Sermon: “The Reward of a Steward” (1 Corinthians 9:15-18)
Listen to the Sermon:
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. 1 Corinthians 1:1-18, ESV
This is the word of the Lord that is given to us in love this morning for our consideration and hearing through faith.
I hope as you’ve had Thanksgiving week, that in the midst of feasting and football and I’m informed that some people like to shop on this weekend. I hope that in the midst of everything that was happening you had a chance to reflect on what you are thankful for in life.
When we think of things that we are thankful for, maybe you were caught on the spot at Thanksgiving dinner. You hadn’t given it a whole lot of thought and the immediate things that pop to mind sometimes aren’t the biggest things we are thankful for. I have a son who if you ask him what he is thankful for, or at every chance to pray, he prays to thank God for the noodles he has eaten either on that day or on another day. Invariably he thinks about the most recent noodles he’s eaten and those are the things that he is most thankful for off the top of his head.
Sometimes we too think about the most fleeting pleasures in life; I’m glad I’m happy, I’m glad that things are going well for me right now. Perhaps if you had time to reflect, maybe if you gave some thought about how truly blessed we are in this life. I hope that you came to the realization that what we should be thankful for are not these temporary, fleeting, noodle like things, these gifts in life. As good as noodles are, and I’m a big noodle person myself, I hope that we remember that our true joy is only found in what is lasting. What lasts beyond one meal, one day, or one week or even one lifetime into eternity.
The more that we look at short term joys in the face, sometimes we can realize that short term joys can diminish and hinder what stands out and is offered in the gospel as our long-term joys. Some of the things that we are most immediately thankful for, if we give our lives to those things will cause us to hinder ourselves from receiving the fullness of joy that God wants to give us, not only in this life but in the life to come.
This is, in fact, the principle that Paul wants us to see in 1 Corinthians 9:15-18. I’m not going to say too much, I want this passage to unfold and explain itself as we go. Paul is writing very tightly. This is one of those passages whereas we are following his twists and turns, we have to pay very close attention and slow down. I want to just start with the big idea and then we will work our way through this text in verses fifteen through eighteen.
Our big idea today is this, It is better to be deprived of our rights than of Christ’s rewards.
The rights that we have, the things that we insist upon, this is my right, I know my rights. Those things, while they seem in the moment to be important, perhaps we are thankful that we have our rights. Paul sees those as short term, short lived, thin blessings for which perhaps we should be thankful for to some degree. If we insist upon those short-term rights, we are in danger of losing out on the long-term eternal reward that Jesus Christ offers to us.
Let’s get into what Paul is talking about as he lays this out. We are going to see three points this morning.
1. The Relinquishing of Our Rights
2. The Requirement to Preach the Gospel
3. The Rewards from Preaching Freely
The Relinquishing of Our Rights
This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to us about why we would want to relinquish our rights. However, Paul has something to say to us in verse fifteen. Now before we get into verse fifteen, I know that I read through the first fourteen verses of this chapter, but just a quick recap.
Paul, in the first fourteen verses of this chapter, made an extensive and complicated argument where he was on the one hand trying to defend his rights as an apostle, but on the other hand he wasn’t trying to make use of those rights. Which rights was he defending? In verses four and eleven through twelve he defended his right to be supported financially because of his work as an apostle.
In verse five he defended his right to take along a believing wife as an apostle. Then in verse six he declared his right to refrain from working bi-vocationally, or at another trade to support his own needs rather than being supported financially from his work as an apostle.
Those are the rights that he is talking about and he defends those rights on two levels. The first grounds he defends them on is that he is arguing from similar situations. He says look around at the world, you know this to be true. No solider, verse seven, serves at his own expense. No vineyard worker is denied some of the fruit. No one who tends the flock is denied from partaking of the milk. Then in verse thirteen, no temple worker is denied taking part in some of the sacrifices.
Additionally, and more persuasively, Paul argued from scripture. In verses eight through ten he cited the law of Moses. That law about not muzzling an ox. He says that the law is not for oxen to read, but for us to read. This is for us to read so that we recognize that God cares about taking care of people.
Also, in verse fourteen, Paul alluded to the words of the Lord Jesus, who insisted that the laborer is worth his wages.
Now in verse fifteen Paul wants to make sure we don’t in the least misunderstand his motives for saying all of this. So, he refers to the past, the present and to the future. To absolutely deny any desire for him to make use of these rights that he has just been defending in this passage.
First Paul talks about the past, what he has done up to this point. In verse fifteen he says,
15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 1 Corinthians 1:15, ESV
Paul, as we remember worked with his hands while he was in Corinth. In Acts 18:3 he made tents and sold those tents to support his own basic needs. As Paul mentioned earlier at the end of verse twelve, he said that he didn’t make use of his right but rather he endured anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of Jesus Christ.
Paul perceived that preaching in exchange for payment while he was in Corinth would put up a barrier that would hinder the advance of the gospel. Perhaps we get a sense of what Paul was concerned about in the next letter to the Corinthians. In 2 Corinthians 2:17 where Paul wrote,
17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. 2 Corinthians 2:17, ESV
He says I’m not doing this because I just want to sell you something. I’m doing this because I have a commission from God himself to speak in Christ before you. Because of this, while he was in Corinth, he willing relinquished his rights.
Paul then goes on in verse fifteen that even now, in the present he’s still not trying to make use of these rights, “nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision.” I mentioned this last week, but maybe you’ve seen this happen, but the person who feels that he needs a raise at his job, he takes some time and realizes he may only have one shot to plead his case before his boss. So, he writes down all the arguments, thinks about all the things he’s contributed to the company. He rehearses it in front of his wife and preparing all of this so that when he goes in before his boss, he hopefully gets the raise.
Paul is saying, that’s not why I made this argument. It’s not because I want something now. I still don’t want a raise in the work that I’m doing.
Then Paul goes on, and this is the most intriguing, at the end of verse fifteen Paul says, not only in the past, not only right now, but not ever in the future will I ever want to make use of these rights. Paul says that I would rather die, that is so strong, than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. This is strong, but it’s actually stronger in the original Greek. What our English translations smooths over is that Paul starts one sentence, breaks it off and then actually starts another sentence.
He’s saying I would rather die than! No one will deprive me of my ground for boasting! They are two different sentences; they don’t fit together grammatically. You can see Paul just sort of dictating this, then he stops himself in saying I can’t say that. So, he goes on and says no one will deprive me of my ground for boasting. Why is he so adamant about this? Why is this so important to him?
Paul isn’t only evaluating what he might gain. Of course, there’s something to gain. He could ask and the Corinthians would probably support him financially. He’s not only looking at what he might gain from these rights. He’s also evaluating what he might lose. Specifically, he’s evaluating that he might lose his ground for boasting.
We might look at that and say, Paul Christians don’t boast.
Paul has actually said the same think earlier in the same letter. Look at 1 Corinthians 1:28-31 where Paul already talked about boasting, or your translation may say glorying.
28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:28-31, ESV
If you are boasting in your strengths, in your wisdom, in yourself, that’s the boasting that God entirely excludes in his presence. Then Paul goes on to talk about a good boasting. What Paul is saying here is that there is certainly a bad boasting, but there is a good kind of boasting. There’s a kind of boasting that God delights in. Paul isn’t directly quoting this passage, but he is alluding to it, it’s from Jeremiah 9:23-24.
23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:23-24, ESV
The Lord delights not when we stand up in front of him and puff our chests up and say aren’t, I amazing Lord? Rather the Lord delights in what we have been doing this morning; with worshiping him and boasting in his wisdom, power strength and might.
Our boast is not in us, it’s not in the ministries that we perform. Our boasting is that while we were weak and sinful, while we were dead in our sins and trespasses that God loved us so much that the creator of heaven and earth, who could send us righteously to hell for all eternity, because we deserve it. Instead he sent his only son into this world to suffer hell on the cross for us. That’s something to boast in. Not in us, but in the wisdom and the power and the strength of God revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Paul, in some way and he doesn’t clarify it yet, we need to keep studying this passage, Paul insists that somehow, he would lose his ground for boasting in this if he took financial support. He’s adamant that he doesn’t want to relinquish this right because he would lose this ground for boasting. But what would he lose? It doesn’t totally make sense. What does he mean by losing his ground for boasting?
The Requirement to Preach the Gospel
16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 1 Corinthians 1:16-17, ESV
Paul is saying just because he preaches, there’s nothing in that that gives him ground for boasting. Why is that? He goes on to explain a little bit more. What Paul means by “For necessity is laid upon me.” is something a little bit more than we mean when we say we feel this internal compulsion. He means that, but he means more than that.
Think about the story of Paul. He wasn’t just an ordinary guy who went to seminary and trained and then was called by a church to pastor a church. When Paul was called into the ministry do you remember what he was on his way to do? He was on the road to Damascus to persecute and murder more Christians. He wanted to arrest them to cast them into prison, and hopefully eventually according to his plans, they would be stoned to death.
Instead what happened? He wasn’t the arrestor, he was the one who was arrested by the one who was murdered by his people, by the Lord Jesus Christ who appeared to him and said, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?”
The Lord Jesus appeared to him, called him, stopped him from what he was doing and sent him as a directly commissioned apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Other normal ministers and pastors don’t have that story. Paul is unique in this. Because he was commissioned directly by the crucified, resurrected, glorified Jesus Christ, he’s saying I don’t have a choice about this. This isn’t me choosing a career path. I didn’t take a personality test and get on a certain direction in life. Jesus called me to this, and I don’t have a choice. I am the bondservant of Christ; necessity is laid upon me.
At the beginning of this chapter Paul said, “Am I not free?” Now Paul is saying, as David Garland points out in his commentary, there is a sense in which Paul is not free. He is not free to not preach the gospel. Certainly, he might be free to eat meat, take a believing wife, these sorts of things. He is free in that sense, but he is not free not to preach the gospel. He is the slave of Christ who must do his master’s bidding.
He says more than this, he says, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” Okay, necessity is laid upon me, but what if I don’t, you might hear him ask. It’s not even worth considering. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel. Slaves were not permitted to refuse the command of their master.
As one commentator points out, you might think about the parable of the talents from Matthew 25 when each of these slaves are given a talent, a weight of a precious metal or jewel. They were supposed to use and invest until the master returned. Two of them did that. One had five talents and invested it and gained five talents more. One had three talents and invested that and gained three talents more. The other one was given one talent and that person did nothing with it.
It wasn’t just that the master was not pleased, the master cursed him. At the end of it he said, “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This is how Paul understands his own position. If he disobeys the direct call, he has received from Christ he will be putting his soul in eternal danger. Woe to him if he does not preach the gospel. It’s not like he could earn something by it. But if her refuses directly what the master commands him to do, what hope does he stand?
Well if this is true, if necessity is laid upon him, woe to him if he doesn’t preach the gospel, how could he boast about preaching? What is there to boast about? Paul goes on in verse seventeen to tell us a little bit more about what he means. Paul draws a distinction between willingly of his own will and preaching unwillingly.
17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 1 Corinthians 1:17, ESV
Now, we are going to need to figure out what that reward is. That’s the critical issue in this passage. We need to look first at what Paul says in the second half of verse seventeen. Again, verse sixteen he is under necessity and would put his soul in jeopardy, but now in verse seventeen he tells us something else. Even if he doesn’t want to do this, it doesn’t matter at all. He has a stewardship.
Paul as talked about himself as a steward in 1 Corinthians 4:1
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 1 Corinthians 4:1, ESV
That word for servant, that is an idea of an under-rower. Someone who is in the lower gallies of a slave ship and you have one job, just keep rowing. That’s all you can do; you have one call and you cannot do anything else. Woe to you if you don’t row.
The next thing that Paul says is that ministers are stewards of the mysteries of God. In those days they had slave who weren’t just under-rowers, Paul says in terms of his ability to add input into what he was doing, he has the lowest level as a servant of Christ, but, he’s also a steward.
That is as an apostle he has some kind of managerial authority in the household. A steward was someone who had the keys to unlock the storehouses of provisions for the household. The steward was the one who could open the food and supplies and feed and provide for the household. If you were the steward you have a great responsibility not to just do your job, but also to make sure everyone else in the household could do their jobs.
He’s saying as a minister, as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I’ve been given the keys to the kingdom to open up the treasuries of the household of the kingdom of heaven, which are contained for us in the gospel of Jesus Christ and written down for us in God’s very word. When I stand and preach in front of you, I have the stewardship. I must dispense to you the mysteries of God, written down in the word of God, which bears witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord. Even if I don’t want this, I have this stewardship Paul says.
This is why Paul can’t boast about this. He was directly arrested and sent to a new commission by the Lord Jesus Christ. Woe to him if he doesn’t do it. Even if he still doesn’t want to do it, too bad. He has a stewardship that he is commanded to do.
Paul said in verse seventeen, if he does this willingly there’s a reward. What then is that reward? Paul seems to know that we are dying to learn what this reward is.
The Rewards from Preaching Freely
18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. 1 Corinthians 1:1-18, ESV
Cut to the chase Paul, you’ve been leading us around in circles, let us know what you mean by this reward. Then he tells us something cryptic. This is the reward that in my preaching I may present the gospel free of reward so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. What does this mean?
How is this a reward not to be rewarded. How does this make sense? Notice here that when Paul is talking about his reward, he states that the reward from preaching is not something different from the preaching of the gospel. Rather it’s something he gains directly by preaching. It’s not that he’s preaching to get something else, it’s very different. The reward of preaching is the reward of preaching.
The reward is what is called an intrinsic reward instead of an extrinsic reward. Have you heard of this distinction? If you help your sick grandmother while she is sick in bed, you probably feel good about it and that’s an intrinsic reward.
On the other hand, if your grandmother offered to pay you to visit and talk to her regularly, you wouldn’t feel good about that. The word is icky, you would feel icky if your grandmother had to bribe you to visit and talk to her. That’s an extrinsic reward. It’s some reward that is added to the thing itself.
Paul is saying I wouldn’t feel good about this. There’s an intrinsic reward, the reward I have is the preaching, not that by the preaching I get something else.
The second observation that Paul is saying is if we see that preaching is the reward in itself, we have to ask why. We see that Paul’s driving motivation is to do whatever it takes to see people come to believe the gospel.
We will look at this more next week, but look at where Paul is going in verse nineteen,
19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 1 Corinthians 9:19, ESV
Then he goes on about how he tried to reach the Jews, and those under the law, and those outside of the law, and to reach the weak; how he tried to reach all these people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul’s reward is the joy of seeing sinners saved and transformed by the gospel. His reward is the joy of seeing Jesus Christ glorified by more worshippers coming into the kingdom.
Beyond that, and this is really what Paul probably means by the reward of serving willingly and of laying down his rights willingly, is that Paul recognizes that preaching at a financial sacrifice both models and reinforces the nature of the gospel itself. Think about this, who else sacrificed financially for the good of other people? It’s the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul makes this very clear in 2 Corinthians 8:9,
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV
When Paul takes a financial hit by relinquishing his rights to be supported by the gospel, he is showing those around him a picture of what Jesus Christ did. Now it isn’t that Paul thinks that if I follow Jesus’ example well enough, I can save myself, that’s not what he means. He can’t earn a thing. It’s not possible to obey well enough. Nothing you could do could get you out of the hole of your sin. Your sin is so infinite and great before an infinitely holy God there is nothing you could do to get your way out of it.
Instead Paul, who preaches the free forgiveness of what Jesus Christ uniquely did for us on our behalf that we couldn’t do for ourselves and the gospel. Paul recognizes that to follow in the example of Jesus is not an attempt to earn something. It is not that we are saved by this, but that we are saved for this.
These are the good works that God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. We are saved by grave through faith alone, it’s not by what we do but it’s the gift of God through faith which God gives us as a gift. Then God has prepared these good works, the purpose for which we have been saved is to begin to resemble and look like Jesus by living self-sacrificially in love to see the gospel advance to others.
This is why Paul’s reward is in preaching freely. His reward is in the fact that he is boasting, glorying and experiencing joy by sacrificing himself for Christ in the way that Christ sacrificed himself for Paul.
He’s gaining here an opportunity to boast that this isn’t about how important he is and how much salary he can command. This is about the good gospel of Jesus Christ. He has a chance to live that out in front of other people.
What might we do with this?
1. Boast in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says he would rather die than to give up his ground for boasting. His ability to celebrate and rejoice in this great gift that God has given to him in calling him to be a preacher of the gospel. Remember that there is a good kind of boasting in which God delights. It’s not about us, or our ministry, or our influence, but it’s to boast exclusively in the wisdom and the power of God. Which was demonstrated in a way that doesn’t make sense to our human minds, but demonstrated most fully in the bleeding and dying of the Lord Jesus Christ crucified. That’s where you see the wisdom of God, that’s the power of God.
Not Jesus making a big deal of himself while in his earthly life and ministry, but Jesus’ humbling himself in obedience to his father all the way to the cross.
Why do you boast? What do you get excited about? What do you glory in? Is it because of your wisdom, might, riches, power, intelligence? Or do you boast because you know and understand the Lord.
Understand what that means, it’s easy to say that. Do you recognize how fall short you fall in practicing justice and righteousness? Do you boast in the goodness of those things in God alone, as revealed in Christ? Do you unreservedly boast about how you need to repent of your injustice, unrighteousness and you need to look to God alone for your salvation?
Do you boast in your prayer praising the Lord for the fact that he has had mercy on you to make you conformed to the image of Christ? Do you boast not because you are good, but God through his mercy in Christ has rescued you from the pit and danger of hell because of your sin, but has instead counted you as a son or daughter of the most high God? Is that what you hope in?
Boast in the Lord Jesus Christ. Boast in the staggering reality that the Son of God did not cling to his status as God but emptied himself so that you, by his poverty, might become rich. Boast in the fact that you could never have saved yourself, but that he has given you salvation freely by faith. Boast in the faith that God has saved you in his mercy and love even when you didn’t want to follow Jesus. Boast in the sovereign free grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, not in you.
Repent from you, repent from your rights, repent from these immediate short term things that on the surface seem good, but keep you from recognizing that you are a sinner in the sight of God and justly deserving his displeasure, but that God has provided Jesus Christ, the son of God and saver of sinners for you to be received by faith.
2. Live as willing bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now Paul here had a unique, unrepeatable commission. There is no other person who was called as an apostle like Paul was. Even the other apostles were called by Jesus, but not in the glorified, post-crucifixion, post- resurrection, post-ascension Jesus. That was something unique for Paul. Yet all of us share the status that Paul has as bondservants of Christ.
Look back at 1 Corinthians 7:22,
22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise, he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.
1 Corinthians 7:22, ESV
Where you called to Christ? Then you are his bondservant, his slave. All of us, while not being commanded to be an apostle like Paul was, all of us are commanded to be ready to make a defense of the hope that is in us according to 1 Peter 3:15.
The question isn’t whether we should be a witness to the Lord Jesus Christ, but how we do it. Do we do this willingly or unwillingly. If you do it unwillingly, that doesn’t change in the least bit the obligation before God. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to do it.
As a parent, you see this all the time. Your children don’t necessarily want to do what you asked them to do. That doesn’t necessarily change the fact that they are going to do it. In my own heart, when I’m like a child and say, I don’t want to do that, it doesn’t change the requirement that God has laid upon me in his word by his Spirit to live according to the call that he has placed upon me.
If you do it unwillingly it doesn’t change a thing, but if you do it willingly there is hope for joy and the reward that God promises to give you.
If you serve in order to merely discharge a duty, I’ve got to do this, it is a necessity laid upon me. Understand that you have forfeited your reward in the sense that you have forfeited your joy. The joy that you have is in serving Christ willingly in joy. But the thing that keeps us from serving Christ with joy is that we all have idolatries. We love, we desire, we worship, specifically our rights over Christ. We want what we think we deserve over what Christ promises to give by grace.
Let me make a very specific application, brass tacks type of thing. Harvest has many areas in which we need more people to serve. We need more people volunteering for the nursery, more people who are able to step up for children’s Sunday school, our college ministry, our international ministry, mercy ministries. We need people to serve in these areas. Some of you already serve in these areas, I’m not talking about you. Some of you are in all of these areas.
Instead, I want to ask those of you who might not have found a place to serve yet, to think about what Paul has laid out here. I’m not going to stand here and guilt trip you, don’t you know that you need to do this? That’s not what Paul does here. Paul presents not law obligation; he puts gospel in front of us.
Ask yourself, could you say with the same conviction of Paul that if you had ripped away from you your freedom, willingness and ability to serve the Lord Jesus Christ that you would rather die? You would rather just pack it up and move onto eternity if you couldn’t serve Christ now? Is that everything to you?
If not, the issue isn’t about guilt. The question is how much joy are forfeiting? How much joy are you walking away from because you don’t serve Jesus in the way that you are called to. Think about what Paul has laid out about the reward he hopes for and lives for.
3. Pursue Christ’s rewards with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. We shouldn’t shy away from this teaching about reward. This teaching is here in the Bible and we should give ourselves to the pursuit of rewards. We should long for these rewards. We should chase after them, do everything we can, stop at nothing to gain these rewards.
Understand that we are not talking about earning something. A lot of time in this world when we think rewards, we think about something we earn. If I did a good job at my job this year, then I may have earned a reward in the form of a bonus check. That maybe the way that you are thinking as you go back to finish out the year strong as your boss is figuring out how much bonus to give to employees.
We are not talking about that, this isn’t merit. You aren’t trying to prop yourself up in the sight of God, that’s boasting in you and not in the Lord. Everything we have we gain by the grace and kindness of God. Yet the scriptures command us to seek Christ’s rewards. These rewards are intrinsic. The reward is in the service itself. These rewards are also spiritual.
They are intrinsic. It’s not that we are seeking to gain something else by serving Christ. Rather the reward is Christ. When we say that you should pursue rewards, what we are saying is that you should pursue Christ.
Here’s the best illustration I can give to you. Think of the reward of a good marriage. If you do a good job at your marriage, is your greatest hope that your spouse will whip out the checkbook and write you a bonus check for what a great job you have done? That’s what you call icky, that’s not the kind of reward you want from a good marriage?
What’s the best reward of a good marriage? The greatest reward you can have in a good marriage is to become the eighty-year-old couple who wants nothing more than to stare into each other’s eyes. That’s the reward.
The reward we are promised is Christ. This is like the rewards that we have in him. The goal isn’t to seek how much stuff you can gain from Christ. There was a Babylon Bee article, that’s a satire Christian website, this week about the woman who taught three-year-old class for fifty years is now a total baller in heaven. She now has all of this money, riches and wealth. If that’s the reason you are teaching the three-year-old class for fifty years, to gain stuff in heaven, you are missing the point.
The point is not to gain something other than Christ; the point is that as you serve Christ you gain Christ. Now when we get to heaven it’s not that any of us are going to be unhappy. There was an 18th century American theologian, Jonathan Edwards, and he described it in the best explanation that I have heard, he said when we talk about varying degrees of rewards, rewards that we gain, rewards that we don’t gain that we forfeit in this life.
It’s sort of different sizes of vessels or containers. In heaven, all of us who have trusted in Christ will be cast into an ocean of love. You will be filled with the love of God. But what you are doing here in this life is to seek by the grace of God to be fit. To be stretched out, expanded in your capacity to be filled eternally with the love of God in Christ. You will have more or less capacity in heaven.
Do you want this reward? I should say, do you want intimacy with Christ? Do you want the love of God for you in Christ? Do you want more of it? Do you want more than anything else to gaze into the eyes of Jesus, bodily form? The glory of God in the face of Christ forever and ever?
It’s in comparison to this that Paul says, what are my rights in comparison with that? Why would I ever insist upon some small, dime a dozen, noodle level rights when Christ is offered? Why would you make that choice? It’s better to be deprived of our rights than of Christ’s reward. Pray that God would increase your love and desire for his rewards so that from the depths of your soul you willingly relinquish your craving to cling to your rights here on earth.
Pray with me.
Father, we ask that you would help us to love and serve Christ. That there would be nothing in this life or the next as intimacy with Christ. Father, that is the reward that we want, long for and seek more of. Father we pray that you would by the power of your Spirit, who applies to us the accomplished work of Jesus Christ, make us increasingly fit for the glory and goodness and love that we will be bathed in forever in eternity. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.