we must plead guilty that we are living on too low a level. Thoughts of heaven ought to make us rejoice and be exceeding glad. True Christian living is to be like Paul and to say, ‘to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ Why? Because it means, ‘to be with Christ; which is far better,’ to see Him and to be like Him. Let us think more about these things, realizing increasingly, and reminding ourselves constantly, that if we are in Christ these things are awaiting us. We should desire them above everything else. Therefore, ‘Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.’
Excerpt from The Sermon On The Mount Vol. 1