Rewards

 

Described

 

Rewards from God are His payments or wages to humans for things about their character or actions with which He is pleased. Rewards can come in many different forms and be given on Earth or in heaven.

 

The four ways by which God imparts His blessings

 

A very common error among churchgoers is the notion there are only two ways by which God gives His eternal and earthly blessings to people. The first way is merited rewards which are conditional on various human responses. The second is unconditional manifestations of His totally undeserved grace and mercy.

But the truth is the Bible teaches there are four ways by which God imparts His blessings to humans. These four are:

 

         totally deserved or fully merited rewards.

         partially deserved rewards undergirded by His grace.

         the unmerited grace consequences of our fulfilment of various conditions stated in His Word. These consequences are not earned or merited rewards. These conditions can be faith and/or turning from known sins and/or obedience to various Biblical commands or to an instruction of His Spirit.

         sovereign expressions of His unmerited grace which are not conditioned on any type of human response. [1]

 

Totally deserved rewards from God

 

As stated above, there are two types of God-given rewards taught in the Bible. The first type is those which are totally deserved. Romans 4:4 refers to these: “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.” In the original Greek, the word “wages” here is “misthos” and the word “debt” is “opheilema”. The word “opheilema” means a “debt, what is owed, one’s due, it is considered not as a favor”. [2]

In the context of Matthew 18:28 and Luke 16:5, “opheilema” is used “literally of financial debts, owe something to someone”. [3] In the context of Romans 13:8, “opheilema” means “owe, be indebted to someone for something” and in Romans 15:27, Ephesians 5:28, 2 Thessalonians 1:3, 2:13, 1 John 2:6 and 4:11, it means “be obligated, one must, one ought”.[4]

So when in Romans 4:4 Paul linked the words “misthos” and “opheilema”, he meant that if God declared us righteous on the basis of our actions, our wages or rewards for our actions would be a debt which God owed us or was obligated to give us. Therefore if our rewards were fully deserved, we could demand them fully and immediately as a due or debt God must pay us.

But note in Matthew 6:12, Jesus taught that our sins are debts we owe to God: “ And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” In Greek, the word “debts” here is a form of the word “opheilema” – the word used in Romans 4:4. Romans 1:32 and 6:23 reveal the wages or “reward” of any sin is death. So every person who sins owes God the debt of death – physical and spiritual. This is why no fallen human can have God owing them totally deserved rewards.

People who owe God the debt of death cannot have such a debt blotted out by some mere good works and have no basis on which they can try to earn rewards from Him. Even in human society, criminals who are condemned to death are not allowed to leave the goal in order to obtain a job so they can earn deserved wages.

 

Our certificate of debt

In Colossians 2:14, Paul spoke of the “certificate of debt” all humans have in relation to God: “Having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” In Greek, the expression “certificate of debt” here is a form of the word “cheirographon” which means “a (handwritten) document, specifically a certificate of indebtedness [5] or “a handwritten statement, especially a record of financial accounts”. [6]

In Colossians 2:14, Paul reveals the record of believers’ debts to God are nailed to the Cross. Every human has a certificate of debt – a record of their sins against God. But only believers experience the reality of their certificate of debts being nailed to Jesus’ Cross.

In Greek, the expression “consisting of decrees” in Colossians 2:14 is a form of the word “dogma” which in context means “a formalized rule (or set of rules) prescribing what people must do”. [7] Note the word “dogma” is used in Luke 2:1 to mean an official decree of the Roman Emperor Augustus acting as supreme human ruler and judge.

Paul translates a form of the word “dogma” as “ordinances” in Ephesians 2:15 in the expression “the Law of commandments contained in ordinances” when referring to the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law reveals we have sins or debts to God (see Romans 3:21, 7:7 and 7:13). All humans owe God debts in relation to breaking the official decrees or rules of God the Supreme Ruler and Perfect Judge. [8]

Believers have had all of their debts to God in the sense of their guilt for personal and Adamic debited sin wonderfully removed by His grace and mercy. So in terms of God’s holiness and justice, they owe Him nothing. But in terms of appreciation for what He did for them through Jesus’ death and resurrection, they owe Him everything.

 

Slaves owe their masters everything

Also, because believers have been purchased by Him as His slaves, they owe Him everything in this sense. Luke 17:10 says: “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” In Greek, the expression “we ought” above is a form of the word “opheilo” and is used in this context to mean “be obligated”. So Jesus was saying that as God’s slaves, we are obligated to do what He tells us and therefore cannot really earn or deserve any wages or rewards from Him.

Another reason none of the rewards we receive from God can be fully deserved is that everything we can give to Him is owned by Him as Creator already. God owns all created things (see Deuteronomy 10:14, 1 Chronicles 29:10-11, Psalm 24:1, 89:11, 95:3-5, Proverbs 16:4, Romans 11:36 and 1 Corinthians 10:26) and all humans (see Ezekiel 18:4). In 1 Chronicles 29:13-14, David prayed: “…But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You.” When believers give their time, possessions, tithes, offerings and themselves to Him, they are only giving what He owns as Creator.

As God’s slaves, we are obligated to do what He tells us. This is because through Jesus’ death He has purchased us as His exclusive possession from our previous master – God’s offended holiness and justice.

Through purchasing us from this previous master, He has saved us by His grace or total generosity from the dreadful punishment of death associated with this previous master. Therefore, in this sense we are eternally indebted to Him. We owe Him ourselves and everything we own. Therefore, for us to think God is fully obligated or indebted to give us rewards or wages for our good actions or character before or after our conversion shows how little we understand redemption or salvation.

In Bible times, free laborers who were not indebted to a human master as their slaves, could earn totally deserved wages or rewards for their work. James 5:4 refers to such free laborers: “Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields…”

 

Only Jesus Christ fully merits God’s rewards

There is only one human who totally deserves or fully merits God’s promised rewards. This is Jesus Christ. Only He has perfectly fulfilled the Law of Moses and God’s two great love commands (see Matthew 5:17, John 15:13 and Philippians 2:8).

Revelation 5:2-4 and 8-9 show only Christ is totally worthy in God’s valuation: “Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it…Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.’”

 

The “reward” we really deserve

Some churchgoers may believe they are not receiving in this earthly life the rewards that think they deserve. Such people do not understand that if God gave us what His perfect holiness and justice demands we really deserve, we would immediately be punished with physical death and sent to hell forever in a state of permanent spiritual death.

Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. The word “wages” here is a form of the word “opsonion” in the original Greek and means “hire, wages of any sort” [9] or “the compensation paid by sin (for services rendered to it)”. [10] So the “reward” for sin is physical and spiritual death.

 

God’s obligation is faithfulness to His promises and His Name

The only sense in which God is obligated to do good things for believers relates to the fact He is perfectly faithful to His gracious promises and to His own Name. If God has unconditionally promised and vowed by His own Name to do certain kind generous things to believers, He will certainly do these things. Such blessings are not in any way deserved rewards or merited blessings.

Also if God has vowed by His Name to do certain gracious things for believers only if they fulfil certain conditions, He is obligated to do as He has promised only because He is faithful to His promises and if they fulfil His conditions. In the latter case, God’s gracious actions are not fully deserved rewards. For example, eternal salvation is received on the condition we have faith in Jesus Christ and have associated repentance. But note faith and repentance do not merit salvation in any way.

Since only Christ has perfectly obeyed the Law of Moses and God’s two love laws, God is not obligated to give any spiritual or natural blessing to any other person on the basis of fully deserved merit.

Even when in Deuteronomy 30:1-10 and Leviticus 26:40-45 God promised by grace to bless those Israelites who turned back to Him from sin, this was not on the basis of any deserved merit. Such repentant Israelites were expected to obey the Law of Moses as a fruit of their faith and repentance and not as means of meriting blessing. Also their faith and repentance were means of receiving God’s grace and were not meriting mechanisms.

 

Slightly deserved rewards undergirded by God’s grace

 

The second type of rewards from God is those which out of His pure generosity or grace:

 

         as our loving Father uses to discipline, train and encourage His children and

         as our Master, He allows us as His love slaves to earn from Him.

These are rewards which we deserve only to a very small degree. These rewards are undergirded or underpinned by God’s undeserved grace.

Without Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, no believer in Old and New Testament times would be given the opportunity of earning rewards from God as His children and slaves. Instead, we would all be eternally punished in hell in a state of spiritual death.

 

God the Father using rewards and punishments to disciple

Only Jesus Christ totally deserves rewards from God. All other humans totally deserve being immediately punished with physical death and to be sent eternally to Hell separated from God’s Presence (see Romans 6:23 and 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10).

But when God gives them eternal salvation as a free gift at conversion and gives rewards and punishments to His believing children as part of His discipline and training of them on Earth, He does this like a human father who:

 

1.         gives many free gifts to His children as part of His love, care and kindness toward them and

2.         gives rewards and punishments to his children as part of His discipline and training of them and His encouragements to them to do His will. These rewards are not fully deserved and the punishments are not as severe as what the children often deserve.

 

I personally do not like using the word “deserve” in relation to these types of rewards. This is because they are deserved or merited in only such a limited way. But I cannot think of one English word which is a better alternative.

Note Jeremiah 31:16-20 is a classic example of God promising to reward the work of sinful wicked people who had turned back to Him from their sins (see verses 18-19) and had been shown mercy by Him (see verse 20). Such rewards were really not fully deserved. But through an undergirding of His mercy and grace, God decided to reward the works of His children and servants from the northern tribes of Israel who have previously returned to Him from lives of wickedness.

 

Believers’ rewards are never fully deserved

Job 41:11 and Romans 11:35 teaches that even the rewards believers obtain from God are not really fully deserved. Job 41:11 states: “Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.” (N.A.S.B.). In the original Hebrew, the word “pay” here is “shalam”. The same word is used in Deuteronomy 7:10 (twice), Isaiah 59:18 (twice), Jeremiah 16:18, 25:14, 32:18 and 50:29 in the sense of God repaying sinners the punishments they deserve. Ruth 2:12 and Proverbs 11:31 use “shalam” in the sense of God repaying the righteous.

Romans 11:35 states: “Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?” (N.A.S.B.) In the original Greek, the same word translated as “repaid” is used by Christ in Luke 14:14: “…they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Note this above verse cross-referenced with Romans 11:35 shows the rewards believers will receive at the future resurrection of the righteous are not really fully deserved.

 

Rewards to slaves which were not fully deserved

A human example of slightly deserved rewards undergirded by grace to slaves is found in Exodus 2:9. This verse refers to the Pharaoh’s daughter allowing Moses’ mother to earn wages from her. But note Moses’ mother was a slave of Pharaoh, Pharaoh’s daughter and the Egyptians at the time.

Jesus’ words in Luke 17:7-10 also teach that we do not really deserve to be rewarded for our service to God because such service as His slaves is really our duty anyway: “And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat?’ But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink?’ Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’”

In Greek, the word “unprofitable” in Luke 17:10 is a form of the word “achreios” which means “unworthy, miserable, worthless” [11] or “unmeritorious [12] in the context of this verse. This shows Jesus is saying in Luke 17:10 that as His slaves, we do not really fully merit or deserve to have any rewards for our service to Him.

Job 41:11, Romans 11:35 and Luke 17:7-10 reveal why even the rewards of believers for their service to God are really in one sense undeserved and undergirded by His grace.

An example of humans being allowed to earn rewards or wages which they did not fully deserve, occurred in Australia in the 1800’s. The governmental authorities in Australia gave tickets of leave to some of the convicts who had been sent to Australia from Britain. Tickets of leave were official permission letters which enabled convicts to earn wages from free settlers. These convicts still owed the British government a debt because of their crimes. But the government graciously allowed these convicts to earn rewards for their work.

 

The paradox of the Mosaic Law

 

A paradox is a truth which seems to be a contradiction. There is a paradox found in the Mosaic Law which causes confusion and misunderstanding among those who do not recognize it. This paradox is the fact that while the Mosaic Law in many verses demands obedience to all its commands, statutes and judgements in order to receive its promised earthly blessings, the Law also contains other verses which stress that God will give earthly blessings to undeserving Israelites by His grace and mercy.

One of the reasons for this paradox is the verses related to receiving God’s earthly blessings by obeying all the Law’s commands are based on the concepts of merit and rewards, while the latter verses related to grace and mercy are not based on merit or rewards. The concepts of merit and reward on the one hand and grace and mercy on the other are totally different. But they are all aspects of God’s dealings with humans. [13]

 

Ancient and modern ideas about rewards, wages and being slaves

 

One of the main reasons for the dramatic lack of understanding among many modern Christians of God-given rewards is their confusing of modern and ancient notions of rewards, wages and being a servant or slave.

In modern societies, rewards are usually regarded as totally deserved. Also wages are given to workers as deserved rights on the basis of legally binding contracts. These contracts legally obligate employers to pay workers.

But in ancient times, the wages or rewards for service that slaves received from their masters were not regarded as deserved rights and were not based on legally binding contracts. Also in ancient times, sometimes out of generosity or grace, human masters allowed some of their slaves to earn wages or rewards. These rewards were not regarded as fully deserved. This was because slaves were thought of as being totally in debt to their masters for everything and exclusively owned by them.

Slaves were not legally regarded as free to earn wages for themselves. Whatever they earned was seen as being what their master and not they earned or deserved. So masters who allowed their slaves to earn wages or rewards were very generous or gracious. There were various reasons why masters were generous to their slaves in this way. But whatever the reason, masters were under no legal obligation to be so generous.

In modern times in most countries, household servants have many rights before the law of their country and are not the possession of their employers. But in ancient times, servants were slaves with limited rights according to the Mosaic Law (see Exodus 21:1-11, 21:20, Leviticus 25:39-55, Deuteronomy 15:12-18 and 21:10-14) and no rights according to Roman law.

Because many Christians confuse modern and ancient notions of rewards, wages and servanthood or slavery, they fail to realise that God’s rewards for His servants are not really totally deserved and are not a right. God is not bound by His own perfect justice to reward any believer for any service or good work.

As believers, our rewards from God are wages for us serving Him as love-slaves and are undergirded by His grace or wonderful generosity. They are not the fully deserved wages of a sinless worker like Jesus Christ. Christ was never in slavery to the condemnatory sentences of God’s holiness and justice. He is therefore a free worker who can earn fully deserved wages from God.

Revelation 11:18 links rewards for service with being God’s servant or slave: “…You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name…”

 

The relationship to God’s role as Supreme Ruler and Judge

 

The rewards which God offers fallen human beings:

 

         are not based on some abstract eternal standard of justice or rights which God did not originate and must submit to Himself. God’s nature itself is the perfect everlasting foundation on which His standards of justice are formulated. He is not ruled by any person, abstract standard, natural law of physics or spiritual law. [14] He Himself has originated all these latter things and people.

         cannot be described just in terms of His covenantal promises. One modern error is the attempt to see all relationships between God and humans only in covenantal terms. It is extremely important we understand God’s Biblical covenants. But we should not limit Him by trying to put Him just in “a covenantal box”.

God’s rewards to fallen human beings are recorded in the Mosaic and New Covenants. The Noahic and Davidic Covenants do not promise rewards. The only reward mentioned in the Abrahamic Covenant is God Himself (see Genesis 15:1).

         are not limited to being like the compensation given by the human judges of courts to those who deserve it. God is not just a Judge. He combines the roles of Supreme Ruler and Judge.

         are not like the fully deserved wages which employers pay their free workers. Only the rewards which Jesus Christ – the perfect human – fully deserved are like the wages which employers must pay their free workers. But even then, the rewards Christ deserved from God cannot be seen only in terms of the wages employers pay their workers.

 

God’s rewards are similar to His punishments. The punishments of the Lord are not based on some abstract everlasting standard of justice or rights which God did not originate and which He must submit to Himself. His punishments can be studied in terms of His covenants, His role as Judge and the deserved wages given by employers, but cannot be limited to these things. We must see His punishments primarily in terms of His roles as holy righteous Supreme Ruler and Judge combined together and as a perfectly loving Father who disciplines His children in order to train and reform them.

The rewards God has given or gives fallen human beings under the Mosaic and New Covenants are best described as those which a loving Father, Supreme Ruler or King and Judge offers to His people who are His children, love slaves, subjects and possessions. Such rewards are not fully deserved.

In ancient times, absolute rulers had responsibilities to their subjects only because the rulers themselves chose to have these. Such responsibilities were recorded in the absolute ruler’s laws for and covenants with their subjects. Their subjects were regarded as their servants and possessions.

Any rewards the ancient ruler gave their subjects for service were not fully deserved but were only deserved in a very limited sense. These rewards were “rights” in the sense the ruler promised these. But they were not “rights” in the sense of being fully deserved. This is because the subjects had the total responsibility to obey their ruler anyway. They owed him obedience.

The Mosaic and New Covenants are decrees of God the Supreme Ruler and Judge. [15] As combined King and Judge, He binds Himself to keep the terms and promises of these covenants. God is bound by these covenants only because He has chosen this. Covenants are not universal eternal standards to which God must submit regardless of His will.

 

 

 

Bible Study Questions

 

1.         What are the four ways by which God imparts His blessings?

2.         Explain what are totally deserved rewards from God.

3.         Discuss the “certificate of debt” which Paul mentions in Colossians 2:14.

4.         Explain what Luke 17:10 teaches.

5.         Why is Jesus Christ the only human who totally deserves God’s promised rewards?

6.         What reward does Romans 6:23 say we deserve?

7.         What is the only sense in which God is obligated to do things for believers?

8.         Explain what are slightly deserved rewards undergirded by God’s grace.

9.         Discuss what things the following verses teach us about rewards from God:

 

a)             Job 41:11

b)             Romans 11:35

c)             Luke 17:7-10

 

10.     Discuss the paradox of the Mosaic Law.

11.     Explain the differences between the rewards or wages some slaves received in ancient times and the fully deserved wages which workers receive. How does understanding these differences help us to comprehend rewards from God?

 


 

            Matthew 10:10, Luke 10:7 and 1 Timothy 5:18 teach that free laborers deserve their wages or rewards for their work. These verses are referring to ministers who preach the Gospel being given wages or rewards by those humans who are saved through the Gospel. [16]

Because of the eternal unpayable debt saved believers owed to God because of their sins, this obligation to Him partly expresses itself in their obligation to pay wages or rewards to those who lead them. By financially supporting ministers, believers are not paying for their salvation. The debt owed for our sin is physical death and eternal separation from God in hell. No sinful human could ever pay or do anything to equal this eternal debt.

Also, this does not mean God is fully indebted to pay His ministers monetary rewards or wages for their ministry. Prior to their conversion, these leaders owed God an unpayable eternal debt also. After conversion, these ministers owe God everything in terms of thanks and appreciation for His love, mercy and grace through Jesus Christ and because they are His own exclusively purchased slaves. This is similar to how in Romans 15:26-27, Paul said non-Israelite believers were indebted or obligated to give material help to poor Jewish believers in Jerusalem because it was through the Jews salvation was given to non-Israelites. These verses do not say God was fully indebted to the Jews.

 

 

 

 

 

In 1 Corinthians 9:15-18, Paul speaks of his reward for preaching the Gospel. Here Paul says he could not boast that he deserved this reward. He said he could not boast because he was compelled to preach. Link this to 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 in which Paul reveals his preaching was a result of the undeserved grace of God inspiring him: “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” In the above, Paul also emphasises he did not deserve to be an apostle sent to preach the Gospel. He knew even preachers’ rewards from God are undeserved in one sense.

 


 


[1] For examples of these, refer to Chapter               “The Sovereignty of God”.

[2] Bauer, page 598.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, pages 598-599.

[5] Ibid, page 880.

[6] Louw and Nida, page 394.

[7] Ibid, page 426.

[8]  In Greek, the expression “having cancelled” is a form of the word “exaleipho” which means “remove, destroy, obliterate, blotting out” (Bauer, page 272). This means Jesus’ death has resulted in all of our debts or sins against God being blotted out or removed or obliterated from God’s record of us. Therefore Colossians 2:14 means all and not just some of our debts to Him as Supreme Ruler and Judge were totally removed when Jesus died. Our Certificate of Debt as believers has been totally taken away in the past when Christ died. We can only receive the benefits of this wonderful removal of our Certificate of Debt through faith from the time of our conversion. Faith and not good works is the God-appointed means of appropriating what Jesus Christ has achieved through His death. The obliteration of our Certificate of Debt is not a future reward for our present good works.

[9] Vine, page 663.

[10] Bauer, page 602.

[11] Ibid, page 128.

[12] Perschbacher, page 64.

[13] Another paradox is the Biblical teaching we are saved by God’s grace alone and not by good works, but this grace produces many good works in our lives after conversion.

[14] Natural and spiritual laws are different from human laws.

[15] These two covenants also express other aspects of His nature such as His holiness, righteousness, grace, mercy, love and faithfulness.

[16] Numbers 18:30-31 refers to part of the tithes of the Israelites as being the reward given to the Levite priests for their work in the Tabernacle.

 


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