Our discussion on Sunday could have raised more questions than it answered. Some of the questions I’ve heard have to do with the nature and content of the reward. Are we talking about “gold stars from God?” Is this some kind of cosmic carrot-on-the-stick dynamic? Are we really supposed to be motivated by gold stars and carrots?
We looked at three passages on Sunday: Matt. 6:1-8, 16-18; 2 Cor. 8:1-9; 9:6-8; Heb. 11:8-10, 24-26 (cf. 11:1, 6).
Here are a few summary thoughts that might help dismiss some of the tension/confusion/misunderstanding. If these thoughts fail to address your questions, please share your questions. We’ll do our best to address them.
First, a few things about Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18.
It seems safe to assume that Jesus assumes that we will hear “no reward from our Father in heaven” as a de-motivator to practicing our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them (see v 1). He seems to assume that we will want reward from our Father. But not all will believe him. This is a faith issue. Heb. 11:6 has important intersection here. Coming to God in this way is actually essential to pleasing Him (Heb. 11:6).
Not everyone who hears this word is moved by it. Many are still slaves to the approval and praise of people, without any struggle to value and pursue the pleasure of God. If you are not moved at all by these words, the life of God is not yet in you. You don’t yet have those “new senses” (i.e. new eyes, ears, tastebuds, etc.) of the new birth that Dane talked about at our retreat. So, first notice that this is a faith issue – whose promises will you believe? It’s never a matter of if you’ll be motivated by reward, it’s always a matter of whose reward you’ll treasure.
So, what is the reward? The Bible seems to give some vague and some clear answers. None of the answers it gives are disconnected from God himself. Heaven is not about the gold in the crowns or the property value. Heaven is only heaven because God is there. He is the great treasure and reward.
That being said, here are a few specific “rewards” that we find in Matt. 6 and beyond. First, in Matt. 6: 1-4, the praise of people (v 2) is contrasted with the reward of the Father. The reward in v 4 would seem to connote the praise of God, as well as the kind of “treasure in heaven” that Jesus goes on to mention in 6:19-24. “The praise of God” might be a phrase that makes you uncomfortable. Though it is certainly vulnerable to abuse, we dare not dismiss it as a category of motivation. You might be surprised to see how often the Bible talks about this. For starters, see Mt. 25:21; Jn. 5:44; 12:42-43; Rom. 2:6-10, 28-29; 1 Cor. 4:5; Heb. 11:2; Mt. 10:32; Rev. 3:5.
If any of you are bothered by the thought of God commending or exalting or approving or praising you, remember the well known passage, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Remember also that God’s praise is not divorced from his gracious work in our lives. John 3:21 holds true, “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (my emphasis). God is pleased with his own handiwork. At the end of the day, he alone gets the glory (Rom. 11:36).
In Matthew 25, then, Jesus makes clear that he will most certainly (and publicly) praise those servants who have been faithful. They may have been shamed by the world here. They may have been marginalized. They may have been “nobodies.” But, that Day will show that they are GOD’s good and faithful servants. If that approval and praise doesn’t motivate you to die to the short lived and short sighted praise and approval of people, what will?
Another specific “reward” that the Bible seems to offer is that of changed lives. Consider the parable of the dishonest manager in Luke 16:1-9. At first glance, you may think this an odd and confusing parable. Consider it carefully and you will find it a very powerful motivation to give away your life for the sake of sacrificial love to others. You can read the whole parable, but the punchline comes in vv 8-9. “…the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” In other words, use your money to “make friends” (i.e. make converts/impact lives with the Gospel) so that when you die, you will find a rich welcome in heaven (i.e. lots of people will be there because of your life and they will richly welcome you). Be shrewd and creative about how you can most wisely invest it in eternity.
The point of this parable is not unlike the way Paul describes his motivation in 1 Cor. 9:19-23 or 2 Cor. 4:7-18 (note how 4:12 is parallel to 4:16-17 — part of the eternal weight of glory that is being produced for them is the (4:12 “life in you”) spiritual fruit in the lives of others that results from their daily death-to-self labor of love).
More could be said, but this post is already way too long. What are your questions?