Rewards of Service
W. E. Vine, Bath
To the devoted servant of Christ the service He appoints carries its own reward. The love that has liberated him from the bondage of sin has captivated his soul. For one who appreciates, even in a small measure, what his Redeemer has done for him, it suffices that he should be the bondservant of Jesus Christ. Grace it is that provides us with service to render; the apostle says, ‘Whereof I was made a minister (or servant), according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me’, Eph. 3. 7. The unutterable love of Christ is enough to preclude our looking upon any reward of our service as the motive of that service, and still less as the outcome of merit on the servant’s part. He Himself taught His disciples to say, after they had fulfilled their service, ‘We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do’, Luke 17. 10. There is, however, another side to this: for their encouragement the Lord constantly directed the hearts of His followers to the reward which would eventually be theirs. To the reward and some of its implications we shall now give our attention.
Concerning deeds of kindness our Lord said: ‘He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward’, Matt. 10. 41, 42 r.v. Concerning rejection and reproach for His sake, He said: ‘Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven’, Luke 6. 22, 23. Again, concerning self-sacrifice for His sake, He says, ‘There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting’, Luke 18. 29, 30. Faithful stewardship would result in reward and authority hereafter, Luke 12. 44, and similarly the Lord’s explanation of the parable of the nobleman and his servants who were left to trade with his money was: ‘Unto every one that hath shall be given; but from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away from him’ Luke 19. 26 R.V. With these teachings of the Lord as to rewards we cannot but associate His promises to the overcomers in the seven letters to the churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.
The Recompense of the Reward
Moses is brought before us as a pattern for our faith in this respect. The reason assigned for his decision to be ‘evil entreated with the people of God’, instead of enjoying pleasures of sin for a season, was that he accounted ‘the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he looked unto the recompense of reward’, Heb. 11. 26 r.v. Reproach for Christ was his present riches; the reward would come after. That is ever to be the order. Christ Himself first; the reward He gives, second. Loyalty to Christ will never fail of present blessing and future recompense. Never did a saint suffer spiritually by accumulated wealth accruing from endurance of reproaches for Christ. The manner in which the apostle Paul had respect unto the recompense of reward is strikingly brought out in his first Epistle to the Corinthians. Speaking of his service in the Gospel, he tells of his efforts to gain both Jew and Gentile; he says, ‘I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the gospel’s sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof’, 1 Cor. 9. 22-23 R.V. How thoroughly the messenger was identified with his message! The blessing wrought by the Gospel was his own blessing. There could be no half-heartedness about work carried on like that. He then applies to his service the metaphors of the racecourse and the boxing match: ‘I therefore so run’, he says, ‘as not uncertainly; so fight I (the Greek word means ‘box’; see R.V. margin) as not beating the air: but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected’.* ( The rendering ‘castaway’ in the Authorized Version of 1 Cor. 9. 27 is misleading. The word adokimos means ‘disapproved through failure to stand the test’. It is the negative of dokimos, ‘approved’, as, for instance in James 1. 12 R.V., ‘Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he hath been approved, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love him’.)There was no false step in the running, no random blow in the buffeting. We miss his meaning if we take him to indicate the actual beating of the body in outwardly imposed, ascetic discipline. On the contrary, he kept his natural inclinations and propensities in severe check, in order that his members might be in entire subjection to the will of God for His service.
The Possibility of Losing the Reward
Paul mortified the deeds of the body, but while he does this for the Lord’s sake, as His servant his eye is on the Judgment Seat. It is possible to be eternally saved by grace as a believer and yet to be disapproved at the time of the reward-giving there. In the Olympian game in Greece, a competitor who had infringed the regulations was pronounced adokimos at the hema. But the matter did not end there. He was required to place at his own expense a bronze image of Jupiter at the entrance to the arena, as the lasting memorial of his disqualification. The intense solemnity of the possibility of disqualification at the Judgment Seat of Christ led the apostle to undergo the rigid discipline mentioned above. Stretching forward to the things that are before, he pressed on ‘toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’, Phil. 3. 14 R.V. There is a solemn passage in 1 Corinthians regarding reward, and loss of reward, in connection with Gospel work and subsequent service in building up assemblies. First, there is the metaphor drawn from agriculture. One labourer plants and another waters: both are one as God’s fellow-workers. But their rewards are to differ according to the labour of each, 3. 6-8. Then there is the metaphor of the builder: ‘If any man buildeth on the foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble; each man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself shall prove each man’s work of what sort it is’, 3. 12-13 R.V. It is possible to engage in service in connection with the Gospel according to methods which may appear attractive and successful, but which are not in conformity to the will of God. The Lord gauges our service, not by its success, but by our faithfulness to Him. Apparent success may after all be the outcome of building wood, hay and stubble on the foundation: ‘If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire’, vv. 14, 15. The fire shall consume, not purify. Not the man himself is to be burned but his work; work which, figuratively, consists of wood, hay, or stubble; work that has been done in the energy of the natural will, rather than by faithful adherence to the instruction of God’s Word under the guidance of the Spirit. How important it is to do all things according to the pattern set forth in the Scriptures! The theme is continued in the next chapter, where Paul speaks of himself and his fellow-workers as ministers or as servants of Christ, v. 1. In this respect we are not to judge one another before the time. When the Lord comes He ‘will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God’, 4. 5. We must not act toward our fellow-servants as if we were on the judgment seat; the Judge Himself, by whom actions are weighed, will in that day bestow upon each one the praise that is due.
In closing let it be noted how faithfully the apostle wrought in building up the saints! How true to the pattern was his work! Consequently he was able to say with confidence to the Thessalonian saints: ‘For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even ye, before our Lord Jesus at his coming?’ - lit., ‘in His parousia’, 1 Thess. 2. 19 R.V. Similarly, the saints at Philippi are his ‘joy and crown’, Phil. 4. 1. Here are rewards open to all, rewards for winning and caring for souls. In that day, a special reward is to be given for faithfulness in pastoral work. The under-shepherds, who have themselves been examples to the flock while they have shepherded them, will receive from the Chief Shepherd a crown of glory at his appearing. 1 Pet. 5. 3, 4. Let all our service be characterized by two things especially. First, let it be rendered heartily as to the Lord, for of the Lord we are to receive the reward of the inheritance. Secondly, let our hearts’ affections be set upon His return; the crown of righteousness is to be given to all them that have loved His appearing. Loving His appearing is something practical; with the apostle it meant fighting the good fight of faith, finishing the course, and keeping the faith, 2 Tim. 4. 7-8. To the day of reward the Lord Himself looks forward, and almost His last word is, ‘Behold I come quickly; and my reward is with me (suggesting His pleasure in bestowing it), to give every man according as his work shall be’, Rev. 22. 12.
Conclusion of the series.