In the 15th chapter of Gibbon's Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, he says that the promise
of heavenly bliss was one of the five major causes for the growth of Christianity in the Roman
Empire. The leaders of Rome mocked the idea of immortality, and they did not live this life with
any hope of a future state. This loss of hope for the future can only lead to decline in the present.
Schwistzer said, "It was as the religion of immortality that Christianity was consecrated to take
the place of the slowly dying civilization of the ancient world." History makes it clear that man's
hope is the key to life's meaning. If there are no goals and no possibilities out there in the future, it
robs life of meaning. Life without hope is like fishing in a vast ocean in which you know there are
no fish. It is only the assurance that there are fish that makes fishing meaningful. It is only the
assurance of future reward that makes the present life meaningful.
Hope, said Kierkegaard is, "Passion for the possible." Paul says we are actually saved by hope,
and this is quite obvious, for without hope there is no salvation. Jesus knew the power of hope, and
that is why we see Him using it as the primary motivation for living the Christian life.
In the seven letters to the churches he gives seven promises, and at least five of the seven are
promises of reward in the eternal kingdom, and the other two probably do as well. This means the
Lord of heaven used the realities of what He has gone to prepare for His bride as the key motivating
factor in His guidance of the church. This means Jesus is clearly sold on the hope of reward as a
vital aspect of Christian theology. This means that the study of heaven is not just an idle pastime to
satisfy curiosity. It is, in fact, an act of obedience to our Lord. Not to study heaven and all it offers
is to reject the heart of our Lord's Christian education system for the church. The hope of heaven is
E.M. Bounds, famous for his book on prayer, says this about heaven: "Heaven nourishes all the
principles of a deep, conscious piety. The Christian never works so well, never suffers so well, never
grows so well, as when heaven is in full view of his eyes. It is that which gives to hope its ripeness,
richness and power. Only the saint who is after heaven with all the ardor and brightness of hope is
truly saved. Doubt and fear flee away from such a salvation." By being truly saved I am sure he
means these are the Christians who feel the full impact of the joy of salvation.
Dr. Ross H. Stover, a pastor in Philadelphia, who for many years led the largest midweek service
in the U. S., wrote in his book, What Do We Know About Life After Death, "It would certainly
seem natural that we should be searching the Word of God for every thought expressed on the
subject. If builders were erecting a home for me in California, I would look for a letter every day,
desiring to know just how the building was proceeding. If a temporal home should cause me
delightful mediation, how much more my eternal home. Friends do we not sin against God and
ourselves by passing over this subject so lightly?"
The deeper our commitment to follow Christ, the deeper will be our curiosity about the rewards
for doing so. Some feel it is not right to focus on rewards. We should serve Christ now, and take
one world at a time. This sounds noble, but the fact is, it is our hope that gives us motivation in
time. The world to come has a powerful effect on the world at hand. The New Testament reveals
that Jesus clearly encouraged His followers to focus on reward. Peter once came to Jesus and said,
"Lo, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus did not scold him but said, "Truly, I say to
you, there is no one who has left house or brother or sister or mother or father or children or lands,
for my sake and for the Gospel who will not receive a hundred fold now and in this time...and in the
age to come eternal life."
If you think it is wrong to be concerned about rewards, then you rebuke your Lord, for He
responded to that concern frequently, and very positively. It is not wrong to be curious about
heaven, it is wrong not to be curious. Many Christians have been deceived by the Subtle One into
thinking there is something selfish about a probing into heaven and its rewards. They feel it is too
self-seeking, and, thus, not very spiritual. We should serve God with disinterested love, and thus be
indifferent to our own rewards. This sounds so super spiritual and noble that it convinces many to
be the ideal way of thinking.
It has this fatal flaw, however, in that it demands that we be indifferent to the very things that our
Lord holds forth as His will for us. How can it be the ideal to ignore the Lord's promise, and strive
to live without the motivation He offers the church for overcoming the appeals of this world? It is
clearly a satanic trick to feel it is spiritual to ignore Christ's motivation. It is our Lord's will that we
filled with the hope of heaven, and that this hope would be the inner power that makes us
overcomers in this world.
When the 70 returned to Jesus so excited about their mission, because they saw such great
response, and even demons being subject to them in His name, Jesus said He had given them power
over the enemy, but then He adds this in Luke 10:20, "Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the
spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." In other words, Jesus
says our joy in Christian service can get in our way of seeing the ultimate joy--the joy of eternity.It is
possible to get so wrapped up in Christian service that one misses the highest motivation that Jesus
offers His disciples.
The great soul winners of history were also great students of heaven. John R. Rice, one of the
great soul--winners of our century, wrote, "Many times I have found that hearts have grown tender
as they find the sweet provision God has made in heaven for those who will put their trust in Him.
The message of heaven is a soul--winning message."
B.H. Carroll, the late president of South Western Baptist Theological Seminary once wrote, "I
delight to preach on heaven. There is tremendous power over the mind and the heart in it. Once
when I was preaching at Belton, not getting results, I went out and prayed three times that God
might make me realize the nearness and certainty of both heaven and hell. When I got that in my
mind and heart revival broke out, heaven came down and we were in the glory of the mercy seat."
We could go on and on, for the testimonies are endless of the practical values of heaven in all
realms of Christian service. I know from personal experience. I preached on the glory of heaven at
the mission, and got the best response ever as men came forward to receive Christ. What this means
is we must avoid the flower life, which rises from the earth and returns to the earth. It is to earth
centered. But we must also avoid the star life, which is to remote with only a slight effect upon
earth. The ideal symbol of the Christian life is the rainbow life. It has both ends resting on earth,
but it rises into the heavens so that there is a linking of the two. The Christian is to be attuned to the
heavenly, but also involved in the earthly.
Seeing what God has promised is what motivates us to tackle our earthly tasks with greater
meaning and enthusiasm. Our heavenly hope takes the poison out of many of life's sorrows, and it
enables us to see meaning what otherwise can be trivial. Robert Coyle wrote, "All history shows that
if men do not first look up they will not look out; if they do not look ahead into the great tomorrow,
they will grow hard and cynical and careless as to the people who are around them today. God save
us from a world untouched, uncleansed, and uninspired by the influence of a future life."
Yes we only know in part, and we see through a glass darkly, but the point is, it is in part we
know, and it is though darkly, we see. We can know and see all that is necessary for us to live the
present life with victory, if we take full advantage of what God has revealed. On an earthly level we
see the power of hope and anticipation. If you know you have an exciting vacation coming, it can
enable you to handle pressure in a calmer way. A child knowing it will soon get to go to Disney
Land will find it easier to obey rules and regulations of the family. The hope and anticipation of joy
and just plain fun has great enabling power even on the earthly level. How much greater is the
power of heavenly hope to enable us to endure the negatives of a fallen world? Paul says if in this
life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable. In other words, without heavenly
hope the Christian is less able to handle life than the non-believer, for his life is then not only
meaningless but miserable.
In Col. 1 Paul thanks God for their faith in Christ and for the love they have for all the saints,
"Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven." Paul is saying the love we have for one another on
earth is directly connected with our hope of heaven. Heavenly love on earth is based on heavenly
hope. If you look at people only from the perspective of time, you are not necessarily motivated to
love them. If I am traveling and stop at a gas station to buy a pack of gum, I am not really interested
in developing a relationship with the guy behind the counter. I am moving on and he will never be a
part of my life, and so that make s difference in how I see that person in terms of value. If, however,
I am moving into that community and could have a relationship to him, that makes him of greater
value in my future, and changes how I see him and relate to him.
If we see others in the light of our heavenly hope, it enables us to love them in a way it is not
possible without that hope. If we will be with each other forever in the Father's house, then we must
move all the saints from that perspective. I may not like how certain Christians worship, or how
they serve, but if they love Christ I have an obligation to love them, for they are part of the eternal
family. The hope of heaven is very practical in that it is the key to overcoming all of the prejudices
that hinder Christian fellowship in the world.
Show me the Christian who is full of prejudice and bigotry, and I'll show you a Christian who is
earth-locked, and unable to see the heavenly hope. The result is, he lacks the motivation to be what
God wants him to be. The motivating power to be Christ-like in time is found in grasping what
Christ has promised for eternity. Only to the degree that we are captivated by his heavenly reward
can we successful in living now in obedience to His commands.
The Christian not motivated by the heavenly hope will soon be a worldly Christian, for he will
not be able to pull away from the value system of the world, since he has no higher value system that
makes it look shabby in comparison. Naturalists tell us our domestic fowls were once birds with
long wings able to fly great distances. But food placed by man in easy reach made it no longer
necessary to take long flights. They loss their motivation to fly, and settled down to what they had.
The Christian who stops anticipating heaven, and ceases to be motivated by all that God has
promised, and all Christ has prepared, is also in danger of just settling down and being content with
what this world offers. May God help us, in this sense, to never lose our wings, by making sure we
are a people who focus on the motivation of heaven.