Will there be different levels of reward for believers?
Each person who becomes a Christian passes through three forms of ‘judgement’. Firstly, they were judged as sinners, a judgement that took place at the cross when their guilt was transferred to Christ and He suffered as their Substitute. Then, according to Hebrews chapter 12, they are judged as sons, ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives’, vv. 5-6. Finally, at the judgement seat of Christ they will be judged as servants and their service will be assessed, 1 Cor. 3. 10-15.
It is surprising that anyone might doubt that there will be different levels of reward, for it would hardly be just of God to reward us all equally. There are those who, from the moment of their conversion, have dedicated themselves to serving Christ and, in some instances, they have sealed their devotion with their own blood. In contrast, there are many Christians who live on the very periphery of spiritual things and whose commitment is minimal. Therefore, to reward everyone to the same degree would not be equitable.
That God will reward any of us is staggering, for we had all fallen short of His standards. There was nothing about us that merited anything other than divine retribution, for we walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air. Blinded by the god of this age, and having no strength to rectify our desperate situation, we lived without God and had no hope. Mercifully, God did not invoke His wrath but in infinite love He sent His Son to procure our eternal salvation. In those hours of untimely and impenetrable darkness at Golgotha, the Saviour endured the full weight of God’s abhorrence of our sins and He, who was without sin, was made sin for us.
Our response to ‘love so amazing so divine’ ought to be akin to that of the Hebrew servant who, appreciating all that had been done on his behalf, said, ‘I love my master … I will not go out free’, Exod. 21. 5. As we shall be eternally indebted to God for His undeserved intervention in our desperate state, we owe it to Him to fulfil His interests and to serve Him devotedly. Yet, if we do respond to these obligations God will reward us for it – how gracious He is!
There are several passages in the New Testament that provide information relating to the assessment of our Christian service that will be made by Christ. In 1 Corinthians chapter 3, we discover that the emphasis is on the quality of our service, for Paul states ‘each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved’, vv. 13-15. This section makes it clear that, depending on the quality of the work done, some will see their labours rewarded whilst others will suffer loss of reward.
In the following chapter, the apostle writes, ‘Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God’, 1 Cor. 4. 5 ESV. One of the points that Paul is making is not that everyone will get praise, but that each will receive the praise appropriate to them. Therefore, as the praise given is suited to the individual, the level of reward is going to vary from servant to servant.
Approximately a year after writing the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes to them a second time and, in the fifth chapter, he informs them ‘We make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad’, vv. 9-10. Again the focus is on ‘each one’ and on ‘according to what he has done’. Because He is omnipresent, each of us will be reviewed by Christ simultaneously. However, as He is omniscient, we shall all be reviewed individually and each will receive the reward He deems appropriate to our quantity and quality of service.
It is both sobering, and encouraging, knowing that the one who will carry out the assessment of our lives and service will be the Lord. It is sobering because there is nothing that will escape His attention. He will ‘reveal the counsels of the hearts’ for His eyes are as a flame of fire. We can so easily delude ourselves, and others, as to the degree of our piety, but not so Him. However, it is encouraging to know that it won’t be our fellow Christians who will examine us but ‘the Lord, the righteous judge’, 2 Tim. 4. 8. May the prospect of this forthcoming examination motivate us into devoted service for our Saviour so that we may be able to say ‘Lord, thy pound hath gained’, Luke 19. 16 KJV.
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