All of us like rewards. We use credit cards instead of debit cards because the rewards are higher. Because I travel a lot, I collect travel miles so my family can travel with me. Some of us compete in sports or contests, play games to win, and invest in the stock market. We often hope for a raise at work or a better position in our department. We also pursue the pleasure of relationships with people we enjoy.
What is the greatest reward you can think of? Is it a position, a possession, or a person?
If translated as a parallelism, God’s words to Abraham in Genesis 15:1 say, “I am your shield [I am] your very great reward” (1). This is a safe starting point for understanding good rewards. Anything God has is amazing and if we by faith say yes to being his children, we have access to everything God has and is.
There is a lot in the Bible about rewards. We can consider eternal rewards a long term investment strategy. Jesus is clear that we can get rewards for things we do now, or better rewards later. (Matthew 6:5-6, Matthew 16:27).
Jesus also says that even little things are rewarded: “For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward” (Mark 9:41). Jesus’ intent isn’t to categorize everything into a rewards system, but simply to say: God won’t forget you, he pays attention to even the little things through his familial love for his kids.
Paul would hesitate for us to lean too much toward a rewards-based system as everything in our world is dependent on the grace of God pursuing and reconciling us.
Several greek words are commonly used in the scriptures that we typically translate as reward. The most common are “misthos” or “apodimomi” or a combination of the two. Their meaning leans more towards a reward as a recompense for good or bad actions rather than denoting a sense of winning something (1). If you work out at a gym 4 days a week for a year, your body gets toned, your muscles get larger. Your reward is that you are in better physical condition.
Paul would hesitate for us to lean too much toward a rewards-based system as everything in our world is dependent on the grace of God pursuing and reconciling us. Based on this, “rewards” may not be great word to use. There are two things that help define a biblical concept of rewards-recompense:
The major objective of Jesus’ ministry was to restore us to a relationship with God. Other kingdom good works, signs & wonders etc. were secondary to this purpose.
The major price that was paid for humanity is Jesus’ life. God dying for us makes human beings in all their frailty and mess extremely valuable.
Interpreted, these two ideas mean:
Relationship with Father God is our highest reward.
Relationship with others is our other high-octane reward.
These two relational rewards are eternal in reach. They are better than anything religious people can imagine like mansions, gold streets or, 1,000-year long worship-jam-sessions. They are more valuable than a crown, a throne, and any kind of title or position.
When Jesus claims there is a reward in loving enemies, he is hoping we might win one as an eternal friend (Matthew 5:46). When he recommends we pray “in secret” that is so we focus on the person of God and not “spirituality” as our reward. (Matthew 6:5-6)
Faith is our first step into relationship with God and others. Maybe we could call this risk? Investing our love in God and people has real returns both now and when we cross through death and into our eternal purpose. Happy investing!
To learn more about God’s reward for loving our enemies, check out my 30-day prayer guide on this topic (click the link below). To receive my blog updates in your email you can sign up in the footer of this page.
(1) Mathews, K. A. (2005). Genesis 11:27–50:26 (Vol. 1B, p. 162). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.