So as Jesus was tying up his early morning session, after having spoken on topics as diverse as murder, adultery and lying. He had told people why and how they would be blessed and I’m sure there were some in the group who were thinking, “Sure but what’s in it for me?’ As we move ahead in Chapter six of Matthew we are immediately confronted with the question, “What is the place of the reward motive in the Christian’s life?” Are we good for goodness sake or are we good in order to get the carrot at the end of the stick or are we good in order to avoid getting the end of the stick. Three times in the portion of scripture Christ speaks of those rewarding those who give him the service he expects. In Matthew 6:4, 6 and 18 Christ speaks about what I call “The Reward Factor”
Now I realize that there are some who would hold that the reward factor should have no place in the Christian’s life and should have no bearing on the Christian’s behaviour. They would tell us that yes we should be good simply for goodness sakes. They tell us that virtue is it’s own reward, and that this whole concept of the reward factor should be banished from the Christian’s life. They are like one old saint who said “I wish I could quench with water the fires of hell and burn with fire the joys of heaven so I could serve Christ out of pure motives.”
Now on the surface that is all very good and noble, but it is not the view that Christ held. Instead he told us that if we had the right kind of charitable giving, the right kind of prayer habits and the right kind of fasting that there would be a reward for us. A mansion just over the hilltop so to speak. And these are not isolated instances, In Matthew 5:11-12 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. Christ tells us that is we bear persecution in His name, we will be rewarded, in Mark 9:41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded. He says if we do good in his name there’ll be a reward for us and in Luke 6:35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great.
Jesus talks about rewards, Paul talks about rewards, Peter talks about rewards, John talks about rewards. The reward factor in the Christian experience is a fact of life, and it was recognized and promoted by the Lord himself. It is abundantly clear that Jesus did not hesitate to speak in terms of rewards and punishment, so let’s not become more spiritual on the subject then Jesus was.
The first thing that we need to note is that it is an obvious rule of life that any action which achieves nothing is futile and meaningless. The second thing is that to banish from all sin and punishment from the idea of religion is to say that injustice has the last word. It cannot be reasonably said that the good man and the bad man will have the same ultimate fate. Because that would simply mean that God didn’t care. That He didn’t care if you were good or if you were evil. And there would be no point in being good, and no special reason why a man should live one kind of life or another. To eliminate rewards and punishment is to say that in God there is neither justice nor love. We need the reward factor just to make sense out of life.
But what was Christ’s view of the reward factor?
1) When Jesus Spoke Of Reward He Was Definitely Not Speaking Of Material Rewards. In the Old Testament goodness and prosperity were close kinfolk. If a man was good and righteous then he would prosper financially, he would have a wonderful family and his fields would flourish. If a man experienced bad luck then it was automatically assumed that he had done something wrong. You don’t have to look much further then the book of Job to find this philosophy. In the book of Job 4:7 Job’s friend Eliphaz asks Job “Stop and think! Do the innocent die? When have the upright been destroyed?” In other words, “hey Job, bad things don’t happen to good people” another of Job’s friends asks a similar question in Job 8:6 and if you are pure and live with integrity, he will surely rise up and restore your happy home.
“You know Job, if you were half as good as you say you are then God wouldn’t have deserted you.” Even David was guilty of falling into this trap, he wrote in Psalm 37:25 Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread. David’s memory isn’t very long, because there was a time when David was serving God faithfully and things weren’t exactly a bed of roses for him. Remember what he wrote in Psalm 43:1-2 Declare me innocent, O God! Defend me against these ungodly people. Rescue me from these unjust liars. For you are God, my only safe haven. Why have you tossed me aside? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies? Hey that sounds pretty forsaken to me, and there are righteous Christians in the third world who not only are begging for bread but are starving to death. I’m neither bragging nor complaining but my weekly giving to Cornerstone is greater then a Pastor in Ghana makes in a month. And I’m pretty sure that I’m not that much more righteous and spiritual then they are.
The Old Testament isn’t the only place that we find that philosophy. There are many of our modern day preachers who are preaching the same good news. You know how it goes, “Friends, if you are Christian then the Lord will bless you and you will prosper. You can have new cars and new houses and expensive clothes and diamonds dripping off every finger of your hands. Friends. God wants his children to be happy and the only way they can be happy is if they are rich, rich, rich beyond their wildest imagination.”
There are churches today that preach that anything less then prosperity is failure and God wants nothing to do with failure. Now somewhere along the line the gospel has gotten confused with the American Dream, and that is nothing wrong with the American Dream, a little hard work and the desire to succeed never hurt anyone, but it’s not the Gospel. Listen up this is important, spiritual success does not necessarily guarantee financial or worldly success.
Now often times the touch of God upon a persons life improves their self image and gives them the gumption to do more for their family, but Christ does not save us to make us rich. He never promised us wealth. You say “What does he promise then?” Well he promised persecution, hardship, a cross, mockery and the grace to see us through those times.
But the Cargo cults have produced a cheap grace that is claimed as a stepping stone to success. If Christianity made you rich it would be the greatest outreach tool the church ever had. I mean think about it, the church would be bulging with people seeking the monetary rewards of conversion.
The church doesn’t guarantee your wealth nor does it guarantee your health. Another popular fallacy preached at some Sunday Morning Magic shows is that with enough faith you never have to be sick again. And that my friends is pure unadulterated garbage. The only thing that teaching produces is spiritual inferiority complexes. People suffer and people get sick, and we have a wonderful God who can and does reach down and heal people, but not always.
To preach that if you only had more faith you could have all your illnesses cured is a blatant lie and a perversion of the word of God. God can heal and God does heal, but to make the statement that he always heals and that his children are never sick is a ludicrous pipe dream.
God did not remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh, whatever that was, and for the same reason He may not remove ours. The rewards that Christ promised are neither material nor physical. Christian service is not a system of brownie points designed to earn us health and wealth. A Christian may lose his money, his health and his friends. He may end up in a cancer ward or an asylum or a prison but the rewards of God are beyond a price tag. The things he offers can’t always be felt or seen or measured. Yet they are always there.
The second thing necessary to remember is 2) The Highest Reward Does Not Come To Him Who Is Seeking It. If a man is always seeking reward, always adding up what is owed him, always checking the balance sheet to see how far ahead he is, he will in all probability miss the reward which he is seeking. The man who is always calculating his reward sees God as an accountant or a Judge, he sees in terms of the law instead of love.
His goal is to be able to present God with a balance sheet on judgment day so he can say, “Look at how good I’ve been, where’s my reward?” This goes back to what we said about happiness, when you start to pursue it, then you lose it. Our reward must be the result of our Christian life, not the goal of our Christian life. If you do what God wants you to do, if you seek after the kingdom of God, then He’ll take care of the reward.
So then the question remains: What’s in it for Us?
The First Of The Christian Rewards Is Satisfaction. Doing the right things, following Christ, pursuing goodness, seeking after Godliness, whatever else these may or may not bring they will bring satisfaction. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.” One song writer wrote, “Hallelujah I have found him whom my soul so long has craved! Jesus satisfies my longings, through His blood I now am saved.” I read once that inside every person is a God shaped vacuum, waiting to be filled. The major temporal reward that you will receive will be that of satisfaction, knowing that the vacuum has been filled. There is a quiet longing in our souls that money cannot quench and that temporal pleasures cannot erase. The only person that can scratch that itch is God. And so the first reward that Christ gives is a satisfaction that money cannot buy.
The Second Reward Of Christianity Is A Little confusing, Because It Is More Work To Do. After a job well done the Christian reward is not rest and comfort and ease, at least not in this life. Instead it is more work, greater demands, more strenuous endeavours, larger challenges. The rest will come, but as long as we tread this terrestrial ball there is still work to be done. Lives to touch, the sick to heal, souls to be saved.
In the book of Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells us a story about three servants who each given a sum of money. To the first he gave the equivalent of five thousand dollars, to the second two thousand dollars and to the third one thousand dollars. Well you know how the story goes the first two invested their money and doubled it the third hid his share and returned it when the boss came back. The first two were commended and rewarded while the third was fired. What was the reward given to the first two servants? Well it was identical and the words of their master are found in Matthew 25:21 “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’ It was more work.
The student who excels in their studies isn’t given easier work to do but harder. The musician does not play simpler pieces as they become more proficient instead they push themselves to play more difficult pieces. Athletes continually push themselves to be faster, stronger, and better. Dr. Jonas Salk made the comment “I feel that the greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more.” Christians can’t be the exception. If we are to grow in our Christian walk then we will need to continue to stretch and work and grow.
Our Third Reward Then Is A Vision Of God in Heaven. All of heaven, the streets of gold, the pearly gates, the mansions, the crystal sea all of those things will dim in our eyes when we see God. And we will look forward to seeing him because through our Christian experience we will have walked with him and talked with him.
Our lives often take on of two paths and we have the option of walking toward or away from God. The choice you make will be yours and yours alone, I can’t make it for you, your parents can’t make it for you and neither can your spouse. You need to ask yourself, “Am I walking toward God or away from God?”
How noble it would be, to be godly just to be godly. To be righteous just to be righteous. How noble but how futile. There is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned. The reward factor shouldn’t be the only reason for accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour of your life. They say that when Jonathan Edwards preached the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in 1741 that he took his listeners, dangled them over the pit of hell and shook them. Well I don’t know if I can scare the hell out of you or not. And I shouldn’t have to because the word of God promises us in 1 Peter 1:9 The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.
You see punishment and reward will never be enough of a reason to keep people walking with Christ. The carrot and the stick only work for so long; in the long run it takes commitment, dedication and faith. But let’s never forget that the rewards are there. The question is what rewards are you looking for?
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