The Reality of Rewards
1 Cor 3:11-15 The Building Metaphor
One picture the Bible gives of this judgment and rewards is one of individual believers presenting their life’s works to Christ in the form of buildings. The eternal foundation of each building is Christ, but the structures vary. Some are made totally of wood, hay, and straw; others are of gold, silver, and precious stones; still others are composite structures of all the elements in individual proportions. As the architecture of each life is presented, they are publicly subjected to the revealing torch of Christ’s judgment. With the flames comes the moment of truth: “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Rewards are real. They are as unavoidable as the judgment seat of Christ.
Is a free gift are earned
Is secure can be lost
Same for all different for everyone
Determines our determines our
Kingdom position Kingdom experience
In his book The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis notes how believers often underestimate the full riches God has for His children.
"...If we consider...the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures...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.”
Luke 14 and the Challenge of Discipleship
What does it mean to live like a Christian. It is the hardest life. Most difficult. Most challenging. It is called being a disciple. Jesus explained it in Luke 14:25-26.
“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and other, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”
Notice how different this is from becoming a Christian. While the two are often confused, we should be careful to never confuse them. John 3:14-15 “…the son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Romans 3:21 “The righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Revelation’s closing words include, “whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wished, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” Rev 22:17 Eternal life is on the basis of this free gift; God’s grace. It is a gift received by faith—believing in Jesus Christ as your savior. But being a disciple? That is hard. It means giving all you have to the Lord. It is His, but it is turning loose what you think is yours, what you think you need, what you think you have to hang on to for your safety and security, and realizing that it is all God’s. That is hard.
To say you are a Christian is one thing. To say you are living like a Christian is another. To say you are delivered is one thing, to say you are a disciple is another.
Paul recognized it was hard, that in life there are struggles and afflictions. But Paul could see past them, because he had a vision of Heaven. He wrote,
With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Imagine trying to describe a pineapple to an Eskimo. Well, you see it’s sweet, and juicy—like blubber. How can you describe ice to a desert tribe? “Well, it’s hard like a rock, but cold like water. But to them, water isn’t cold. So how can someone tell people of earth what heaven is like? Doesn’t make sense to us. We just don’t get it.
If we knew what to expect in heaven, hell would be an empty place. If we knew the rewards in heaven, then statements like “a hellish life,” or “hell on earth” would be abandoned figures.
Salvation is one thing—free by Gods grace through faith. Being a disciple is another—from our perspective, hard, and costly. It cost us all we have and all we are. The benefit of eternal life is salvation; being saved and rescued from the penalty of sin. The benefit of being an obedient disciple is reward.
Rewards of Kind—The Crowns
There are two words for “crown” in the New Testament. One refers to what a king or ruler would wear. The word is diadehma, which is largely left untranslated as “diadem.” Jesus therefore is seen wearing not one but many diadems upon his victorious return to earth where he will establish his reign as King forever.
But there is another word for crown. The word is stephenos. It signifies victor—a winner. This was the crown placed upon the head of a Greek athlete who after competing emerged as the winner over all. The crown itself was of no value—usually made of grape vines and celery stalks. It may be compared to a red or blue or gold ribbon given to the winner of an athletic event. The ribbon itself is of little value, but what it signifies is its value. It is a symbol of something far more significant.
This is the word used for our rewards. The stephenos—the crown. But we are told that these symbolic crowns will not wilt and dry up like some celery stalk. They will remain forever. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” 1 Cor 9:25
There are other crowns to fit your crown:
Crown of righteousness 2 Tim 4:8
Paul writes of his own performance in 2 Tim 4:8
“For I am already being poured out life a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to em, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Do we have the eternal perspective in view? Do we live with the ever present reality that the Lord Jesus Christ could return at any moment? Do we live with that fact in fear—Oh no, I hope he doesn’t return now, or with eager anticipation—any time would be a good time Lord. I’m ready! Those whose life reflects this eagerness.
Crown of life - James 1:12, Rev 2:10, 3:11
In the context of persevering under difficult circumstances another crown reward is mentioned. This is the crown of life. James 1 describes it:
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because wen he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who live him.” How is love of God fully demonstrated? Perseverance under adverse circumstances.
Many of you are earning this crown in your life today. Hang in there; keep the perspective of eternity in view. Great is your reward. Remember, adversity can include death—being martyred on account of your testimony of Christ. Rev 2:10 describes this eventuality, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Addressing the Elders of the Church, Peter mentions another reward.
Crown of glory 1 Peter 5:
Be shepherds of the church
Straightforward Promises - 2 Corinthians 5:7; Luke 13:22-29
Jesus makes the distinction between those outside the gate (unbelievers) and those inside the gate (believers). Then there is a further distinction. Not inside or outside the gate, but there is a place further inside—the banquet table.
This relates to Matthew 25 and the parable of the servants. The servant, has to be a believer, and yet is described as missing the feast.
Mercenary or Missionary?
All this talk about rewards admittedly makes some of us feel uneasy. After all, isn’t it rather self-serving—serve God in this life so that you will be rewarded in the next? That sounds so vain, and so base and selfish. Do not let that talk or that feeling deter you. Several reasons:
1. Jesus Himself spoke of reward as a motive for service. We have seen this.
2. It is not a matter of being selfish it is a matter of being a servant.
3. If you happen to gain reward for it, then wonderful
In heaven there is only happiness. And there is no sense of wanting to stop being happy. The book of Revelation tells us that there will be no more tears, no more sorrow, the old order is gone. Only the new order is present.
So, there will be rewards (Corinthians 9). But how can that be? Will some feel a greater sense of joy and accomplishment than others in heaven? If heaven is eternal joy, etc, how can there be greater joy infinite eternal joy? Or we might ask the question this way: Since all of God’s people will be transformed into heaven and see our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ face to face, and enjoy the bounty of eternal bliss, how can there be degrees of reward in heaven?
We cannot know for sure. We do know this is true, but how is it possible? Scripture is only suggestive on this point. Perhaps one’s developed capacity for enjoyment of heaven is part of the answer. We all know that the enjoyment of art or music is proportionate to one’s cultivated ability. For example, two people can walk through the Louvre go down the same hall and have quite opposite experiences; one experiences absolute boredom, the other ecstasy. The reason? One has previously developed an aesthetic sense, and the other has not. Of course, in heaven, both would be in ecstasy, but possibly the one whose life’s work was gold, silver, and precious stone would experience greater ecstasy.
Here’s a list of reasons rewards are given:
Faithfulness – 1 Cor 4:2
Use of talents – Matt 20:1-6
Use of Material blessings – Matt 6:20; Gal 6:7)
Soul winning – Dan 12:3; 1 Thes 2:19,
Doing good – Gal 6:10
Hospitality – Matt 10:40-42
Care of others – Matt 25:35-40
Endurance in persecution – 2 Tim 2:12, James 1:12
Or, the word “CROWN” could be used as an acrostic in this fashion:
C onversion – Dan 12:3; 1 Thes 2:19
R iches – Matt 6:19-21; Gal 6:6-7
O bjective good – Gal 6:10
W elcoming – Matt 10:40-42
N ot quitting – 2 Tim 2:12, James 1:12
A frequent objection about rewards is that they are self-serving, almost mercenary like. But if you look at this list, its not self-serving but serving others. This is not normal. It is not natural. It is supernatural.
Point: This is the work of the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 4
Rewards are not for our actions, but for our attitude.
The twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Rewards will be given to the one who earn them so they can be given to the One who earned them.
Run the Right Race: The CONCLUSION
A world-class woman runner was invited to compete in a road race in Connecticut. On the morning of the race, she drove from New York City, following the directions -- or so she thought -- given her over the telephone. She got lost, stopped at a gas station, and asked for help. She knew that the race started in the parking lot of a shopping mall. The station attendant also knew of such a race scheduled just up the road and directed her there.
When she arrived she was relieved to see in the parking lot a modest number of runners preparing to compete. Not as many as she'd anticipated; an easier race than she'd been led to expect. She hurried to the registration desk, announced herself, and was surprised by the race officials' excitement at having so renowned an athlete show up for their race. No, they had no record of her entry, but if she'd hurry and put on this number, she could just make it before the gun goes off. She ran and, naturally, she won easily, some four minutes ahead of the first male runner in second place.
Only after the race--when there was no envelope containing her sizable prize and performance money-- did she confirm that the event she'd run was not the race to which she'd been invited. That race was being held several miles farther up the road in another town. She'd gone to the wrong starting line, run the wrong course, and missed her chance to win a valuable prize.
The Scriptures teach that the happiness or blessedness of believers in a future life will be greater or less in proportion to the service of Christ in this life. Those who love little, do little; and those who do little, enjoy less. Charles Hodge, quoted in Liberating Ministry From The Success Syndrome, K. Hughes, Tyndale, 1988, p. 158-ff. These are races in life to run. Run the right race.