Last year, my daughter proudly showed me a craft punch she received from her Chinese teacher in school for having scored full marks in her “listening/writing” (equivalent of spelling) for ten times. Some child development experts say that little children need incentives or rewards to motivate them, as they often have difficulty understanding the long term benefits of lessons that parents seek to teach them, e.g. self control or diligence. In Sunday School School, we give prizes to encourage Scripture memory and faithful attendance. Likewise, adults are motivated by rewards. Corporate leaders understand the human need for reward, and use recognition and compensation to lift morale and improve performance. The time of our performance review or appraisal can be a nerve-wrecking one for some. Are we going to get that raise or promotion?

Does God reward us? How does He reward us? What are the kinds of rewards we can receive now and in heaven? Is it “spiritual” to be motivated in our Christian life by eternal rewards?

God Rewards

"And without faith it is impossible to please God,
because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6 NIV

When believers come to God, believing that He exists and rewards those who diligently seek Him - this is an act of faith. God rewards our faith in Him. God Himself is our exceedingly great Reward (Genesis 15:1). The Bible says that when our Lord Jesus returns in glory, He will reward each person according to his works.

“For the Son of Man will come
in the glory of His Father with His angels,
and then He will reward each according to his works.” (Matthew 16:27)

The Greek word, “apodidomi” in this verse for reward means to give away, and (in various applications): deliver, give, make payment, perform, recompense, render, requite, restore, reward, sell, yield. The other Greek words for reward include “antapodosis” meaning requital and “misthos” meaning pay or wages for services. When we serve the Lord heartily and do good works, our Lord Jesus will reward us (Colossians 3:23-24; Ephesians 6:7-8).

When Christ comes, there will be the “Performance” Review of our lives, that will make all other performance reviews on earth inconsequential. When He comes again, we will all appear before the Judgment seat of Christ. Each one of us will receive “payment” or reward according to what he has done in the body (here on earth), whether good or evil – considering what his purpose and motive have been, and what he has achieved, been busy with, and given himself and his attention to accomplishing them (II Corinthians 5:10-11 Amplified Bible). These are sober words of God. Christ the Judge will evaluate us as He evaluates the seven churches listed in Revelations 2 and 3. He knows our deeds, our love for Him, our faith, our service and our perseverance (Revelation 2:19). Have we maintained our first love for Christ, kept from false teachings, and endured testing?

What are we rewarded for?

God promises to reward believers when we give to charity (to the poor/needy), pray or fast in secret (Matthew 6:4,6,18). However, when we perform these good deeds for human accolades, we will not receive any heavenly reward, as we would have already received our due reward on earth.

God also promises to reward us when we love our enemies (e.g. to those who mistreat us), do good to and lend to those who cannot requite our gifts, hoping for nothing in return. Our reward will be great, and we will be sons of the Most High because God Himself is kind to the unthankful and evil (Luke 6:35). We will be rewarded for enduring persecution for Christ’s sake (Luke 6:22-23).

We will be rewarded for our faithfulness in performing our function in the Body of Christ, doing the good work prepared in advance for us in Christ. After we are saved, the Lord, in His grace, assigns each of His servants different tasks/functions to build His church. Using the analogy of the church as a field, some of His servants plant whilst others water the field (the church); both serving one purpose – to contribute towards the growth of the church (the field). But it is God Who ultimately gives the growth. Each servant will be rewarded according to his own labour. We will receive reward or wages for our labour or ministry for the Lord. We are held accountable for our efforts, labour, faithfulness in doing our part, our task, but not for the results.

“The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.” I Corinthians 3:8, 9

We cannot build on any foundation than that laid, which is the Lord Jesus Christ. Our works will be revealed or tested by fire. If anyone’s work endures, he will receive a reward. If his work is burnt, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (I Corinthians 3:10-15). Whatever we do in and for Christ (likened to gold, silver and precious stones) will stand the test of fire. But whatever is done in the flesh by human efforts and for human glory (compared to wood, hay and straw) will perish in God’s fire of judgment.

What are the Rewards?

What kinds of rewards can we look forward to if proven faithful and obedient to the Lord? The Bible depicts rewards in terms of crowns (symbols of authority, victory and responsibility), commendations and accolades, and promises of responsibilities or authorty. It speaks of five kinds of crowns in the Bible depicting rewards:

  1. crown of righteousness
  2. crown of life
  3. crown of rejoicing
  4. crown of glory and
  5. he incorruptible crown.

There is the crown of righteousness for those who have kept the faith, been obedient, thus look forward to Christ’s Second coming (II Timothy 4:7-8).

Those who endure testing and trials are faithful unto death; willing to die for Christ’s sake and the gospel shall not fail to receive the crown of life (Revelation 2:10; James 1:12). Those that help to bring souls, nurture believers will receive the crown of rejoicing (Philippians 4:1). This crown is a reward given for witnessing, follow-up, and ministry to others. Indeed, my wife and I experienced the joy of being instruments to nurture new believers in Christ last year.

“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence
of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20)

Those who faithfully serve as elders and servant leaders in the church, being godly examples to the flock under their care, shall receive a crown of glory that does not fade away (1 Peter 5:1-4).

All of us should strive for the incorruptible crown. Some are called to give up or sacrifice normal comforts in life to serve Christ. They have to be temperate in all things. They will be rewarded with the incorruptible crown (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Those of us who have obeyed the call to go to far-flung countries, leaving our comfort zones, our families, loved ones for the sake of the gospel will be rewarded here in this life a hundredfold (together with persecutions), and in the life to come, eternal life (Mark 10:28-31). The reward for faithfulness in the use or stewardship of our time, talents, spiritual gifts, besides a commendation from the Lord, is often greater responsibilities and authority in the kingdom of heaven.

“Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” Matthew 25:21

Christ tells the believers in the various churches that if they overcome, keep His works or do His will until the end, He will give power and authority over the nations (Revelation 2:26).

What is Our Response?

Is it unspiritual to be motivated to service and good works by eternal rewards? Should we not do all things because we love the Lord? I believe the Lord gives rewards to encourage us to persevere in obedience, to do good works, to overcome and to endure to the end. Many older believers may feel less energetic physically to serve God. Others may be discouraged from years of labour with little to show for it. Still others may be overwhelmed with despair, or sorely tested when non-believers demean their faith.

On the other hand, can some of us simply have it easy and aim to be “ordinary Christians” without any rewards? This is like the man whose works of no eternal value (wood, hay and straw) are burnt up at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but is himself saved, only as one escaping through the flames (I Corinthians 3:15).

The obedience that God calls us to involves a full surrender of our lives (our will, our goals in life) and personal sacrifices e.g. giving up of our comforts, persecutions, sufferings or hardships. God assures us that if we fully surrender our lives to Christ, He will reward us richly. Intimacy with God is our ultimate reward, finding consummation in heaven. We do not seek rewards apart from obedience to Christ.

Let us surrender our lives fully to Christ for His use. Let us use our time to do the good works prepared in advance for us to do. Let us use the spiritual gifts He has given us to serve and build His Bride, the Church (in the local and global sense). Christ’s return is imminent. He is coming quickly as Judge. He is coming back for His spotless Bride, the Church. His reward is with Him to give to everyone according to his work.

"And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work." Revelation 22:12

In the end, together with the 24 elders, we will all cast our crowns before God who sits on His throne. Only He is worthy to receive all glory, power and honour (Revelation 4:10). This means that we worship our Lord God with our rewards. May this vision spur us on to gain many spiritual rewards here on earth, in order to worship the Lord Jesus when we meet Him in heaven.

by Richard Tio

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