Will the Lord Reward Us?

For what is the Christian ‘rewarded?’ This question was asked during our recent Bible Study, which considered the biblical teaching on the afterlife. Jesus promises in Revelation 22:12:

“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.”

The entire Bible is clear that salvation itself is no reward to be earned or deserved, for none of us are capable of meriting so expensive a prize. Rather, God chooses to bestow it freely. This we call grace- utterly undeserved kindness. So why then does the Lord talk of reward?

Those who are saved- Christians- whose sins are forgiven and guilt graciously remitted, are exempted from the final, great judgment described in Revelation 20. Our sin was judged on Calvary; the wrath it rightly warranted is all spent and exhausted. Yet the Apostle Paul declares that we too will appear before the Lord, to give account for our time spent in the body:

Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences. (2 Cor. 5:9-11)

He is talking of believers here. Some believers, myself included, have spent some of our time on earth, even after our conversions, doing things unpleasing to Him. As His bondsmen and bondswomen, our time, possessions and bodies belong to Him, and for them we will be asked to give account. There are some whose conduct will be worthy of commendation, others whose conduct worthy of rebuke. Those whose lives are disappointing are still saved and admitted to heaven, for that depended on their belief in the gospel. Evidently, there are different degrees of reward. So what warrants reward and what solicits censure? Paul tells the Colossians in 3:23-24:

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

His usage of reward here I think is the general sense of some future prize worth looking forward to. Rather, it is the first clause I shall particularly consider.

‘Whatever you do’

The Christian has a range of opportunities to serve the Lord Jesus. Each day, we might share the good news with someone. Each month, we determine how much of our income we give to His work and how much we spend on ourselves. Each week, we elect whether or not to attend the midweek meeting, or to pray for others, or to better study His word. The list goes on. Somethings we are specifically called to do; others are more discretionary. If a man is called to be a pastor, will he receive more reward for merely doing as the Lord told him? I think not. Yet if someone else, uncalled to pastoral ministry, offers pastoral support to another, perhaps then the Lord will bestow praise when he or she stands before Him.

‘Do it heartily’.

Urging us to serve heartily rather implies some do not. Service may be done grudgingly, out of mere ambition, or beneath the level of our ability. Paul tells Titus:

Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith (2:9-10, ESV)

and the Ephesians:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ. (6:5, ESV)

The passages have little to do with heavenly reward, but they illustrate the imperative for Christian slaves to serve heartily rather than insincerely. Though they technically deserved no reward, for they merely did what was commanded of them, they were still to do it well. Their heavenly Master, if not their earthly masters, would see this and reward them for their diligence. So we too, the slaves of Christ, must serve him, but heartily, cheerfully and faithfully.

Yet this must be weighed against what the Lord taught in Luke 17:

“And which of you, having a servant ploughing 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.’ ”

Believing the gospel is no act of service, it is obeying a command. Likewise, remaining faithful is a command not some de-lux option. Therefore, there is no reward for becoming a Christian nor for remaining one, although the glories of heaven are certainly to be enjoyed and relished.Furthermore, some acts of service are required of the believer. ‘Be holy’. ‘Pray without ceasing’. ‘Honour your father and mother’. For obeying such, we must expect nothing. Yet it is possible for the servant described in Luke to do more than he was asked. He might prepare some special food for the master, or plough more land than was required, rising earlier or working through his lunchtime. So are rewarded or not, when scripture seems to answer both yesand no?

The puritan Edmund Calamy the Elder (died 1666) suggests that the Christian who labours for Christ in order to obtain reward will receive less of it, whereas the one who labours for Christ's sake rather this his own, will receive more of it. This may bridge the paradox of the Master rewarding His servants for merely doing as He bids them. What we do, we do for His glory and His pleasure. This alone should be our aim; the business of receving additional praise is a matter we leave to Him, while expecting nothing at all. Paul tells the Ephesians in 2:10:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

If the Lord has tasks for me to complete, may I correctly identify them, do them, and do them well, with sincerity and joy. Indeed, my entire life should be consecrated to God’s use and glory:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1).


Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay