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Messages for Calebs IV: The Determination of Heavenly Reward according to the Bible

Scripture teaches that disciples of Jesus Christ may receive heavenly rewards in addition to salvation. Unlike salvation, rewards are determined by the quality and quantity of our works. According to Scripture, God gives rewards not simply because we are willing or because we are “doing our best.” We should also be able to accomplish the work He has prepared for us to do. For this, wisdom is required.

Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Three servants of varying ability

In Matthew 25 three servants were given talents each according to his ability. The Lord is aware that we are not equal in terms of the various abilities with which we have been created. This is taken into account when He gives rewards to His people.

Matthew 25:14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.

…19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ 
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!’

22 “The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’ 
23 “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!’

The first two servants were faithful, each able to double what their master had entrusted to them. Although the first earned five more talents and the second earned only two more, it seemed that the master was equally pleased with both. He commended both in exactly the same way, and presumably gave them equal rewards: “in charge of many things.” They had done “equal” work relative to their abilities. The Lord takes into account our relative abilities when giving rewards.

It’s not enough just to be willing

It’s important also to note that these two faithful servants actually made profit for their master. They did not simply “do their best” but actually succeeded in making money for their master. “Faithful” does not just mean having good intentions and trying, but actually bearing fruit. If the two servants had not made money for their master, he would not have called them “faithful.” For rewards, works actually matter. It’s the same in the business world. Regardless of one’s good intentions and efforts, if one does not earn a profit, the business will fail. Employees are generally rewarded with bonuses on the basis of actual performance, not on simply good intentions or good efforts but without making money for the business.

The “wicked, lazy” servant

24 “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

…30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The third servant, paralyzed by fear of failure, dared not to invest the talent and failed to make a profit. The master was very displeased and condemned him harshly, calling him wicked and lazy. Then the worthless servant was thrown outside to the darkness where he would weep and gnash his teeth. What does this actually entail? Whatever it means, it is not good. This may be how the Lord, who suffered immeasurably on the cross to save us from sin, will treat lazy and wicked servants on the Day of Judgment. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Does quantity matter?

Now in Luke 19 with the parable of the minas, ten servants of apparently equal ability were each given one mina. Nothing is mentioned about varying abilities.

Luke 19:12 “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ 
… 15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

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 that actual performance varied from servant to servant. The first earned ten minas for the master, the second earned five minas. And their rewards were proportional to their respective performances. The first was put in charge of ten cities while the second in charge of five cities. (The third servant kept his talent laid away in a piece of cloth, and paid dearly for his fear-driven disobedience.) It would appear that the quantity of our works for the Lord can enter into the determination of our reward.

From this parable we see that eternal rewards may involve authority to rule with Christ in His coming Kingdom.

Does quality count?

The quality of our work also counts in the calculation of our reward:

I Corinthians 3:10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 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.

If we are concerned about our eternal reward, we should serve the Lord wholeheartedly and fruitfully. We must also exercise wisdom in what we do for Him. We do not want to spend our time and energy on empty religious works that will not be credited. We must be sure that our labor produces fruit that lasts, especially for the fulfillment of the last command Jesus gave before He ascended to heaven.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”