/Wednesday, April 20, 2022
God wants to reward us for partnering in mission with Him
Why don’t we think or teach about eternal rewards anymore?
I was raised by a generation that believed in eternal rewards, and I’ve been motivated my whole life by my desire to hear Jesus say: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful with a few things; I’ll now put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”1
I see several factors that contribute to our indifference.
Our Safety & Comfort
First, we live in one of the safest, wealthiest, and most privileged societies in history, so we’re just not confronted daily by death and eternity.
The health care, security, economic stability, competent governance, prosperity, efficiencies, and comfort that our great-grandparents dreamed of have become “normal” in our worldview. But that’s not even the case for most of humanity today. In fact, a Canadian couple with a combined after-tax income of $30,000 is richer than 85% of the world’s population2
The first Christians lived in a very different world. Their average life expectancy was 35-42 years, so they longed for Jesus to return and eliminate sin, hunger, illness, violence, injustice, and grief. That “great hope” empowered them to thrive despite the uncertainty of daily survival and to spread the Gospel under intense persecution.
Have you ever visited a major art museum? If so, you might have noticed a somewhat macabre element in many works of art dating from antiquity up to the late 1800’s. Painters often juxtaposed human skulls with flowers3 to symbolize the ephemerality of life (Isaiah 4:6-8) or jumbled them casually among everyday objects to illustrate the omnipresence of death. The subjects of many portraits are even depicted with a hand resting upon a human skull as if it were a favourite book! These memento mori weren’t some mad designer’s trick for tying a home décor together, but an invitation to reflect on our mortality and the eternal consequences of choices we make in this lifetime.
But because of our unparalleled safety and comfort, we rarely think about - let alone plan- for eternity.
Self-Realization & Temporal Blessing
A second factor is a cultural theology that’s overwhelmingly focused on self-realization and temporal blessing.
North American ministries that teach budgeting, getting out of debt, and saving for retirement all offer solid life principles, but their focus essentially boils down to “Avoid debt. Tithe. Save like crazy. And have more fun when you’re retired”.
American preacher and writer John Bevere had his worldview shaken while speaking at a conference in Brazil.4 He learned that the movement had grown from one family to 300,000 people in 16 years and asked the leaders what church growth model they followed. One man answered that they didn’t follow a program. He’d preached in many American churches and discovered that American Christians only think, plan and live in terms of 70-90 years. We focus on enjoying the present and saving for a 20 to 30-year retirement, but their Brazilian movement teaches believers to live from a billion-year perspective. People with the judgment seat of Christ in view defer more pleasure, endure difficulty with greater courage, and invest themselves more fully in obeying the Lord. Their focus is on pleasing Him and receiving His rewards.
In other words, that movement’s financial stewardship plan boils down to “Avoid unnecessary debt. Spend what you need to live instead of living to spend. Invest your abilities, gifts and money in eternal things knowing you’ll give an account to Christ. Plan for the billions of years to come”.
They sound a lot like Jesus, don’t they?5
We think it’s foolish not to save for retirement, but it’s infinitely more foolish not to plan for the billions of years that will follow this brief journey. I now tell believers that while Jesus is preparing a forever home for each of us, we should imagine Him building it using the eternal materials we send to Him.6
Value & Ambition
Third, we’re deeply influenced by our culture’s thinking
Canada’s post-Christian culture still affirms (at least verbally) that humans have inherent dignity and worth, but there’s a growing belief that every person deserves equal financial compensation regardless the efforts or sacrifices they make. That’s an understandable reaction to the gross injustices that many are subjected to and the abuses of power committed by many who hold it, but it’s false to apply that to God’s perfect economy and rewards.
The Lord assigns intrinsic value to every person, but He also assigns dignity and value to human work, even saying that able people who refuse to work shouldn’t expect to share in the rewards of those who do.7 That’s why Jesus repeatedly tells us that every believer will be rewarded (or reproved) for how we use the opportunities, giftings and resources that the Father has entrusted to us in this life.
The account of James and John asking Jesus for positions of authority and power in His kingdom changed my thinking on eternal rewards. Why? Because Jesus 8 didn’t disapprove of their ambition! Instead, He implicitly gave legitimacy to their desire by explaining that the path to greatness in God’s Kingdom requires we do the polar opposite of what becoming great in the world’s eyes involves.
Jesus personally modeled holy ambition by emptying Himself of entitlement9, laying down His life for others, and setting His eyes on an eternal prize10. Paul, too, embodied a holy ambition to take salvation to the unreached11, pour out his life as a love offering, and obtain the crown12 the Lord was reserving for him.
Today, we admire ambition in the spheres of sports or career but are uncomfortable with the idea of eternal ambition. In other words, we’re capitalistic in our view of earthly rewards, but bizarrely communistic in our attitude toward eternal rewards.
God created us for mission, and His greatest rewards are attached to that mission
Here’s a metaphor that came to me last summer. Imagine that you hire an electrician to do some major repairs in your house. You need to go to work yourself, so you leave a house key with them. On your return, you find that your $100/per hour electrician has made a fabulous supper and even done the laundry…but they’ve not done the electrical work. What would be your reaction?
Well, because you’re a gracious person and he/she did do some good things, you might invite them to stay for supper. But I’m pretty sure you’ll send them home without the $700 dollars you intended to pay them13. Why? Because they didn’t do what you had explicitly told them to do.
The Lord, in His graciousness, will reward us for spontaneous acts of love done in His name14 and extravagant acts of worship15. But the greatest rewards, the authority and crown that He really, really wants to give us, are inextricably linked to doing what He told us to do.
As Simply Mobilizing highlights in the Word, God made us for His mission, prepared works beforehand for us to do on mission, entrusted us with the gifts, resources, and power to carry out His mission, commissioned us to His mission, and will reward us for our participation in His mission. Eternal rewards matter!
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Bruce Lungren works with Simply Mobilizing as a head facilitator in Canada and the francophone world. He and Lauren are global workers with the Apostolic Church of Pentecost of Canada, catalyzing French and English-speaking churches for God’s mission. They first served in Burkina Faso where Bruce grew up, and then in northern France. They’ve been based in Quebec since 2011.
2 How Rich Am I? | Giving What We Can
3 david_bailly_vanitas16511.jpg (2198×1615) (faena.com)
4 John Bevere - Driven By Eternity - Bing video
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