“… they have received their reward.” Matthew 6:2
“… your heavenly Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:4
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58
Where I come from we look forward to payday. In fact, my father says you have never lived until you’ve been a Crotts boy on a Friday night after payday.
Payday means reward. It means provision and extra enjoyment. It brings a sense of accomplishment. And for one and all alike payday is an occasion of importance.
The Bible talks about a payday God has for us who believe in and serve Jesus Christ. The text says that in the Lord our “labor is not in vain.” There is reward in serving Jesus! To emphasize this Jesus mentions the word “reward” seven times in Matthew 6:1-18. “You Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (6:4). So, to a study of that reward we now turn.
Some Paydays Come on Earth
The Bible teaches that some rewards from God are received right here on earth. Consider Deuteronomy 11:13 following where God promises, “And if you will obey my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And He will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you shall eat and be full.” Galatians 6:7 also has this in it: “Whatsoever a man soweth that also shall he reap.”
Last Christmas I was shopping in a big department store and had stopped by the escalator to wait for my wife. It was there that I noticed a nine year old boy. From the look on his face I knew he was up to something! He just kept staring at that escalator mischievously. So, I asked him what he was doing. And he said, “I’m waiting for my chewing gum to come back to me!” Now obviously, the lad was on to something. He’d discovered a very important principle in life. “What you put down comes back to you.” “What you sow you reap.” If you honor God He will honor you. If you trust Christ and serve Him with faithfulness He will bestow upon you honor and peace.
But be careful here! One can carry this point too far! Some preachers have popularized this principle into a “prosperity theology” saying, “If you serve the Lord, if you are faithful and pray, you will be rich, joyously happy, in perfect health, have lots of children, and be famous!” “What you sow you reap!” they point out. And while what they say is true; indeed, some rewards are paid us here on earth, that’s not all the truth of the matter there is.
Most Paydays Come in Heaven
The fact is, most rewards aren’t received here on earth. They are given out in heaven. The apostle Paul, near the end of his life, wrote in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord… will award me on that day… .” Did you hear that? “The Lord will… .” It hasn’t happened yet. But He will in the future. “On that day… .” Not this day. Here Paul clearly points out that his reward is in heaven. He certainly hadn’t gotten much of it here on earth! No home, constant misunderstanding, ill health, imprisonment, beatings, friends dying, betrayals, shipwrecks, snake bites– you name it, Paul suffered it. What he had sown he had not fully reaped on earth. But he believed he would most certainly reap it on judgement day when God settled accounts once and for all.
Obviously Paul is struggling with this doctrine. For out of one side of his mouth he says, “What you sow you reap” (Gal. 6:7). But then in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 he says he hasn’t gotten his reward yet. Which is it?
There is a divine balance here known only to the sovereignty of God and we must temper our expectations by it. On the one hand is the principle of sowing and reaping. If we do right we may expect to be treated right. But on the other hand we must understand that this is a sinful world. And not only our personal sins, but the collective sins of others can block our blessings. Job was faithful to God, but because of Satan he lost his children, his home, health and his wealth. Stephen preached right and was stoned to death. Peter was a faithful apostle but was crucified upside down. Watchman Nee was a faithful evangelist in China, but he spent the last twenty years of his life in a communist prison.
A missionary was returning home from twenty-seven years of service in Africa. His health was broken. He was all but penniless. And he knew very few people stateside. The passenger ship that brought him home to Norfolk also had a wealthy oil magnate aboard. His berth was first class. The missionary’s was beside the boiler room. Everyone aboard tipped their hat to the rich gentleman. No one seemed to notice the broken old missionary. As the ship made port, a red carpet and brass band greeted the rich merchant. Women offered their arms. Porters scurried. And newsmen’s cameras flashed. But the missionary crept ashore unnoticed. Feeling ever so lonely and forgotten, he prayed, “Lord, no one cares about me. No one is even here to welcome me home,” he whimpered. And a voice within him said, “You’re not home yet.”
“The Lord, the Righteous Judge, will award to me on that day,” Paul said (2 Timothy 4:8). Perhaps on this day some rewards will indeed come, for what we sow we reap. But not always in this life. Most rewards come on that day and not this one.
What Are Rewards Based On?
Passing on, let’s consider yet another principle that is best gotten at by the question, “On what are our rewards based?” Are they based on the amount of work we do? Number of converts? Fame? Success? No. Rewards are based on our faithfulness to Christ.
Consider: Nowhere in Scripture does God command you to be rich or famous or popular or overworked or successful. He simply asks, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
This brings up the whole question of motives, doesn’t it? Why do we serve Jesus? Why do we minister? Is it to be faithful? Or is it to be seen? To wield power over others? For fame and for fortune? As Jesus said in Matthew 6:1, “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them.”
Father of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud wrote that there are only two motives behind everything we do– either sex or pride. Get honest for a moment as you think about that. There’s a lot of truth in what he said?
The other night I was driving to Duke University to speak with a Christian student gathering. And half-way there the Holy Spirit asked me, “Why are you doing this?” And I had to admit I honestly didn’t know. So I began to examine my motives before the Lord. Am I doing this just to get out of town for a breather? To see the pretty girls? To admire the Gothic cathedral that sits in the middle of the campus? To try to make a clever speech and to try to “wow” the students? And I had to admit there was some of all of that in my motives. But deep down there was a motive beyond Freud’s sexual and pride motives. And that was the love of Christ. And I decided I was doing this because I loved Jesus and I wanted to give others some of what He is giving me!
The Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 3:12 following that all of our works will be tested by fire on Judgement Day. The impurely motivated works of wood, hay, and stubble will be burned away. Ah, but the golden deeds done for the love of God and man, they will survive as our reward!
A rich man died and went to heaven. Peter met him at the pearly gates, welcomed him in as a Christian, then offered to escort him to his eternal reward. Down the golden streets they went passing incredible mansions. Finally the two reached a modest cabin by the river. “Here you are,” Peter gestured. “I’m shocked,” said the gentleman. “I lived in better than this on earth.” “True,” Peter replied. “But then you didn’t give us much to work with here.”
Have you ever noticed how the Bible emphasizes humility in our ministry? Don’t give in public, Jesus taught. Give secretly! And your heavenly Father who sees in secret will reward you in secret (Mt. 6:1-8). “Fast in secret.” “Minister to the orphan and widow from whom you have no hope of gain.” Again and again in Scripture, the Word tells us to minister for no other motive than to please Jesus. We are to dismiss all pride, all desire to be seen, and do for Jesus and do for Him alone.
Ruth Calkin has written a prayer about this. In it she reflects,
“You know, Lord, how I serve you
with great emotional fervor
in the limelight.
You know how eagerly I speak for you
at a women’s club.
You know how I effervesce when I promote
a fellowship group.
You know my genuine enthusiasm
at a Bible study.
But how would I react, I wonder
if you pointed to a basin of water
and asked me to wash the calloused feet
of a bent and wrinkled old woman
day after day,
month after month,
in a room where nobody saw
and nobody knew.”
What is your motive? What is your motive? In the end, all that we do, all that we are will be tested by fire. And our reward will be based on the quality of the deed not the quantity.
No Reward Postponed Will Be Forgotten
All of that– how some rewards are received here on earth, how most aren’t received until heaven, and how they are based on faithfulness of motive and what you do with what you’ve got– now, this final word of assurance! No reward that is postponed will be forgotten. God keeps strict and accurate accounts. And if you’ve got it coming to you, then you can be sure you’ll get it!
What does the Bible say? Isaiah 49:4, “But I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing… yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.” Hebrews 9:10, “For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for His sake in serving the saints.”
Consider the life of Robert E. Lee. As a child he lost his father, a debt-ridden and irresponsible parent who went to Barbados, died at sea, and was buried on Cumberland Island, Georgia. He lost his childhood working and caring for his mother, growing up quickly in his dad’s absence. He lost his inheritance, Stratford Hall, when debt collectors foreclosed on it. He was educated at public expense at West Point Academy because his mother couldn’t afford to send him any place else. In a way, he lost his wife Mary, who so early in life became an invalid. His career in the military was lost in slow promotions when after years of duty he was only a Colonel serving as an engineer in such forgotten places as Cockspur Island, GA., and San Antonio, Texas. He lost a child, his special daughter Ann, who died in Warrenton, NC. He lost the opportunity to become Commander-in-Chief of the Union forces when he told General Winfield Scott he could not bear arms against his native land. He lost his home, the Custis-Lee mansion in Alexandria, Virginia, when Federal troops captured it and turned it into a cemetery. He lost his citizenship as an American, and it was never returned during his lifetime. He lost his friends– A. P. Hill, Jeb Stuart, Stonewall Jackson– and a host of others, all fallen in battle. He lost his health– a heart attack at Fredericksburg that would linger and take him to an early grave in his sixties. And he lost the war, surrendering to an inferior General with superior resources at Appomattox Court House in 1865, Palm Sunday. The last years of his life were spent as president of the little known Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, where he began civilian life with little money, ninety students, and four faculty.
At his funeral, Senator Benjamin Hill said, “He was a foe without hate, a friend without treachery, a soldier without cruelty, and victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices, a private citizen without wrong, a neighbor without reproach, a Christian without hypocrisy, and a man without guilt. He was Caesar without his ambition,
Frederick without his tyranny, Napoleon without his selfishness, and Washington without his reward.” And you can be sure Bobby Lee has gone on to a well deserved reward that he never got here!
Or take the Christian composer, Amadeus Mozart. Always poor, plagued with bad health, forever working for unappreciative employers, his music little recognized during his lifetime, he went to an early grave at age thirty-five. On the day of his funeral he was being carried to a pauper’s grave when a thunderstorm broke out. Those in the funeral procession broke and ran for cover. So, no one was there at his committal except the gravedigger. And he did his work hastily in the mud.
For Lee and Mozart and countless others known but to God, there was precious little payday here. But you can be sure there was for them a payday there! “For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work…” (Hebrews 6:10).
What Shall We Do With Our Rewards
It is thrilling to note in Scripture that a portion of our reward in heaven will be in new responsibility and authority. Revelation 2:26 says, “He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations.” In Luke 19:17 Jesus told a parable about a man who did such a good job here, he was promoted there; “Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.” Here, our rewards are seen as the presence and intimacy and affirmation of God that leads to more responsibility.
But most of all the Scriptures speak of our rewards as coming in the form of crowns! There is the “imperishable crown” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:24-29 and given out as a reward for not being carnal. There is the “crown of exultation” found in Philippians 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 and given out for winning souls to know Christ. There is the “crown of life” (James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10) given to those who endure persecution, the “crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:7-8) for those who in faithfulness serve God and look for His second coming, and the “crown of glory” found in 1 Peter 5:1-4, the pastor’s crown.
And what shall we do with these crowns the Lord has given us as a reward? Revelation 4:10-11 says that we shall gather at Christ’s throne, sing His praises, and cast our crowns at His feet!
And what is the conclusion of all of this? We must end where we began, 1 Corinthians 15:58! “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
O my Father God, I commit it all to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.