Summary: part 10 in Sermon on the Mount series looks at our motives.
As we get back into the Sermon on the Mount and start to look at Matthew Chapter six 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 realise 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 5:12 Christ tells us that is we bear persecution in His name, we will be rewarded, in Mark 9:41 He says if we give a cup of cold water in His name there’ll be a reward for us and in Luke 6:35 He says if we love our enemies, you guessed it we will be rewarded.
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 recognised 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 not 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 end. 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 or 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 wonder 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 (NIV) Job’s friend Eliphaz asks Job "Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever 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 (NIV) if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your rightful place.
"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 Psalms 37:25 (NIV) I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging 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 Psalms 43:1-2 (NIV) Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men. 2 You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? 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.