Do you think God gives rewards? Are there rewards for God’s people now or in the future? What does Jesus say about rewards? What about Paul?
“Reward is the recompense for good or evil; most often it suggests a benefit or favorable compensation. Both good and evil are rewarded or punished, and man’s responsibility and accountability are involved in an ethical sense. Related terms such as wages, hire, recompense, or requital are a part of the broader concept. In this fullest sense, the operation of reward ranges from the consequences resulting from dealings between people to God’s compensation for obedience or disobedience, from the consequences of actions felt in this life to divine recompense in the life to come.
To Greek and Hebrew minds the concept of reward suggested the ideal of wholeness of an action, the completion of a deed. Just as work was completed for a man in the payment of wages, so it was assumed that an action naturally carried certain results, either reward or punishment. The overtones of commercial transactions were not absent, as when the reward is referred to as ‘wages.’ Thus Paul says ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Rom 6:23). The idea involves an equal return commensurate with the action performed.” (Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1855). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.)
The following word study should be an eye opener for most.
The concept of reward is foreign to many, but it is biblical.
Basically I will be quoting a series of passages which I suspect is ignored in many explanatory functions.
- Old Testament
- God promised Abraham a great reward (Gen 15.1-2)
- Rewards are part of the Mosaic Covenant (Dt 28.1-2, 15)
- David said God rewarded him according to his righteousness (2 Sa 22.21-25; Ps 18.20)
- Rewards and forgiveness are held together (Ps 103.8-10)
- Jeremiah anticipated the Lords reward (Jer 18.19-20; 32.17-19; 31.16)
- Isaiah believed God rewards his people (Isa 62.11; 40.10)
- Paul anticipated a coming ‘reward’ (Col 3.23-25; 1 Cor 3.11-15)
- Paul encourages his audiences to run for the ‘prize’ (Php 3.12-15; 1 Cor 9.24-27)
- Paul anticipated he would be given a ‘crown’ for his life and love (2 Tim 4.6-8)
- Paul encouraged the Galatians to ‘sow’ in order to ‘reap’ eternal life (Gal 6.7-10; cf. Prov 11.18)
God promised Abraham a great reward (Gen 15.1-2)
15 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your REWARD shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Gen 15:1–2)
He was speaking about a massive family consisting of many nations. The concept of reward in the bible is linked to God’s covenant and promises.
Rewards are part of the Mosaic Covenant (Dt 28.1-2, 15)
“The biblical conception of reward was both ethical and religious. The covenant of God made with Israel was evidence of God’s loving favor; it promised good things to Israel on the condition of their obedience to God’s commands. Disobedience was a violation of the covenant and would bring disaster and death. Deuteronomy 28 spells out the blessings that obedience would bring and also the national disasters that would come upon Israel if they did not observe what was right and good in the sight of the Lord (see also Lv 26).” (ibid, p. 1855)
28 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. (Dt 28:1–2)
15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. (Dt 28:15)
“This national pattern of reward and punishment was also applied to the individual life. The good life was assured on the basis of obedience and discipline. The wisdom of Israel identified the good life with the blessing of God.” (ibid, p. 1855)
Many in the Old Testament seemed to recognise this (1 Sam 24.19; 26.23; 1 Ki 8.32; 2 Chr 6.23; Ps 19.11; 58.10-11; Prov 11.18; 13.13,21; 22.4; 25.22; Jer 31.16; 32.19).
David said God rewarded him according to his righteousness (2 Sa 22.21-25; Ps 18.20)
David famously said;
21 “The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he REWARDED me.
22 For I have kept the ways of the LORD and have not wickedly departed from my God. 23 For all his rules were before me, and from his statutes I did not turn aside. 24 I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt.
25 And the LORD has REWARDED me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight. (2 Sa 22:21–25; cf. Ps 18.20)
David speaks of the reward he has already received. Perhaps he is speaking about being saved many times by the LORD from his enemies and success in battle or gaining worldly riches and having a long life. Perhaps he is referring to knowing the LORD himself. He could mean all of these. David is quite optimistic of his own actions and behaviour. The concept that the LORD rewards people according to how they behave is entirely biblical.
The scripture says the LORD rewarded David according to his righteousness.
The concept has been associated with David before (1 Sam 24.19; 26.23).
Rewards and forgiveness are held together (Ps 103.8-10)
David also committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered Uriah. He sinned and I imagine the guilt would have been terrible. He can only say this because at the same time he believes in forgiveness. Forgiveness that has wiped his slate clean.
Normally people would be punished for their sins. This is the same concept of reward, but in reverse. However God’s people can be forgiven.
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Ps 103:8–10)
Hence if we combine David’s two sayings here. God’s people are forgiven their sins, and rewarded for their righteousness.
Jeremiah anticipated the Lords reward (Jer 18.19-20; 32.17-19; 31.16)
Jeremiah requested that the LORD save him because of what he had done.
19 Hear me, O LORD, and listen to the voice of my adversaries.
20 Should good be repaid with evil? Yet they have dug a pit for my life. Remember how I stood before you to speak good for them, to turn away your wrath from them. (Jer 18:19–20)
He believes when the LORD comes he will bring his reward.
17 ‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. 18 You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts, 19 great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, REWARDING each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds. (Jer 32:17–19; cf. 31.16)
Jeremiah is not clear what he means by the reward. Punishment normally results in suffering and death. Rewards include salvation from enemies, prosperity and long life. I think the best reward is knowing God.
Isaiah believed God rewards his people (Isa 62.11; 40.10)
Isaiah follows suit.
11 Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his REWARD is with him, and his recompense before him.” (Is 62:11; 40.10)
Jesus encouraged good deeds so people could receive a reward (Mt 5.11-12; 6:1–6, 16–18)
A significant part of Jesus’ teaching spoke about rewards.
Consider the sermon on the mount. Jesus instructs;
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your REWARD is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt 5:11–12)
6 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no REWARD from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their REWARD. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will REWARD you.
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their REWARD. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Mt 6:1–6)
16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will REWARD you. (Mt 6:16–18)
Jesus calls into question our motives. He calls us to work for something greater than reward. God’s people should work out of love for God and others. Not for a reward. In the end all God’s people are only doing their duty (Lk 17.9-10), but because God is gracious he loves to bestow rewards on his people.
God’s people should also recognise the generosity of their master, even though they may have worked longer than others (Mt 20.1-16). All God’s hired workers receive eternal life, remember that many others don’t. This isnt a good thing, they need to hear the gospel.
What about Paul? Surely he says something different? No. Not really.
Paul does insist on grace and forgiveness of sins. He also says all people receive what is due to them (Rom 2.6-11; 2 Cor 5.9-10).
Paul has a certain optimism about how his life will be judged.
The passages above and others highlight this optimism when it comes to how he will be judged (Acts 23.1; 24.15-16; 2 Tim 4.8) and therefore the likelihood he will be rewarded. Even when he is accused of being unfaithful by others, he still seems to think he will receive a commendation for how he has served (1 Cor 4.1-5).
If we look at passages which refer to concepts such as ‘reward’, ‘prize’, ‘crown’, ‘sowing and reaping’ we see a distinct pattern in his thought and practice. Paul acknowledges God graciously rewards people for their striving, self-control, discipline, and work. Have a look at these key words.
Paul anticipated a coming ‘reward’ (Col 3.23-25; 1 Cor 3.11-15)
23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your REWARD. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. (Col 3:23–25).
11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a REWARD. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor 3:11–15)
Paul encourages his audiences to run for the ‘prize’ (Php 3.12-15; 1 Cor 9.24-27)
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the PRIZE of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. (Php 3:12–15)
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the PRIZE? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor 9:24–27)
Paul anticipated he would be given a ‘crown’ for his life and love (2 Tim 4.6-8)
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the CROWN of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will AWARD to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Tim 4:6–8)
Paul encouraged the Galatians to ‘sow’ in order to ‘reap’ eternal life (Gal 6.7-10; cf. Prov 11.18)
According to Paul, if one sows to the Spirit, they will reap eternal life.
7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one SOWS, that will he also REAP. 8 For the one who SOWS to his own flesh will from the flesh REAP corruption, but the one who SOWS to the Spirit will from the Spirit REAP eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will REAP, if we do not give up.
10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:7–10; cf. Prov 11.18)
Paul has adopted the Old Testament notion of reward and applied it to Christians indwelt by the Spirit. See also 1 Cor 3:8; 2 Cor 9:6.
James says those who persevere will receive the ‘crown’ of life (Jas 1.12)
James has the same idea.
12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the CROWN of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (Jas 1:12)
Concept of reward is biblical. It’s the flip side is punishment. People are rewarded for good and punished for evil. We’ve seen a few texts which highlight a certain optimism by the authors of scripture that they will be rewarded.
I believe in every case the rewards God gives are predicated on his grace, mercy and the forgiveness of sins God’s people have in Jesus. The way God’s people are to behave should always be in response to these. God is in no way obligated to reward people. God is kind and generous. He loves to give. God rewards out of grace.
The greatest reward is knowing God and being loved by him.
Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.