By Randy Limbird
Every time I hear an interview with someone nominated for a top award, whether its’s an Oscar, a Heisman Trophy or a Nobel Prize, that person will say something like, “It’s an honor just to be nominated.”
Most of the time I just chuckle to myself and assume that the person will be crushed if they don’t win. But after studying what the Bible says about heavenly rewards, I realized that in God’s gala awards ceremony, everyone will be happy no matter who gets what.
The concept of heavenly rewards has been swept under the carpet by most contemporary Christian teaching, which tends to focus on salvation by faith. The “born again” emphasis treats good works as just the icing on the cake of belief. Belief is viewed as what gets you past the pearly gates, so all else pales in comparison.
This past year my church has focused on the “Red Letters,” the actual words spoken by Jesus as passed on to us by his disciples. I occasionally teach at the Sunday morning service, and my topic coming up in early November is on “heavenly rewards.” What surprised me was that Jesus taught a lot more about good works and rewards than about salvation itself.
In Jesus’ earliest sermon in Matthew — at the end of the Beatitudes in Chapter 5 — Jesus talks about the “reward in heaven” that awaits those who suffer persecution in Jesus’ name. I found many more references to rewards in heaven and rewards from the Father throughout the gospels. Then in the final chapter of the New Testament, Revelation 22:12, the triumphant Jesus announces, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.”
I can’t say that I figured out completely what heavenly rewards are, but my study pointed in some directions. Not all “heavenly rewards” are postponed until the next life. God intends all of us to experience some degree of heaven even now, and along with that, to receive the rewards of spiritual gifts and opportunities to use them. And while we may not think about rewards, God realizes that rewards can direct us and encourage us — just as any parent would use rewards to guide a child.
The Bible also teaches that every believer will be judged according to his or her works after this life — and that there are different levels of rewards. While some might cringe because this sounds like some will be praised and others condemned, that’s not what the Bible says. The “judgment” of believers is more like an awards ceremony in which everyone has reason to celebrate.
Ultimately, “heavenly rewards” are not about us, but about recognizing how God has worked in and through our lives, both as individuals and collectively. It’s often the case with any award that the winner realizes that he or she did not have as much to with deserving that prize as the people who helped them. So it is with whatever rewards we might receive in the life to come.
Randy Limbird is editor of
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