Rewards and Blessings
“I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” (1st Corinthians 3:6-8)
It is impossible to review the subject of rewards without an additional deliberation of blessings, for as different as the words appear in the Scriptures, many use the terms interchangeably. The two words stand as opposites in their proper use, as may be seen from the following definitions:
1. something given in return for good or, sometimes, evil, or for service or merit. Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, 1984.
1. The act or prayer of one who blesses; invocation or benediction. 2. A grace said before or after eating. 3. the gift of divine favour. Webster.
While these two dictionary definitions reflect their everyday application by English speaking people, the definition of reward is not reflective of how the word is often used in Scriptures. It is our design to give from those Scriptures the manner the Lord used the word.
We are not prepared to undertake a comprehensive study of this entire topic, enlightening as it might be. Rather, we will furnish what is the customary way the words are used throughout the Bible. Neither are we prepared to deny the subject is void of difficulties; especially in the words of our Lord during His earthly ministry. An example of this is found in what is commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) In the 11th verse the disciples were pronounced (already) blessed; whereas in the 12th they were directed to anticipate a great reward in heaven. Even a casual glance at this text reveals the Lord’s intent. He spoke of a future reward. From the context it is clear there was nothing the disciples had done, either to be blessed, or as a basis to anticipate this reward in heaven. All was, on their part, circumstantial, both as it involved the revilings of their enemies and the good favor of the Lord. We leave this example for the moment.
First and Last Usage
The first usage.
Bible students often exercise what is termed the “law of first and last usage.” We have ourselves occasionally found it extremely useful, and never more so than in the study of rewards and blessings. As might be expected, the first use of reward is found in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. “After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and exceeding great reward.” (Genesis 15:1)
“After these things” refers to Abram delivering his nephew Lot, slaying the kings of the plains, and his refusal to accept offerings from the king of Sodom lest he should say, “I have made Abram rich.” (Genesis 14:23) We give specific notice to the pronouncement God made to Abram that He, God, was his “exceeding great reward.” These words are simple, sublime, and profound; they are also vital in understanding how our sovereign God intended the word, reward to be used.
Adjectives classified as superlatives are often thrown about by writers and speakers in exaggerated tones to embellish a statement. Accuracy often fails them. Not so with our God! His every word is eternally precise, and means exactly what He designs to communicate. With God there is no ambiguity. Neither is there excess. Just so did He acquaint Abram in regard to his reward. “I am thy shield, and exceeding great reward.” Abram would have a reward; not for any effort, work, accrued merit, or service, but because God was pleased to reward him. Abram’s reward was exceeding, and it was great. What, we ask, made Abram’s reward so exceeding, and so great? God Himself! I am thy exceeding great reward. Here, in our application of first usage, the reward of Abram is not a “what,” but a “Who.” God, in His unfailing presence with the father of the faithful, (Romans 4:12) was Abram’s reward. I am was the reward! It cannot be overstated; the Person of God was the reward of Abram. We doubt that many Arminians will hasten to assert that Abram accrued, earned, labored for, served for, or was owed the Person of God as his reward.
“And Abram said, LORD God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:2) Without attempting a protracted digression, we mention two points in the question-response of Abram. First; he inquired what God would “give” him, suggesting Abram at this point was not fully aware of the enormity of God’s being his reward rather than God’s giving him a reward; and second, Abram pointed out he was as yet childless with no discernible possibility of the circumstances changing. There must have been in the mind of the old pilgrim the earlier revelation from God to him regarding his seed and inheritance in Genesis 13:14-17, and previous to that in Genesis 12:1-3. Nevertheless, in viewing the first use of the word, reward in the Old Testament it is abundantly obvious how our God first used the word. We now have a basis for understanding the word elsewhere in the Scriptures.
This brings us to the first use of reward in the New Testament, which is also the first time the Lord Jesus Christ used the word. It is found, not surprisingly, in the text we previously quoted from the Sermon on the Mount. “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:12) We italicized three words in the text, exceeding, great, and reward. Surely, this is not a coincidence! Thousands of other words could have conveyed the same message, but they were not used. These are precisely the same words Jehovah used in speaking to Abram. It cannot be doubted by those that believe in the inspiration of the Bible – our Saviour, and His Father, speaking centuries apart, were addressing strictly the same thought. God the Father and God the Son were both imparting to the saints the same doctrine; the eternal I AM is the exceeding great reward of the blessed family.
The last usage.
A brief view of the last use of the word, reward, in Scriptures is also essential. It gives us a conclusion to the framework of interpretation begun in Genesis 1:1. “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” (Revelation 22:11-12) Strangely, the disciples of the works system will passionately argue for verse 12 as proof of their “pay for service rendered” position. Not in a million worlds, nor in several eternities, shall the Lord’s final expression on rewards fit the scheme of workmongers. We propose why from the text.
Observe; there was no last minute effort by the Lord to persuade the unjust. “Let him be unjust still” was His grave declaration. Neither did He adjure the filthy to wash in the pure river of the water of life. To the filthy He says, “let them be filthy still.”
From the other side of the scales of eternal justice came the declaration that the holy and the righteous would remain as they were. We ask, how did each company, on either side of the scales, become what they would finally be? Inquiring from the principle of first causes, did the unjust and the filthy become so because their works were evil, not meriting a good reward? On the basis of the same rule, did the holy and the righteous become holy and righteous because their works demanded a suitable reward? The answer is no in both cases; an emphatic and firm no! Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, furnishes us with the reason. “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth.” (Romans 9:11) Our adversaries may argue that Paul spoke of eternal salvation, not of the benefits of that salvation collected in time. This is a half true, but half-truths are also half-lies. The full truth is, those chosen as vessels of mercy bring forth fruit after their kind resulting from a spiritual birth. Those fruits never spring forth by creature effort or fleshly labor; they are the certain results of God working in us, not us working in God. There is a difference!
Consider next the reprobate. Chosen vessels of wrath, they only bring fruit after their kind, and after their natural birth. It is the only birth they have. To illustrate, we ask, why does a person lie? Is it to become a liar, or because he is a liar? The answer is obvious. Two of the Lord’s illustrations demonstrate why fruit is brought forth after its kind. First, “The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.” (John 10:13) The hireling does not become a hireling by fleeing; he flees because he is a hireling. Second; “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.” (John 10:26) In verse 13 the illustration is a positive lesson. The individual was a hireling, and consequently he acted as a hireling. In verse 26 the illustration portrayed a negative thought. Those addressed did not believe because they were not sheep. The manifest lesson is, sheep do believe because they are sheep; it is their nature. They bring forth the fruit of believing after their kind.
All this has significant relevance to the subject of rewards. The unjust, the filthy, the liar, the hireling, and those not His sheep will be rewarded, not for what they did, but for what they are (and ever have been). Their deeds are but a manifestation of their nature. Their works, in this instance all wicked, are just so many fruits from a corrupt tree. “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” (Matthew 7:16-18) Is not eternal certainty stamped upon this text?
Returning to the last use of the word, reward as found in Revelation 22:12, we shall anticipate the howl of duty-mongers. “Jesus promised to reward both the good and the bad for their works,” they will insist. If the text said “for their works” the duty-mongers might have some meager complaint. That is not what Jesus said, however. This is what He said: “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” It is our conviction Jesus is referring to His coming at the end of the world, but no matter, if then or at some other period, the message is the same; “My reward is with me.”
Are words meaningful? Let us see. Jesus did not say, “Your reward is with me,” but “My reward is with me.” The difference between my and your is as broad as night and day, heaven and hell, and God and man. There can be no misunderstanding here; the reward with Jesus was His, and His alone. His solemn enunciation reminds us of what He said in a familiar parable. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good.” (Matthew 20:15)
Language related to that found in Revelation 22:12 is used by the prophet Isaiah. “…Behold, thy salvation cometh: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.” (Isaiah 62:11) When comparing the two texts we are persuaded to conclude the Lord meant strictly what He said in the phrase, “My reward is with me.” God the Father had given all authority to Jesus to reward both sheep and goats according to their standing – either in or out of the everlasting covenant. The works of the wicked did not produce their reprobation; their reprobation gives rise to their works. Conversely, good works by God’s children do not cause their election; their election occasioned their good works. Conclusively then, all humanity is rewarded on the basis of their eternal calling.
Finally, in Revelation 22:12 Jesus said, “…to give to every man according as his work shall be.” Conditionalists and assorted other Arminian expositors would no doubt rejoice if the language was, “to give to every man according as he worked,” but that is not what the text says. What our Lord gives is determined by “as his work shall be.” No plural works here. Nothing is mentioned about how one’s work was. Just, “as his work shall be.” The only standard is, of what sort is the work? Does it flow from carnal nature on the one hand, or from Christ working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure on the other hand? Simply put, the sins will not be weighed, but the sinners. Are they redeemed sinners? If so, their work will be according to their redemption, and they will be everlastingly with Him, Jesus; for He is their God and His reward is with Him. Are they unredeemed sinners? If so, their work will be despised by God, and they will hear the solemn sentence, “Depart from me ye cursed.” Their reward will be, they are without Him. Surely, “His reward is with Him.” If one is a child of God, and if all Christ possesses belongs to His family, then what is His reward is their reward also. His reward is with Him, so the children will also find their reward with Him. This is a fair analysis of the first and last use of the term, reward, as found in the Scriptures.
I CORINTHIANS, CHAPTER 3.
We return to the text at the heading, and those corresponding verses in I Corinthians 3. By recognizing the first and last use of the word reward there is now a basis for analyzing this, and all other texts, that pertain to the subject, for there are no contradictions in the Word of God.
“I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” Did Paul claim he became a planter because he planted? No; he planted because he was called by God to be a planter, thus he planted. Even so, Apollos watered, not to become a waterer, but because God called him to be a waterer. In both cases God gave the increase. What reward could Paul claim for planting? A planter’s reward only. And what of Apollos? The same must be said for him. His was a waterer’s reward. Neither dare boast, for the increase was God’s.
Paul was not likely to suggest that had he not planted, Apollos could not collect a reward, for there would otherwise have been nothing for him to water. Nor could Apollos retort that had he not watered, Paul’s planting would have gone to waste, for in both instances all the praise and glory must go to the Giver of increases.
Paul amplifies further: “So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” Here it is reiterated; God gives the increase. How humbling this is! Whether Paul, Apollos, or us; we are all nothing. If then, we are nothing as regards planting, watering, or any other service, who can dare claim a reward due them for service rendered by a nothing? This is substantially the same the Lord previously stated in the following: “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10) As unprofitable servants, we add nothing to the greatness of God by our duties. There simply is no benefit derived by God from our doing what He has commanded. We profit Him nothing.
It must be remembered, God is sufficiently satisfied by the work of Christ in our behalf, and we cannot improve on His perfect service, or God’s perfect satisfaction, supposing we could claim some additional benefits. But – there is a reward, and Paul says it is our own. Is this double-talk? Not at all! “Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” (I Corinthians 3:8) We know of no possible way for Paul and Apollos or others to be one, except as they be one in and with Christ; all other suggested ways would prove impossible. Paul is called, in and with Christ, to plant. Apollos is called, in and with Christ, to water. “Without Him we (they) can do nothing.”
The use of the word, reward in this text is in perfect harmony with its use from first to last in the Bible. Paul next told the Corinthians, “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.” (I Corinthians 3:9) The text contains two clauses of considerable importance. The first; “we are” and the second; “ye are.” Paul and Apollos were the “we are” and the Corinthians were the “ye are.” In the first instance Paul and Apollos were labourers with God, and in the second instance the Corinthians were God’s property with which the labor was performed. They were the husbandry and building. Paul, as a wise masterbuilder, had planted (laid) the foundation, which is Jesus Christ, and Apollos had watered, (built thereon) according to the grace of God (I Corinthians 3:10-11).
To summarize; God was all; the Increaser. Paul and Apollos were nothing; called to plant and water only. Paul and Apollos were labourers with God; thus a union of nothing with Omnipotence. The Corinthians? They were branches in the vine; husbandry of God. They were lively stones of “…the building fitly framed together (that) groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:21)
The rewards then? Paul said nothing of rewards being tangible or material in nature, or their being mere superficial trinkets, doled out in time by God to those who could demand payment of Him for creature efforts. They are of the same value as the reward Jehovah spoke of to Abram. They are the same as that which Jesus first spoke. Conclusively, being labourers with God, and being builded together with God was respectively their reward. Who could possibly want more than this?
Finally, Paul spoke of every man’s work being tried by fire, to ascertain “of what sort it is.” If it flowed from a heavenly calling, as gold, silver, precious stone, it would abide. The labourer would receive a reward; the same reward Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5. They would receive a great reward in heaven; everlasting joy in the presence of Him who said, “I am thy exceeding great reward.”
We stress again, only a heavenly calling can exhibit abiding works and be reckoned worthy of a great reward in heaven. And – a heavenly calling must, by divine ordination, end in a heavenly reward, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
“If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved: yet so as by fire.” (I Corinthians 3:15) This text has proved difficult to some. It should not, however, when examined in the light of the context. The man whose work shall be burned is the same man mentioned in verses 12, 13, and 14, not some entirely different man. In verse 12 the same man was involved in building with gold, silver, precious stone, wood, hay, stubble; all of them. In verse 13 this same man’s works would be tried by fire to determine “of what sort it is” whether perishable or lasting; whether of heavenly origin or fleshly. In verse 14 the man was given assurance the works of heaven’s origin would abide and he would receive his reward. In verse 15 this same man would see all his fleshly works finally burned. He would suffer loss, not of his final reward which is his oneness with God, but loss of all his wood, hay, and stubble efforts. We recommend strongly for the reader to give serious consideration to Paul’s expression regarding the “loss of all things that he might be found in Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-14)
This same man was told his heavenly-sponsored works would abide, and he would receive his reward. He was then apprised of his losses. “He himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” If, as we have contended, this was the same man in each of these verses, then, he, having been assured of his great reward in verse 14, needed not to grieve himself that there was a possibility of losing the reward God purposed for him. God would not give this man a great reward for building wood, hay, or stubble. He would not lose a reward for labors God does not reward. In light of Romans 8:28 and similar verses, his loss was really gain, for he was rid of that which was worthless, and he shall finally be saved at the last. All by pure, free grace, we add.
MATTHEW, CHAPTER 6.
What we have covered thus far regarding rewards applies only to God’s elect family. There is another reward found in the Bible – just the opposite of the great reward of the saints of the most High. It is the reward of the hypocrites. As the Lord described the hypocrite’s reward He contrasted it with the reward of His little children. “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Matthew 6:2) This same admonition is given in verse 5 regarding prayer, and again in verse 16 regarding fasting. In each case those hypocrites, loving to do alms, to pray, and to fast, do so to be seen of men. “They have their reward” is solemnly pronounced in each instance. Pride, vanity and self-satisfaction were indelibly stamped upon their conduct. All that those hypocrites – ancestors of our current crop of Arminians – could wish for was to be looked upon as holy; not for what God was to them, but for what they perceived themselves to be because of their works before men. Christ did not own them, He rather condemned them. “They have their reward.” Their reward is their own, spun from their own vile bowels. They will never hear the blessed words, “I am thy exceeding great reward,” nor do they desire to. They have their reward. God is not with them, for He is not their reward. They stand alone; naked and blind in a delusion that they have obligated God to pay them handsomely for their doing. They have their reward!
“The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.” (Psalm 25:14) At the same time the Saviour condemned the hypocrites, He directed His disciples to practice alms, prayer and fasting in secret. Only those that fear God, and have no love of self, can enter this secret practice. All others will follow the damnable course of the hypocrite. To those fearful disciples the Lord promised to reward them openly. He shall clothe them with Himself; He shall never leave them nor forsake them. And, we add, not a one of them will ever dream of giving alms, praying or fasting to earn a reward. God is their exceeding great reward.
Other texts might be examined, but sufficient has been shown to establish how reward is used in the Scriptures.
There are those who contend that blessings can be earned by God’s children. This is substantially the same idea as earning rewards, but it is so far removed from any Bible teaching to support it that we shall pass it by without any dispute. Blessings are those benefits freely given us by God, as He pleases.
We offer only one text on the subject of blessings, for we are satisfied it is so clear and free of ambiguities that others shall not be necessary. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love; Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” (Ephesians 1:3-5)
“Who hath blessed us.” This clearly establishes that God has already, in time past, blessed us. These blessings originated in eternity past, before we had our physical being; thus they could not be contingent on anything other that the perfect will of God.
“With all spiritual blessings.” All the blessings we shall ever receive are enumerated in the word, all. They are all “spiritual.” Absolutely none of them are of the fleshly sort. From first to last, the blessings of God to us flow from a spiritual fountain.
“In heavenly places in Christ.” Heavenly places are where Christ and His brethren are united as one, whether in the actual heaven above, the church in time, or anywhere else, the Lord and His brethren are in union. In this instance the elect were blessed with all spiritual blessings as they had union, in and with Him, in the heavenly presence of God before the world began. They were in Christ as His seed, thus they were blessed there; fully and completely.
God did not leave us to wonder about this. He gives a positive basis for His blessing the elect as He did. It is found in the word, according. “According as He hath chosen us in Him.” There can be no doubt, the blessings of God to His children are tied to their election, and nothing else. The children were chosen, not to get in Him, but in Him. On this distinction hangs all the difference between the Arminian plot and God’s eternal truth. And so, if we are His, we have every blessing deemed needful by God for us in Christ, to be manifested to us at the appointed times and places. Others may want a plan more suited to free-will, but for us this is a joyous doctrine. Blessed in Christ by the Father from all eternity.
There are many other points related to the subject of rewards and blessings worthy of time and space, but we conclude with such as we have given. May the Lord provide sufficient light as pleases Him.