The Next Life and Its Implications

Obtaining Eternal Rewards

Teaching t07522

Introduction

Last time, we explored the biblical thesis that we will all render an account to God about how we lived this life, and that he will render to each of a verdict that will impact us for all eternity. Here's a parable Jesus told that illustrates this thesis (read Matt. 25:14-30). When Jesus' kingdom comes, he will call each of us before him to give an account to him for how we viewed him and for what we did with our lives in connection to him.

Some will of us be like the third steward. He represents people who go through their entire lives without ever deciding to personally entrust themselves to Jesus as their master. You may view him as a "hard man"—as someone who doesn’t care about you instead of as someone who loves you and wants to give you abundant life. You may reject his promise that he will return. You may view all that he has entrusted to you as your own, to use for your own purposes.

When you come before Jesus, this will all come to light—and the result will be an eternity of anguished regret. This will be absolutely tragic, because you could have avoided this by simply receiving his offer to exempt from condemnation and give you eternal life (read Jn. 5:24). Don't do this! Change your mind about who he is; call out to him and ask him to give you eternal life!

What about those of us who have done this, who have a love relationship with Jesus? We will be like the first two stewards. We also will appear before Jesus—not for condemnation, but for reward. He will evaluate how well we managed his resources and invested them to advance his purposes—and he will reward us accordingly with praise and greater authority in his eternal kingdom.

This week, I want to spend some more time considering this prospect of obtaining eternal reward.

Next to gratitude for God's past grace, the New Testament emphasizes this prospect as the greatest motivation for serving Jesus Christ. I count several dozen times, including every New Testament author. And no one talks about it more than Jesus, whose teachings are bookended by statements about this issue (read Matt. 6:19,20; Rev. 22:12).

In spite of this fact, I find that most American Christians are either ignorant of, indifferent to, or even antagonistic toward this teaching of the New Testament. This means we need to respond to our questions and objections concerning this teaching so it can have its proper impact on our lives.

Common Objections to This Teaching

"It appeals to fear-motivation."

It depends on what you mean. If you mean fear of losing God's acceptance, or fear that God will humiliate you, or fear that you will be "sentenced" to clean sewers in heaven forever ("HEAVEN WILL SEEM LIKE HELL TO YOU!"; LOWEST LEVEL OF HEAVEN JUST ABOVE HIGHEST LEVEL OF HELL)—these are absolutely unbiblical. All aspects of God's retributive justice have been forever experienced for us by Christ, so any view of the judgment seat of Christ that smuggles this back in should be rejected emphatically. Heaven and hell are infinitely different because one is spent in God's absence while the other is spent in God's presence.

But it is proper to want to please Christ and receive all that he can give us, and to be concerned with wasting opportunities to do this (see 1 Cor. 3:15; 1 Jn. 2:28). To not be concerned is to devalue its importance. There is a kind of mock-humility which says "I'll be satisfied with just being there—I don't need anything else." This disguises a lack of zeal for full participation in God's kingdom that he says is proper, or unbelief in this aspect of the next life.

"It is unfair because we're all different."

This world is terribly unfair when it comes to who gets its rewards because it usually is based on comparison to others in areas over which you have no control. The people with the family names, highest IQ, best looks, charming or powerful personalities, popular talents, etc. are usually rewarded with popularity, opportunity, fame, etc. The Christian community has a tendency to do the same thing.

But the judgment seat of Christ will be completely fair. The issue will not be how we compare to other people's service, but rather how faithful we were with what God gave us. in Mt. 25:21,23, Christ gave the exact same reward to the man with five talents that he gave to the man with ten. For this reason, he tells us that "many who are first shall be last, and many who are last shall be first." Those of us who have been given powerful gifts or in public areas have no advantage over those of us who have been gifted to lesser degrees or in more behind-the-scenes ways. Those of us who had the privilege of growing up in healthy homes or coming to Christ early in life have no advantage over those of us who grew up in broken homes or came to Christ later in life. The issue is the same with everyone: how faithful have we been to serve Christ with what we have been given? This should be a great encouragement to those of us who feel less privileged, and it should be a sobering reminder to those of us who have been given much.

"It encourages selfish behavior."

In the world, the prospect of reward corrupts people all the time. People sabotage others' jobs to get a promotion; they steal secrets to be the first out with a product; they treat other people as impersonal means to their end. And we must admit that Christians can do the same thing in their pursuit of Christ's reward. They can view non-Christians as stepping stones to reward; they can view other Christians a competitors to be beaten, etc.

But the answer to selfish behavior is not to eliminate rewards. Rewards are one of the most powerful motivators that exist, and God has instilled this in human hearts as a legitimate source of motivation for serving him. The key is to connect the rewards with proper behavior and motivation. The way to eliminate cheating and unethical competition on the job is not to do away with pay bonus incentives; it is to make it clear that such bonuses will be given only to those who are honest and help other workers succeed. In the same way, the way to eliminate unethical behavior in Christian service is not to do away with this teaching; it is make clear that Christ's evaluation will take such things into account . . . 

This leads us to an obvious question . . . 

How can we obtain eternal reward?

One way to explain this is to discover those things for which the New Testament says Christ awards "crowns" (stephanoi). They parallel Olympic medals in that they symbolize recognition and acclamation. (Jesus' enemies made him a mock stephanos of thorns to humiliate him—see Matt. 27:29.) The New Testament speaks of Jesus awarding us crowns for four specific areas.

Read 1 Thess. 2:19. The "you" refers to the people in Thessalonica whom Paul led to Christ. They will constitute a basis for his reward when Christ returns.

In the same way, Christ will reward you for helping others come to Christ. He takes note of every way in which you reach out in love to share the good news that he wants to be reconciled with them so much that he gave his life to make this possible. This includes not only directly sharing the gospel with them, but also:

Praying for them

Serving the poor in the name of Christ (Lk. 14:12-14)

Helping others to reach them through your financial help (read 1 Tim. 6:17-19)

Read 1 Pet. 5:2-4. Jesus will recognize those who labor in feeding and building up his people. Notice how Peter focuses on why we do this (" . . . not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve . . . ") and how we do it (" . . . not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock . . . ").

So just as Christ will reward you for helping others come to know him, he will also reward you for helping other Christians to grow spiritually. As you invest in other Christians by expressing biblical love, as you discover and then faithfully exercise your spiritual gifts to serve other Christians, and especially as you exercise servant-leadership in your home and in the church, God wants you to know that he highly prizes such work and will reward it richly.

People sometimes say to me, "I'm not really interested in becoming a spiritual leader. I don’t need that recognition from other people." This is not the point! The point is that God says people desperately need authentic spiritual leaders who will show them how to walk with Christ and be a light for Christ and spur them on to maturity. That's why God says " . . . if anyone aspires to the office of overseer, it is a noble thing he desires" (1 Tim. 3:1). That's why God says " . . . those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 3:13).

Read 1 Cor. 9:25-27. Paul likens his Christian life to that of an Olympic athletic competition. If you want to even get to the Olympics, let alone medal, you can't just play your event recreationally. You've got to make it the focal point of your life, the axis around which everything else in your life revolves. I know young gymnasts who move across the country to train under special coaches. They sacrifice much of their social life and submit themselves to an exacting training regimen. Why do they do this? For the chance to win a medal that will slowly tarnish in a closet somewhere. Even if you add in the euphoria at the medal ceremony, a parade when they return home—even the advertising contracts—it won't really matter that much 50 years from now, let alone 500 or 5000 years from now.

But every bit of training that you undergo to become a quality worker for Christ will pay off eternally! If this kind of training (MASTERY OF THE WORD; DISCIPLINED PRAYER LIFE; COOPERATION WITH CHARACTER TRANSFORMATION) is worth it even in a small way for athletic reward, how much more worth it is this kind of training? Read 1 Tim. 6:7,8. Our culture applauds and rewards this kind of radical commitment to athletics, but regards the same kind of radical commitment to Christ as fanatical, unhealthy, etc. Why? Because it doesn’t really believe that Jesus Christ is Lord over the next life. We shouldn’t be surprised by this, but neither should we allow it to dictate the course of our lives.

I fear that many of us view such spiritual training as strictly intramural activity, secondary to the real race which is personal peace and affluence. But God says these things won’t matter 5000 years from now—but the return on our spiritual training will last forever!

God doesn’t try to snow-job you. He is perfectly frank in his Word that if you make these three things the true values and priorities of our lives, you are going to experience extra suffering in this life. In a fallen world, no one avoids suffering (EXAMPLES). But especially with material wealth, you can avoid a lot of suffering and accumulate a lot of creature comforts. But reminds us over and over again that radical commitment to Christ will result in added suffering. How can he get any followers with a deal like that? Not by promises us ease in this life, but by promising to reward us in the next life for enduring suffering in our service to him in this life. Read Jas. 1:12.

What about when people mistreat you for sharing the gospel as absolute truth? Jesus says Matt. 5:10-12.

What about if you forego material advantages to advance the cause of Christ? Jesus says Mk. 10:29,30.

What about if you are called to lay down your life as a martyr for Christ? Jesus says Rev. 2:10. (RELATE TSON STORY??)

We live in a culture which feels that there is virtually nothing worth suffering for. Many of us have never learned to regard anything as of greater value than our aversion to pain. This is a horrible, self-protective, soul-destroying way of life! Jesus says his purpose is worth suffering for, and he will reward those who do so.

Conclusion

Serving Christ is the most important job in the universe!! It demands the most from us, and it results in the greatest reward!