But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35,36 NASB)
Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:38 NASB)
I’ve said it a lot in this blog, Americans love their “return on investment”. We most often express it in the question, “What’s in it for me?” But this isn’t unique to American culture, I believe it’s easy to find in any human culture, past or present. The values may be different, but the question or interest in what’s valuable as a reward remains. It’s fundamental or foundational in human beings.
Since it’s so fundamental, it is possible we’re simply built that way. But I suspect it may not be a design feature as much as a fault of the fall. Regardless of how we got this characteristic, Jesus seems willing to accommodate it in His teaching. He tells us that we will receive for doing good, obeying Him, and so on. In fact, our reward will be great, running over! The impression we get is that this will be awesome!
And yet, as we continue reading of Jesus, reading of Paul, reading what Jesus said and what Paul wrote, a question starts to form. “What will be our reward?” It doesn’t seem to go so well for these two especially, but not really for any of the apostles. What sort of reward comes from obeying Jesus’ words and being so kind to ungrateful and evil people? I believe there are three types of rewards: Internal, External, and Future.
Internal Rewards: A “Basket of Fruit”
In what is possibly his first letter to churches, Paul writes to the churches in Galatia to correct some errors they were adopting. In the midst of his letter he points out the difference between characteristics of those living by the Holy Spirit and those living by the law or human nature. He says,
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22, 23 NASB)
These are the interior rewards. These are characteristics of the Holy Spirit, and He brings them out of followers of Jesus as He has more influence in their lives. They become evident in us to the degree we are submissive (think obedient) to the Holy Spirit.
These are not typically the sorts of rewards people seek. When we think of “What’s in it for me?” we’re more often thinking in terms of stuff or at least something more like what we gave away or lost. But instead God begins to work in us from the inside out. Eventually, our values regarding things on the outside change as well.
External Rewards: Jesus
In another letter where Paul is again correcting a church, this time in Macedonia (Philippi to be exact), Paul has this to say about his credentials:
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11 NASB)
I wasn’t going to bring this entire passage (or sentence), but only verses 7 and 8, but I realized I needed the whole thing. It does bleed over into my next “reward” but that’s good transition, right? These are the exterior rewards God has in store for us: loss of credentials (think “rep”). But more that that, loss of all things. In their place Paul has gained knowledge of Jesus the Messiah, and association with Him.
But Paul also has gained the power of Jesus’ resurrection. That’s why I needed the whole passage. That sounds like something we clay-based people can consider as a decent benefit! But look what goes with it: fellowship of His sufferings and conforming to His death. Oh wait, maybe I don’t want this power.
The external rewards of obedience, being kind to the evil and ungrateful, aren’t that they, in turn, are kind to us. People aren’t wired that way. Instead we gain a closer understanding and association with Jesus. Think about that. It comes down to the challenging question, “How much do you desire Jesus?” Not how great do you think He is. Not how loudly you proclaim His name. It doesn’t depend on you calling Him Lord. It all comes down to how much we are willing to give up to gain Jesus Himself.
Future Rewards: Eternity in Heaven
But there is actually more of a reward than these two categories. Eventually, having given ourselves to Jesus and pursued Him, we gain His presence in heaven. The future reward is eternity in heaven in Jesus’ presence.
One of the most persistent corrections Paul has to make with Gentile churches has to do with the resurrection. This is because of the prevailing philosophical view that to be material (as opposed to immaterial, or spirit) was a terrible thing people had to endure. We actually experience some of this today as people think our lives after this will be insubstantial rather than actually more substantial than we are now. I just smile and nod, but this is not what Scripture teaches. Scripture teaches something very different.
It is this extra intense physical life of power that we look forward to, our future reward. Very substantial. Very sensory. Very immersive. Life lived in color so intense, this life will seem black and white in comparison. We will be as different then from what we are now as a seed is different than the plant it becomes. It’s difficult to imagine.
My Personal Challenge
While the concept of rewards fits every culture, these rewards are counter culture. Yes, our rewards will be great, but they do not entirely remove the challenge to how much we truly desire Jesus, to spend time with Him in eternity, and to discover His qualities in our hearts.
This is my challenge. I discover that I’m challenged at my very core with how much I love my Master. Am I willing to lose everything for Him? Will I actually relinquish everything just to know His suffering and death better? Really? How badly do I want to understand and associate with suffering and death? But then there’s eternity, a vital powerful vibrant eternity.
Do I really believe that knowing and associating with Jesus will bring this future life? If I do, then I gain the external and internal rewards. But do I want them? Or will I gamble that I can change later and desire Him after I have less to loose and I’m already closer to eternity? It is to live a lie to bank my devotion to my Master for later, and intensely selfish to do so just to avoid pain and gain an earthly benefit now. But this is seriously my challenge, right now. What’s yours?
What is your view through the knothole?