This week, I (Darin) asked Pastor Nelson on a topic we could explore from the text he is preaching on Revelation 4. We chose this one. So, here we go!
Numerous Christians feel uneasy discussing rewards for obeying God's commands in Scripture. They often misunderstand it as being tied to a works-based salvation or view seeking rewards as selfish and contradictory to grace.
However, if this perspective holds true, how would you reconcile the numerous texts in the New Testament that talk about rewards for godly obedience and sacrifices made for the sake of the gospel? Allow me to mention just a few examples.
“For if you love those who hate you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matt. 5:46).
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by the, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1).
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:3-4).
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6).
“But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:17-18).
“The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matt. 10:41-42).
“If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward” (1 Cor. 3:14).
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:8).
(See also: Matthew 19:21, 29; Luke 6:35; 14:12-14; 1 Corinthians 3:8; 4:5; Hebrews 11:26; Revelation 2:17, 26-28; 3:12.)
Given what Jesus states in Matthew 5:12, I bring this to your attention. He encourages us to "rejoice and be glad" when facing persecution for righteousness' sake because our reward in heaven will be significant.
Regrettably, the New Testament doesn’t provide precise details about the specific nature of the "reward." It might encompass various possibilities such as increased authority in the new heavens and new earth, a closer relationship with the Father, or elevated levels of experiencing God's presence and joy.
In 1 Corinthians 4:5, Paul mentions "commendation" or "praise" from God—and anything beyond this remains mere speculation. However, you can be entirely certain of one thing: whatever the reward may be, it will far surpass any hardships or sacrifices endured in this life to attain it.
DISCUSSION OF HEAVENLY REWARDS
The term "reward" (Greek, misthos) generally refers to the fitting consequence or outcome of a particular course of action. It is sometimes translated as "wages" (Matthew 20:8; Luke 10:7; John 4:36). On the negative side, Judas's ill-gotten money is referred to as "the reward of his wickedness" (Acts 1:18).
On the positive side, in the New Testament, "reward" is consistently used in the singular to denote the entrance into eternal life. The ultimate joy of heaven will be the direct experience of seeing God face-to-face (Revelation 22:4). Every Christian can’t wait for the day when he/she will be transformed and be like him, seeing God as he truly is (1 John 3:2).
And Jesus often motivates righteousness by appealing to the reward, whether it be in the context of enduring persecution (Matthew 5:12), loving others (Matthew 5:46), giving (Matthew 6:4), praying (Matthew 6:6), or fasting (Matthew 6:18).
Several key passages mention believers receiving a "crown" (1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4). While some interpret these crowns as different types of rewards, most theologians and pastors believe they symbolize the one reward of eternal life. The details around varying degrees of reward is theologically debated, with some suggesting it could relate to increased capacities and responsibilities.
Jonathan Edwards explains that while all believers will be fulfilled in heaven, some may have greater capacities (“The Portion Of The Righteous” - December, 1740). He likens these individuals to vessels of varying sizes, all full and content, with no envy in heaven, only perfect love prevailing throughout the society. The parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:11-27) is cited as a possible indication that some believers may rule over more territories in the new heavens and earth. This suggests that there will be diverse roles and responsibilities beneath the ultimate reward of enjoying God.
In conclusion, all true believers will share in the great reward of seeing God face-to-face, and this should be a profound motivator for our actions. While the New Testament does not explicitly and clearly teach varying degrees of reward, this possibility remains open. If true, it would mean that some believers may have greater capacities and responsibilities. Bottom-line: all Christians will experience fullness of joy and eternal pleasures at God's right hand (Psalm 16:11). In anticipation, we say, "Maranatha—come quickly, Lord Jesus!"
WHAT ABOUT 2 CORINTHIANS 5:9-10?
“So, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (ESV).
Let's begin by addressing a crucial point that may alleviate your fears about judgment. In a reassuring passage from the New Testament, Paul proclaimed, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
In short, if you have faith and are "in Christ Jesus," you should never fear condemnation, regardless of Paul's intentions in 2 Corinthians 5. You aren’t going to lose your salvation!
With this settled, what can we anticipate at the judgment seat of Christ after death?
At least ten observations:
#1 - The subject of judgment needs clarification. While it is possible that all of humanity is included in this judgment, the context in 2 Corinthians 4-5 indicates that it primarily concerns believers. Paul's references to reward according to works pertain to two distinct groups of people, not just different types of actions applicable to all (Romans 2:6).
#2 - The purpose of this judgment is essential to understand. Contrary to determining eternal destiny, which is assured for believers (Romans 8:1; John 3:18; 5:24; Romans 5:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10), this judgment focuses on eternal rewards, status, or authority within the kingdom of God.
#3 - The timing of the judgment remains uncertain. While Paul doesn’t specify when it occurs, the judgment is likely to happen after physical death (Hebrews 9:27). The possibility of it taking place at Christ's second coming, in conjunction with the Great White Throne judgment for unbelievers (Matthew 16:27; Revelation 22:12, 20:11ff.), is possible.
#4 – The certainty of this judgment applies to everyone—without exception. Even Paul himself anticipates standing before it, motivating him to "please" the Lord through grace-energized efforts (2 Cor. 5:9; Romans 14:12).
#5 - The judgment highlights its individual nature. This means that each person will be judged separately, taking into account their faithfulness to God-given responsibilities within the church and Christians life(Romans 14:12).
#6 - The style of this judgment involves a profound scrutiny and disclosure of one's heart and actions before Christ (1 Corinthians 4:5).
#7 - This judgment has a specific identity, referred to as the "judgment seat of Christ," with historical significance related to the “bema” seat in Corinth (Acts 18:12-17).
#8 - The judge is clearly identified as Christ himself. Therefore, Jesus is the one to whom all judgment has been entrusted by the Father (John 5:22).
#9 - The standard of judgment centers around deeds done in the body. These are distinguished as either "good" or "bad," which determine the rewards one receives.
#10 - While the exact outcome of the judgment is not explicitly stated, it implies that individuals will receive what their deeds deserve, involving rewards or recompense. Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians 3:14-15 shed some light on this aspect, implying a differentiation in rewards based on one's works.
In sum, the nature of the reward remains somewhat mysterious, but various biblical passages allude to rewards, glory, authority, and commendation from God. The depth of knowledge and enjoyment of God may also differ among individuals based on the rewards they receive, though this notion may be challenging for some to accept. Nonetheless, believers should not shy away from considering the implications of this judgment.
#1 - It's SUPER-important to recognize that our actions don’t determine our salvation but rather demonstrate it (Eph. 2:10; James 2). These deeds aren’t the foundation of our relationship with God. Rather, they are the visible fruit of our faith in Christ alone. The "good" deeds we've done will be revealed at the judgment seat of Christ as evidence of our invisible faith.
#2 - There is no need to fear that the revelation and assessment of our deeds will mess-up the joy of heaven. Even if tears of regret or shame for missed opportunities and sins arise when we stand before our Lord someday, Christ will tenderly wipe them away (Rev. 20:4a). The incomparable delight of his forgiving grace will overwhelm any sorrow, and the radiance of Christ's beauty will captivate our hearts, leaving no room for anything but the splendor of who He is and what He has graciously accomplished on our behalf (1 Cor. 15:1-5).
#3 - If you wish to find the strength, courage, and spiritual stamina to remain faithful to Jesus and to the Word of God, it requires an act of faith. Faith in what? Faith in the truth of what Jesus said in Matthew 5:12, that “your reward is great in heaven.” Setting your heart and mind on the promise of what awaits us in heaven and in the age to come is the only way to remain steadfast, patient, and full of hope when persecution comes.
We would do well to learn from Moses who, “when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Heb. 11:24-26 - emphasis mine).