Among most Christians today, there is little thought given to eternal rewards. Quite a bit of energy by contrast is committed to the things of this life and to securing God’s blessings here and now. There are those who may be more spiritually minded, but since they are taught that salvation is settled once for all by grace through our faith, they do not dwell on their eternal reward. When we leave this world and go to be with the Lord, we will find out. All we know is that it will be glorious. In the meantime, we focus our attention almost exclusively on earthly matters.
But is it “unspiritual” or not worth our effort to focus on our heavenly reward? No, it is not. It’s clear that God created man in a way such that he responds in an appropriate fashion to the environment, especially to rewards and punishment. Even repenting and putting one’s faith in Christ is our response to the gospel. If we repent, we have eternal life. If we do not, we will suffer eternal condemnation in hell. The Lord is well aware of how He created us, and has included teaching in Scripture about eternal rewards as well as punishment.
Scripture teaches us that in addition to and apart from salvation, there is an eternal reward for us. This reward will depend on our work for the Lord and the quality of that work. Those of us whose work for the Lord does not pass the test will not receive any reward even though our salvation may be intact.
1 Corinthians 3:12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 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. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.
Revelation 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.
Our reward is not based on our faith. It is based on the works and the quality of those works which are a result of our faith.
Our reward includes the authority to rule
Among those who do receive a reward, it will vary from person to person and be given out according to what we have accomplished for Him. Since the Lord is just, the ability that each person has been given is also factored into the determination of the reward apportioned to that person. In the parable of the minas, the master entrusts to each of ten servants the same amount of money—one mina. We can reasonably assume from the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 that these servants all had the same ability. When the master returned home from his journey, he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
Luke 19:16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’ 17 ”‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ 18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’ 19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’
We see here that the reward apportioned by the master to each servant was in direct proportion to what the servant earned for him. And the reward was authority over cities in the master’s kingdom. Similarly, our eternal reward has to do with authority to rule for the Lord in His coming kingdom. And the more we have accomplished for him on earth (given the ability entrusted to us), the greater authority we will have in His kingdom.
Revelation 2:26 To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27 ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery just as I have received authority from my Father.
Revelation 5:10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
“I will put you in charge of many things”
The parable from Matthew 25 reinforces this conclusion. To the two faithful servants who had gained five and two talents respectively for their master, each according to his ability, the master apparently gave the same reward. To each he promised the same thing: “I will put you in charge of many things.”
Matthew 25:21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
To the third servant who, paralyzed by fear, did nothing with the talent entrusted to him aside from hiding it in the ground, the master meted out severe punishment.
30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
We who call ourselves Christians, believers, or servants of God should take notice of what befell this third servant. Let us not ignore this as we have done for so long. We should not twist this Scripture to fit our preconceived ideas or theology. As James said, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)
Real property of our own in the next life
Scripture also describes our rewards in terms of “true riches” and “property of our own” in heaven. These are reserved for disciples who know what to do with the worldly wealth entrusted to them by the Lord. Our wealth in this life is actually His property; we are only stewards of that wealth. If we are trustworthy in handling His property in this life, He will give us property of our own in the next life. In this way we are encouraged to store the treasure entrusted to us here on earth in heaven above.
Luke 16:11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
In Luke 12 Scripture gives a hint of what kind of work in terms of quality we are expected to do in order to qualify for our reward.
Luke 12:42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
We as managers are to be faithful in feeding and teaching God’s people. If when Christ returns we are in fact engaged in teaching His sheep properly, we will be put in charge of all His possessions. This is wonderfully difficult to imagine. However, there is a very unpleasant flip side to this.
Assigned a place with the unbelievers in hell
Luke 12:45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
This poor servant finds himself in a place with the unbelievers, that is, hell. How did this come about? He began to beat the other servants and to eat and drink and to get drunk. He began to rule over the other servants and to mistreat them as people in authority on earth often do. (See The Teaching of the Nicolaitans for more on this.) He began to love his life in the world, doing the things that unbelievers in the world do. Figuratively, he is eating and drinking and getting drunk.
Moreover, this servant of God is teaching God’s people to do the same. Such ministers are feeding the people a very poor diet of sugar and candy. They are teaching God’s people how to maximize God’s blessing, comfort, and success in this life. Not a few servants of God are doing this today. Some are hired hands and really do not care for the sheep as Jesus does. They are out to fleece the sheep and at their expense to enjoy life on earth, eating and drinking just as the lost do. They are not ready for the Lord’s return, and will be in extreme dismay when they stand before the Son of Man on the day He is revealed.
Luke 17:26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, drinking,marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.
In contrast, the reward for the servants who are feeding nutritious food to God’s people and are watching for the Lord’s return is diametrically the very opposite. These are the servants who are dividing and teaching God’s word accurately.
Luke 12:37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.
It’s not unspiritual to focus on our eternal reward
We see from these many Scriptural references that the Lord does not discourage us from looking ahead to our eternal reward. We are in fact commanded to set our hearts and minds on things above, and not on earthly things. This must include our eternal reward as well. Those who want to be wise and to prepare for the life that is truly life should change their focus from the earthly to the heavenly.
Colossians 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
This emphasis will help us to focus our time and resources on the most important task of preaching the gospel and harvesting the crop for eternal life.
John 4:36 Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.
Let us therefore avoid the mistake of ignoring our eternal reward when Christ returns. If we are truly serious about eternity, we will change our perspective radically. The next life will not be as it is popularly imagined. We will not spend eternity floating on a cloud with angels popping grapes into our mouths to the accompaniment of harp music. No, there will be much activity in the next life as we rule with Christ over the nations. It will be unimaginable.
1 Corinthians 2:9 However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”—
2 Timothy 2:11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us…
Revelation 3:21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.
Focusing attention on what is to come in eternity will encourage us to live holy lives on earth and enable us to resist the temptation to sin against God. It will strengthen our resolve to serve God fruitfully and wisely with our time and resources, especially for the harvest and the Great Commission.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 1:7)