PART 4:  THE ULTIMATE PRIZE-GIVING – a Heavenly “Rewards Plan” That Can’t Be Beat

By : Dr. Ted Rubesh

In a world full of bad news these days, here’s some good news to lift your spirits. God is planning an “end of term” prize-giving… and you’re invited.  Our Father in Heaven loves to reward His children, and He makes no bones about it. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that “he who comes to God must believe that He is [exists], and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. We’re all familiar with super-market loyalty cards and airline rewards plans. Well, God has a rewards plan that is literally “out of this world.” No other plan comes remotely close to His. Not only does it tap into the incalculable resources of Heaven, but it will last forever, and is born out of His sheer love for you. Culminating at the judgment seat of Christ, it will come into full effect at a rewards ceremony unlike any other. And if you are a child of God in a relationship with Jesus Christ, you’re written into the plan and an invitee to the party. That’s really GOOD news!!

But first, an important reminder. In my last article I was at pains to clarify that God’s rewards are distinct from God’s salvation. God’s salvation comes by faith alone. “It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). God’s rewards however are based on the way we have stewarded the resources God has entrusted to us in this life and how we have invested them to serve His kingdom purposes. They are His way of telling us how much He cherishes our effort and is honored by our service.


To put it in other words, our rewards aren’t just significant to us, they are significant to Him. Our works carry weight with Him and His rewards are an affirmation of His delight and joy in recognizing our service. The judgment of our works and the accompanying prize-giving is in fact portrayed in Scripture as a monumental event in cosmic history. It is never portrayed as a meaningless “going-through-the-motions” formality before we get on to the real business of heavenly bliss. It will be a grand-stand event, and you are not only invited; your attendance will be required!!  If that is so, we dare not make light of this approaching event, or trivialize the incalculably precious rewards “that God has prepared … for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9)!  To be casually dismissive of all He has taken the trouble to prepare for us would be to shamefully dishonor the God who loves and delights in us.  His commendations and rewards obviously mean a great deal to Him and ought to mean a great deal to us too … not the least because they will generate and put into effect decisions that will shape our experience for the rest of eternity.


This leads me to address a misunderstanding that many Christians have regarding our heavenly experience in the eternal future. Many of us take comfort in the common assumption that “heaven will ultimately be the great equalizer” … in other words that our entry into heaven will automatically transform each of us into equal beings with equal possessions, equal responsibilities and equal capacities. While it is absolutely true that in regard to our salvation, we will all stand on level ground before the cross of Christ, it is also absolutely clear from Scripture that God’s recognition and reward of our service for Christ will differ from person to person. Not all of us will hear the Master say “Well done!”  Not all of us will have treasure laid up in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Not all of us will be “well-dressed brides” on our heavenly wedding day. Some of us may in fact be disqualified from rewards that God planned and prepared for us (Luke 19:26; 1 Cor.3:12-15).


In short, the Bible never implies that our earthly lives as Christians will be of no account in heaven or that they carry no eternal significance. In fact it teaches precisely the opposite. The quality of the stewardship of our lives as Christians here on earth will clearly shape our experience of heaven, and this will be reflected in the rewards and commendation we receive at Christ’s judgment seat. Don’t fool yourself that the decisions rendered there will only be “temporary concerns” for God. Don’t assume that all our disobedience and missed opportunities will just “blow over” and not really make any difference in the eternal scheme of things. Do you really think it will make no difference before the judgment seat of Christ, if you have led a life of selfishness and indifference to others’ needs, or whether you’ve invested your life in feeding the hungry and sharing the gospel and extending His kingdom?  There will be differences between those who used well the opportunities God gave them and those who squandered them. While it is absolutely true that everyone’s experience of heaven will be wonderful, the Scripture also seems to imply that it will be fuller and deeper for some than for others. To put it in the words of theologian Donald Barnhouse:


We can be sure that at the Judgment Seat of Christ there will be a marked difference between the Christian who has lived his life before the Lord … and the Christian who goes to his death after a life of self-pride, self-righteousness, self-love and self-sufficiency. All will be in heaven, but the differences will be eternal.


This raises questions that can be a bit disconcerting. Won’t these distinctions in heaven rob us of some of our eternal joy in God’s kingdom? Won’t we feel uncomfortable? Will we feel we’re missing out on something? Won’t we feel jealous or have regrets?  Let me attempt to answer this in two ways.

Firstly, I believe that when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we will recognize beyond a shadow of a doubt that God’s assessment of our lives (and its resulting rewards) is absolutely accurate. We will know that whatever commendations or rewards we receive, whether big or little, they will be completely appropriate to our service for Christ. Knowing that, we will not begrudge or be jealous in the least of the rewards given to others, and neither will we feel in the least that we have been treated unfairly. As C.S. Lewis puts it: “We shall know … beyond doubt in every fiber of our being that as the Judge has said, so we are: neither more nor less nor other” (Lewis – The World’s Last Night). There will be no jealousy in heaven. We will be utterly grateful for God’s mercy and grace to us in our failures. And we will join freely and without restraint or regret in the applause and commendation of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Secondly, I believe that our experience of joy in heaven will not be a question of differing amounts of joy, but rather a matter of differing capacities for joy. Let me illustrate it this way. If you have two jars of differing sizes, the fact is that both can be 100% full despite their disparate capacities. In the same way, every believer will be full of joy in heaven. But some will have more joy, simply because their capacity for joy will be larger. And it will be larger because their “holding capacities” will have been stretched through their service for Christ and their wise stewardship of all God entrusted to them in this life. If you think this is a novel idea, may I suggest you hear the words of no less than John Bunyan, author of the Christian classic, Pilgrim’s Progress,who wrote: “He who is most in the bosom of God, and who so acts for Him here, he is the man who will be best able to enjoy most of God in the kingdom of heaven”.

Could one want for a better reason to serve God with all their heart, soul and mind?  And yet there is a tendency for all of this to sound rather ominous. Don’t let it! We need to constantly bear in mind that God is for us, not against us (Rom.8:31). The Bible not only assures us that our salvation is secure in His hands, but that He longs more than anyone else for us to be commended before the Judgment Seat of  Christ. He is, after all, not just our “heavenly headmaster,” but our “heavenly Father.” He doesn’t want the works of our lifetime to go up in smoke!! He wants us to have eternal rewards – and a full reward at that. “Watch yourselves” says 2 John 8, “that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Our God is not a God of half-measures, and His rewards will be worth it all.


How well I recall times gone by, when I would sit for two full days at the Sugathadasa Swimming Stadium in the heat of a Colombo day, watching my three children compete in some never-ending inter-school swim-meets. This was now the “pay-off” for many months of traffic-laden hours of shuttling my progeny to and from their training marathons in the swimming pools of Kandy. My “suffering” on the concrete sunbaked bleachers of a Colombo stadium however, invariably turned into two lungs-full of unthrottled and unabashed cheering when one of my “champions” took off at the sound of the starting gun. Whether they won a race or not (and they did win a few), they were my favorites… and I was their biggest fan (and I happily let everyone within earshot around me know it!). I suspect God can identify. He has gone to a lot of trouble to provide all the resources we need to live a life that will truly count for eternity. He wants us to finish our earthly race well. He’s cheering us on, and He’s our biggest fan!  Never forget, He’s for us, not against us!

And finally, remember that in the process of cheering us on to the judgment seat’s finish line, God is taking detailed notes. He will not overlook anything we have done for Him and His kingdom. “God is not unjust” says Hebrews 6:10, “He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.” The prophet Malachi adds these enchanting words:  “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name” (Mal.3:16). What is God putting in His “Book of Remembrance” that has your name attached to it? Our God is not forgetful! He will not disregard anything we have done with a genuine heart for Him or His people. Even a cup of cold water offered “to the least of [his] brothers” will be considered a service rendered to Christ Himself (Matthew 10:42).


May we follow in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, who wrote the following words to his beloved friend Timothy, shortly before his death:  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There now lies in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing(2 Timothy 4:7-8).  May each of us be among those who long for His appearing, who have multiple entries in His “Book of Remembrance” … and who are present at the prize-giving.

*Dr. Ted Rubesh teaches at both the Colombo Theological Seminary and Lanka Bible College. He grew up in Sri Lanka, and lives in Kandy with his wife.

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