Recompense for Faithful Labor

RECOMPENSE FOR FAITHFUL LABOR

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”

—Matthew 16:27

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.”

—2 Corinthians 5:10

“Recompense” means to pay back. We are recompensated for the works we have done. Remember that eternal life is our inheritance, not our reward, and we did nothing to earn that gift of grace. However, Christ will offer us some other type of reward after we enter eternal life. We can also lose potential rewards.

“[W]hatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.”

—Ephesians 6:8

Paul is speaking to a reward system that comes into effect after we pass the test of faith.

“[D]o you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”

—Romans 2:4–8

First Corinthians provides more information about eternal rewards than any other book in the New Testament. Here we can see that God gets the credit and does the heavy lifting as he enables us to do good through the Holy Spirit. Some of this is implied based upon other passages. Our good works cannot happen without God’s first work in us.

I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

—1 Corinthians 3:6–15

Here is confirmation that we get rewarded for the labor we do through God’s power.

Paul uses figurative language here to make a point, but there are literal meanings that he is trying to convey. He clearly describes the two-part judgment process God uses.

  • First, we will either be saved or not. Just as a person cannot be half-pregnant, we cannot be nearly saved. The gift of salvation is granted to those who believe; they will be saved by grace through faith.
  • Second, believers will get rewards for the work they completed. This work honored God’s law but did not count towards salvation. Believers will either receive additional blessing, or they will “suffer loss.”

The humblest servant who denied his “self” and did the greatest works through the Spirit will gain the largest reward. The person who was only minimally faithful to God’s law will be as a beggar in the kingdom. All those made righteous by faith in God will enter the kingdom, yet some will be rewarded more richly than others. Of course, the believer who “suffers loss” will still have much to be grateful for:

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”

—Psalm 84:10

Based on this concept, the more obedient and humble we are today, the greater our treasure will be in the coming age. The faithful that enter the kingdom will be rewarded for their good deeds.

“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

—1 Timothy 6:18–19

Christ called this “storing up treasure in heaven.”

A passage from Matthew 19 begins with the disciples asking Christ about their rewards. Christ assures them repayment is coming. We may marvel at the thought that we will get rewarded by God for work done by his own power, but Christ has testified that this is what will happen.

Christ mentioned the two-fold judgment paradox through which eternal life is separate from rewards. This teaching from Christ covers a lot of other topics as well, summarizing many points to consider regarding judgment and the coming age.

“And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ 

“But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ Then Peter said in reply, ‘See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world [in the regeneration],  when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’”

—Matthew 19:23–30

The phrase in the regeneration is based on the same Greek root word that occurs in Titus 3:5. Paul applies it there to the baptismal work of the Holy Spirit; an individual is being regenerated, born again. So here in Matthew, Jesus is saying that the earth itself will be “born again.”[footnote]Also see Romans 8:18–24.[/footnote]

Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth: In the age when all things are renewed…’”

—Matthew 19:28, NET Bible

Christ told his disciples that the world will be regenerated. The disciple’s rewards will be in this new earthly kingdom, as they were not rewarded in their lifetime. He also mentions inheritance into eternal life, which is a common term tied to the land promise. Christ differentiates between the gift of eternal life and the hundredfold reward; one is based on grace, the other on law.

Eternal life is not automatically ours because we are not immortal. We will receive eternal life as a gift; it is part of the inheritance that is tied to God’s promises to the descendants of Abraham (descendants of faith, not of blood).

Christ will sit on his “glorious throne” in the heavenly kingdom on earth; no longer will he be at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly realm. His new work on earth upon his return will be to destroy sin, death, and the devil. Once all evil is destroyed, his kingdom will be fully established. He will then hand over the kingdom as described in 1 Corinthians 15:24.

Christ could have told the disciples that their rewards would be paid out in heaven after they died, but he didn’t. If the disciples were satisfied with a spiritual reign of Christ in the heavenly realm, they would have been satisfied after his resurrection. The work of salvation would have been complete at that point. However, based on numerous prophecies throughout the Old Testament, they knew a kingdom on earth was coming. Their attitude in Acts 1:6 and Matthew 19:25–27 shows that they hoped for the kingdom not yet established.

“…whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”

—Acts 3:21

Passages about judgment often contain references to “new heavens and a new earth.” Christ won’t simply restore Israel’s former kingdom (Acts 1:6), nor will he be satisfied to return the earth to the unspoiled state of Eden. No, the earth will be a better place than it has ever been. Restoring the earth is a major end-time event.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”

—Isaiah 65:17

“For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain.”

—Isaiah 66:22

But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

—2 Peter 3:13

Christ’s testimony, the passages above, and John’s vision in Revelation 21:1 all foretell the renewal, regeneration, and restoration of earth. Christ intends to establish his kingdom on this new earth, not some unknown mystical realm. Righteousness will dwell on the earth. This fits the land promise and ties all end-time prophecies together.

We don’t have to throw unfulfilled Old Testament prophecies into the figurative bucket of metaphors, dreaming up mystical realms and imagining a bodiless eternity. End-time passages make much more sense if we can move past our preconceived notion of a soul floating to heaven. Christ will dwell on the new earth, and we will dwell with him. We won’t be playing harps on a cloud; all end-time passages are located on the “new” earth.

The new earth will be renewed, restored—God will cleanse it once his judgment is complete.

“Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt…. And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’”

—Ezekiel 36:33, 35

We may prefer to read passages about Eden—and the tree of life in particular—as metaphor. But whether the Edenic passages are literal accounts or metaphorical descriptions of what the world could have looked like without sin, the main point remains the same: God sustains life. His creation depends on him providing life. Notice that many passages describe God transforming us from death to life, giving us eternal life, or inviting us to live with him forever—but never does he grant us an inherent immortal soul. Instead, the mortal puts on immortal clothes and drinks life-giving water. The inspired writers stop short of saying we will become like God even after the resurrection. Even in our glorified state, our immortality will be a gift, not an inherent part of our nature.

“To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

—Revelation 2:7b

“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

—Revelation 7:17

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.”

—Revelation 22:14

“[I]f anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

—Revelation 22:19[footnote]Also see Ezekiel 47:12.[/footnote]

We are not inherently immortal; death is our natural inheritance. Eternal life is Christ’s inheritance he chooses to share with us. We were not given immortality at birth, nor will we receive such a gift at any point before the resurrection. The immortal soul myth concludes that not even God can destroy our being, so our soul must go to heaven or hell for eternity.

Christ himself contradicts this idea that unsaved souls will endure forever in a state of torment:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

—Matthew 10:28

This statement is not a biblical aberration. Elsewhere in Scripture we read of the destruction of angels, also called gods or sons of god in some passages.[footnote]See Psalm 82:6–7.[/footnote] And we can find numerous passages about the death of souls.[footnote]See Ezekiel 18:4; Revelation 8:9.[/footnote] Hypothetically, God has the power make a person endure so they might be punished for eternity, but this still wouldn’t indicate an inherent immortality within a human being. Immortality is conditionally granted by God.

The complete gospel message reaches its conclusion through the Big Three end-time events: Christ’s second coming, the resurrection of the just, and the judgment of the righteous. No other complete gospel is presented in the Bible. It is remarkable that we can be blind to what God’s Word says, given how frequently the message is repeated. But cultural influence is a powerful thing. We are brainwashed into accepting culturally friendly interpretations instead of simply letting Scripture speak.

We should not judge well-meaning people who believe the hybrid gospel or promote its message. This book is meant to guide people into greater understanding of God’s Word, not to cast judgment. God alone is the judge, and Christ will mediate on our behalf. We are judged based on what we have been given.

The devil is always working to water down the gospel, promote partial-truths, and distract us by any means at his disposal. I myself once held end-time beliefs based more on cultural mythology than biblical scholarship. As many others do, I presumed I had an immortal soul. But when God reveals his truth, it sets us free from preconceived notions and self-taught beliefs.

A literal reading of Scripture offers us the following truths about judgment:

  • Salvation yields eternal life; without this gift, once we die we will remain “dead” for eternity.
  • The just are resurrected then judged to determine the reward for their deeds, but there is no judgment standing between us and salvation—in this case, Christ’s righteousness is judged on our behalf.
  • Those who have faith are given a share of the inheritance: eternal life in the Promised Land.
  • Eternal life is not granted until the resurrection, but we get a guarantee.
  • God will not enact the final judgment until after Christ’s second coming.
  • We will be judged on earth after the resurrection, not in heaven after we die.
  • Judgment presents a paradox in terms of timing: God judges our faith today (for our justification); he judges our deeds on the last day (to determine our eternal rewards). Our deeds are rewarded under the law; our sins are forgiven by grace.

So why we are rewarded for the works we perform when all the good we do is based upon the power of the Holy Spirit? How can we be rewarded for deeds that did not arise from our human nature? The answer is found in the grace-and-law paradox system. We will be rewarded or repaid for the good deeds we allow God to do through us, and we will receive the gift of eternal life despite our sinful deeds.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

—Philippians 2:12–13

We get rewarded for this?

What an awesome God we serve! From a human perspective, it seems strange to be given something as a gift, then also be rewarded for using the gift. But such is the amazing goodness of God. Once we submit and obey out of a contrite heart, then we are rewarded by the God who is working in us and working out his will.

We get rewarded because of God’s established concepts—many of which are foreign to us modern Christians. We prefer to adopt a grace-focused belief system that doesn’t regard any of our direct works at any point in the entire judgment process. People who believe in an all-grace message for salvation generally think about eternal life as the only reward they need, avoiding passages that speak of rewards for works. This perspective has the commendable trappings of humility, but it is not founded in Scripture.

God, wanting as many to be saved as possible, elected to use us as his workers in his fields until the day of harvest—the day of Christ’s return. We can find numerous passages that relate our kingdom work to sowing and laboring in the fields; many of these passages include discussions of payment and compensation for our labor.

“And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

—Matthew 20:8–16

And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all. And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’”

—Mark 9:33–37

In order to gain the greatest reward, we must fully humble ourselves and put all our new nature’s focus on serving others.

“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.”

—Romans 4:4

Romans 4 explicitly differentiates between God’s saving grace and the works we participate in as a result of our new nature. Here Paul is talking about Abraham’s belief and uses verse 4 as a point of contrast; he is not trying to make a point about eternal rewards. However, it is useful to show in general terms that labor leads to compensation. This is completely customary and expected.

For some reason, God does not ask us to carry out his work for free, even though he freely offers eternal life. God provides the field and all the strength to carry out the work—and offers payment for our faithful effort.

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” 

—1 Corinthians 3:5–9

Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, “There are yet four months, then comes the harvest”? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.’” 

—John 4:34–38

For further reading, the following passages echo the teaching that we will receive payment or a reward at the second advent. There is no question that Christ will grant us a reward beyond the gift of eternal life.

Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

—Luke 6:36–38

Since Scripture is absolutely clear that we cannot do good work under our own nature, and everything good we do is based upon God’s gifted nature, we can surmise that God rewards us for how frequently we reject our very own nature and instead rely completely on him. We must reject the selfish desires of our old heart and humbly put others first. Then, as Jesus tells us, “the last shall be first.” Those who put themselves last on earth are first in the kingdom of heaven.

We see in Luke 6:38 that our works are ‘measured’ back to us. This echoes the rewards in light mentioned in many other passages.

God’s choice to reward our good deeds is based on Old Testament concepts of compensation. God pays for his workers to tend his fields.

“For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”

—1 Timothy 5:18

Christ made and inherited the earth for his good pleasure, and he humbled himself on earth in order to have a relationship with us. Therefore we should recognize the special significance of the earth as God’s chosen place of dwelling with his people. The earth has been specially designed as the ultimate site for God’s kingdom. Through labor in our current age, and harvest at the end of our age, God will bring as many into the fold of the coming kingdom as possible. The feasts will follow the harvest when all the family of God has been gathered together.

The earth is related to God’s promise of land. As we care for the land that will one day be our inheritance, we also figuratively work in God’s fields, tending to the souls that have yet to sprout in faith. The time of harvest will come when Christ returns to reward the resurrected the faithful and establish his kingdom upon a rejuvenated earth.

The reward we will receive is payment for the work we have done in God’s fields for his kingdom.

As mentioned in Matthew 6:19–21, 19:29, and in other passages, we notice that we do not receive our reward today but upon the full establishment of the kingdom of heaven. Revelation concludes with a fulfillment of the end-time payment themes that have been building over the entirety of Scripture:

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.”

—Revelation 22:12

Christ is coming again, and he is bringing his reward with him, along with the crown of eternal life. He has commanded his workers to call those whom he would choose into repentance. Christ began by calling prophets and apostles; now it is up to us to extend the call. How can the elect hear the gospel if the Word is not preached?

Does Christ elect to save all people, and only partially succeed? Or does he only elect those who ultimately receive him? Christians have argued over this point for centuries. How can we know who has the right interpretation?

Instead of debating our individual interpretive models, we must strive for unity in the Spirit. Our modern mindset would have us cling to our own perspectives and divide accordingly. But God calls us to gather together and seek his objective truth together. May we lay aside our self-centeredness and submit to the Spirit.