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The Believer’s Rewards: Matthew 5

January 20, 2011

I have interacted with professing believers who are uncomfortable with the idea of Christians getting rewards.  It seems to them that such an idea implies works, or that some believers are higher ranked before God than others — and of course that can’t be true because we are all sinners and equal in the sight of God.  I’ve noticed too, that those who most emphasize our equality before God (and hence no rewards) also have a problem with several other biblical teachings — including the future of ethnic Israel and our Lord’s future kingdom of God upon the Earth.  I think of, for example, the pastor who denies any teaching concerning rewards, who even thinks that believers will be judged according to their works at the Great White Throne judgment (supposedly, to show that we’re just as unworthy as unbelievers, except for Christ’s imputation of us in the book of Life)– and the same one who denies the believer’s rewards also denies biblical creation, the future salvation and kingdom for Israel, as well as less obvious teachings such as the Angel of the Lord and the (election) salvation of infants who die.  Others I know that deny the teaching on biblical rewards are consistent in also rejecting at least some of the above doctrines, with special emphasis on how we’re all equal before God.  Reference also my recent blog, concerning those who profess belief in the basic doctrines yet emphasize their salvation and that “it’s not necessary to believe such-and-such doctrine.”

I’ve been listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s Matthew series, and chapter 5 (starting the Sermon on the Mount) has a lot of good material including the matter of rewards.  Consider Matthew 5:12, or  Jesus’ strong words upholding the importance of scripture in Matthew 5:17-18.

I like how S. Lewis Johnson explained the nature of the Christian’s rewards:

Now, a reward in the Christian faith is not a prize.  Rewards in the Christian faith are quite different.  There is a reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it, and it’s quite foreign to the desires which ought to accompany these things.  Money is not the natural reward of love.  And so if a man marries a woman because she’s a wealthy woman, then what do we call that man?  Well, we call him mercenary, to use a nice word.  Now, marriage is the proper reward of a real love, and so when marriage takes place between two individuals who love one another, then we do not say those individuals are mercenary for desiring to be married.  There are rewards, and then there are rewards.

… Now a general who fights and fights well in order to become a lord is mercenary.  But a general who fights for victory is not mercenary.  In other words, when we talk about rewards, true rewards are the activity itself in its consummation – in its natural consummation.  So, in the Bible, when we talk about being given a reward, it’s not like a man who tries to marry a woman for her money, and he gets something entirely different from that which he’s been doing.  But it’s the natural consummation of everything that he has been doing.  So just as marriage is the natural consummation of true love, and is the reward of true love for both of those who are involved, so Christian rewards are not something tacked on like a prize because we’ve learned all of Beethoven’s sonatas, or because we have done this or that, but because it is the natural consummation of the Christian life.  And so rewards are those things that are the natural end of faithfulness in Christian life and ministry.

Just a few messages later, Johnson again mentions the difference between salvation and rewards.  It does play a part in the issue of how we respond to and accept the various teachings of the Bible:

But there are individuals who say, I can accept the Bible, but I can’t accept that.  I don’t know if you really believe the Bible.  That is so plain and so clear.  And when we read in the very next verse about the inviolability of Scripture, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments,”—I grant that that’s not as important as the atonement.  I grant that’s not nearly so important as the doctrine of unconditional election.  But nevertheless, it is one of the least commandments of the word of God at least, and he said, (Matthew 5:19) “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.”  Salvation may not be at stake, but your place in the kingdom of heaven, the rewards that Christians have, is at stake.

  1. Sonja
    March 10, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    Hi Lynda! It is odd that a Christian would be uncomfortable with receiving a reward for their service. Scripture speaks of crown/wreaths, all of which will be thrown down at His feet.

    Makes me very much appreciate our pastors/teachers who are faithful to the Word. They come under extra judgment and they receive a special crown (1 Pet. 5:4).

    Dr. F contends that the rewards are in effect during the Milleninal and after that all are equal for eternity. That makes sense to me.

    Thank you for this post! I’m learning much from you!

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