Due to the delicacy of such a topic and ramifications thereof, I have to once again urge readers to not begin your inquiry at part III of this series, but rather to go back and read parts I and II if you are truly interested: The Reward and Punishment of Believers (I), The Reward and Punishment of Believers (II).
Striving to Gain the Reward
“Do you not know that those who run on a racecourse all run, but one receives the prize? Run in this way, that you may lay hold. And everyone who contends exercises self-control in all things; they then, that they may receive a corruptible crown, but we, an incorruptible. I therefore run in this way, not as though without a clear aim; I box in this way, not as though beating the air; But I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest perhaps having preached to others, I myself may become disapproved.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
“I have fought the good fight; I have finished the course; I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, with which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will recompense me in that day, and not only me but also all those who have loved His appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8
As an interpretation, I will simply remark that Paul did not say here “I have obtained eternal life, so now I live for God and work for His because I love Him and He loved me. My prize is heaven and it is secure.” He has a clear emphasis on a goal not yet obtained at the time of his writing to the believers in Corinth, but secure by the writing of his last epistle before his death to Timothy.
Many believers fear discussion of reward due to the selfish motivation it produces in those who work to obtain it. This is a grave mistake and is a claim that one’s judgement surpasses that of God’s. If the Lord allows there to be an incentive (why He does so is for another discussion, but that He does is clear in Scripture) for a believer to labor, then let all the Lord’s children know and be motivated by such! How dare we claim to know better!
Reward According to Work-Not Faith
“For the Son of Man is to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will repay each man according to his doings.” Matthew 16:27
“Behold, I come quickly, and My reward is with Me to render to each one as his work is.” Revelation 22:12
It is by faith that we obtain eternal salvation, having nothing to do with our works (Eph. 2:8-9). Yet, there is a judgement for believers not according to grace, but rather according to works (2 Cor. 5:10). This is the matter that we’ve been considering and that has been neglected in mainstream protestantism.
Reward for Work
Now we need to turn our attention to the second parable in Matthew 25:
“For the kingdom of the heavens is just like a man about to go abroad, who called his own slaves and delivered to them his possessions. To one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability. And he went abroad. Immediately he who had received the five talents went and traded with them and gained another five. Similarly, he who had received the two gained another two. But he who had received the one went off and dug in the earth and his his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came and brought another five talents, saying, Master, you delivered to me five talents; behold, I have gained another five talents. His master said to him, Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful over a few things; I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your master.” Matthew 25:14-21
As a short interpretation, let it be known that these are undoubtedly believers, both the faithful and foolish. Using the principle of scripture interpreting scripture, we can see that “slaves” must denote believers (1 Cor. 7:22-23; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jms. 1:1; Rm. 1:1), who have spiritual gifts signified by the talents (Rm. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:4; 1 Pet. 4:10; 2 Tim. 1:6). The believers using their God given gifts (not natural abilities, which are only the ground for the talents given) represent the faithful stewardship of the grace of God. The Master coming back is the Lord’s returning (1 Thes. 4:16), and settling accounts is the Lord’s judging His believers (2 Cor. 5:10; Rm. 14:10).
God has given us a deposit, namely His Spirit. Last post I wrote about the need to be filled with more of the Spirit, represented by the oil in the parable preceding this one, as a qualification for entering the kingdom reward (also denoted as a wedding feast or “the joy of your master” here). In this parable we see the other qualification of stewardship.
The Spirit is not only something that we need to gain more of, but is also what we have become ministers of (2 Cor. 3:6). In case you are not aware, all who have received Jesus into them are qualified and charged to be priests, bringing God to man and man to God (1 Pet. 2:5,9) (More to come on that in later posts). I am sick and tired of the question “are you gonna be a minister one day?” This is an erroneous concept. We are all suppose to be ministers, “ministers of the Spirit.”
The Lord judges us not based on our following the law or our “doing good,” but rather according to the amount of oil in our vessels and according to our faithfulness as stewards:
“…the stewardship of the grace of God which was given to me for you” Ephesians 3:2
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ…For the perfecting of the saints unto the work of the ministry, unto the building up of the Body of Christ” Ephesians 4:7-12
“A man should account us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Here, furthermore, it is sought in stewards that one be found faithful…So then do not judge anything before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and make manifest the counsels of the hearts, and then there will be praise to each from God. 1 Cor. 4:1-5
“For if I preach the gospel, I have no boast, for necessity is laid upon me; for woe to me if I do not preach the gospel. If I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a stewardship.” 1 Cor. 9:16-17
I’m nowhere near the exhaustion of this topic, for there is much more in the parables of Matthew and in the Epistles concerning the kingdom reward, but I will have to go ahead and move on to the punishment of the foolish and unfaithful in my next post.
Always keep in mind what was said in the first part of this series: we are saved by grace through faith via regeneration, and that is an eternally secure deposit (Eph. 2:8-9; Jn. 3-6; 10:28). What is being discussed is a temporary or dispensational reward and punishment of believers according to our living on earth today. God is both gracious and righteous.
“But without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to Him, for he who comes forward to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6