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Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Too many believers get discouraged, stumble and quit the faith during times of trials and tribulations (Mark 4:16-17). Most of the time the failure to keep up with our Christian beliefs is rooted in our misguided motivations. Our motivations can be defined as being the totality of motives (reasons and causes) for our behavior and actions. The word motives means thoughts and feelings that make one acts. So, it follows that our motivations constitute the real reasons or causes that drive us to act in a certain way. Leaving the church, the ministry or the faith usually demonstrates that our reasons for walking with Christ were faulty. For God, our motivations are the most important factors for ministry and Christian living. God’s word asserts:“For as a man thinketh in his heart so is he”. Only God can judge the heart and He alone can fully discern all secret thoughts and hidden sentiments (Jer.17:9-10).

The sad fact remains that countless number of believers failed in their callings and their Christian walk because they did not keep a pure and benevolent heart. Their motivations were carnal or from the flesh. Throughout Scripture, Christians are warned against the pitfalls of ungodly and impure motivations; like the love of money, men’s glory, the lust of the flesh, and all types of fears, just to name a few. These negative motivations are the root-causes of casualties in the lives of many men and women of God throughout the ages. Nonetheless, if there are negative motivations for believers to avoid, there are as well positive ones that should be cultivated. Among the good motivations, God’s word lists the followings: the fear of the Lord, the love of God and God’s rewards. Due to space limitation, in this article we will only elaborate on God’s rewards for it is the one that will help us in time of tribulation to “keep our eyes on the prize”.

Arguments against divine rewards as a positive motivation
For several theologians, divine rewards should not constitute a motivating factor to serve God. They argue the fact that since God has given to man everything by grace in Christ, especially forgiveness of sin and eternal life, man should not desire something more. Some, on the other hand, maintain that rewards should never be a motivating factor for service because serving God inherently gives prestige and honor, which they advance, should suffice for all conscientious servants. Finally for others, the joy and satisfaction brought by the fruit of the ministry should constitute reward enough for any disciple of Christ. At first glance, one may think these arguments to be reasonable and based on humility. However they are rather simplistic and are based on ignorance for they do not consider God’s and man’s nature, and even more, they discard all revelation of Scripture.

Divine rewards as a positive and pure motivation: Christ as example
It cannot be denied that all good things, that a believer has, are by God’s grace and that honor, privilege, joy, and satisfaction are by-products of all true ministry (James 1:16-17; 1Cor.15:10). Nonetheless, our understanding about motivation for service must be patterned after Christ’s, who is our model in all things. Now, before exploring the Lord’s attitudes in this area, it is crucial to put aside all preconceived ideas, all carnal thinking and all traditional views that can prevent spiritual understanding and negate the importance of divine recompense for service as a viable and vital motivating factor.

The bible shows with great precision that the Son of man in his ministry on earth was motivated by God’s reward or recompense.“Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endure the cross despising the shame and set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb.12:1-2). These passages show clearly that Christ knew very well what was set before him and that he really wanted and truly desired God’s promised rewards to the point of enduring the cross and despising (ignoring) shame.

The importance of God’s reward
In Hebrews chapter eleven, the Holy Spirit, illustrating the importance of faith as the spiritual means for all God’s servants to obtain God’s promises, declared : “But without faith, it is impossible to please Him (God), for he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb.11:6). The common meaning of the verb remunerate is to recompense in money or in other ways; to pay a job or someone; while the adjective rewarding is defined as something that pays well and procures benefits. Hebrews 11:6 could then be translated:”… for he that comes to God must believe that He exists and that He is the One who rewards or recompenses those who diligently seek Him”. In fact, this verse underlines the importance of divine reward not just as a legitimate motive, but also as mandatory for the believer. This verse makes it clear that to please God one must acknowledge Him as the Rewarder or Benefits Provider to those who seek Him or seek to accomplish his will and purpose (cf. Psalm 1; Psalm 103:1-3).

The truth about God’s rewards becomes more evident as we read Hebrews 11:24-26. The Spirit of God revealed Moses motivations, one of the heroes of the faith and one of the great servants of God. It is crystal clear that God’s reward was a driving force in Moses’ life and ministry. “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer afflictions with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward” (Heb.11:24-26). Just like Christ, Moses was motivated by God’s reward. In his mind, God’s reward was so great that the riches of Egypt, at that time the greatest civilization on earth, could not compare.

The Reward of Christ as God’s servant
Now let’s examine the Lord’s case as the Servant of God. Isaiah 52:3 and others verses of Scripture identify Jesus as the Servant of God. Even with his disciples Jesus behaved as a true servant though master of everything (Mark 10:42-45). In humility and obedience, he accomplished the work that was entrusted to him by the Father. He made disciples, won and prepared them for God’s cause and purpose and gave his life in sacrifice for sin. We must appreciate the boldness and confidence of Christ’s at the close of his earthly ministry as he asked God the Father for the promised rewards: his glorification and that of his brothers at the Father’s right hand (Is.53:11-12; John 17:4-7; Phil.2:5-11; Heb.2:11).

The Reward of Christ’s servant
God’s will is to glorify all disciples who serve Christ (Rom.8:28-30; Heb.2:9-11). When Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this earth he made the following statement: “The hour has come that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily I say unto you except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die; it abideth alone, but if he died it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me let him follow me, where I am there shall also my servant be. If any man serves me, him will my Father honor” (John 12:23-26). First, these declarations of the Lord underline the sacrifices and the sufferings that must condition real and true success for a Christian in his life and service to him. Second they refer to divine recompense reserved for the one who accepts and practices self denial in order to follow him. This great reward is nothing less than the sharing of the Glory and Power of Christ glorified. By saying “where I am, there shall my servant be”, the Lord was referring to his throne and authority to be shared with those victorious believers at the establishment of his kingdom on earth for one thousand years upon his return. This become more explicit in Revelation 2:26, where the victorious and glorified Christ warned the disciples of Thyatira who didn’t take part in fornication and idolatry of their days to hold fast and not to give in to the temptations of the enemy by focusing on God’s promised reward.“But that which ye have already hold fast till I come and he that overcomes and keep my works unto the end to him will I give power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter shall they be broken to shivers, even as I received of my Father”. In addition, addressing the Laodicean church, Christ become even more precise about what the reward will be. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame and set down with my Father in his throne”(Rev.3:21).

The Workings and effects of the Reward Principle
To hold fast to Christ’s works in essence is to overcome. For Jesus, to overcome simply means to keep the faith, to persevere in the assignments of God, to continue in his works as he himself kept the works of his Father. By being a good father, a good husband, a good employee, and a good citizen the believer brings honor to God and keeps the faith in all things. Throughout the ages, the rewards promised by God have always constituted an important part of his servant’s motives. From Abel to Moses, we see that those who sought to obtain God’s promises, in spite sufferings and sacrifices, have always pleased God (Heb.11:6). Answering to Peter about the disciples who had forsaken everything (parents, jobs, and properties) to follow Him, Christ declared that not only will they be rewarded in all things, now in this life, but even more in the life to come (Mark 10:29; Luke 18:28-30). In God’s kingdom humility always precedes glory and it is also true that persecutions for the name of Christ and the Gospel will precede joy and divine rewards (Pr.15:33; Pr.18:12; John 15:18-21; John 14:1-3). Aware of such spiritual principles, during his trials, Paul wrote these words: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal”(2Cor.4:17-18).

The spiritual faculty to look beyond difficult circumstances or sufferings cannot be activated except by God’s promised rewards. This principle is in fact at the roots of the Christian Faith and it is known as hope. This is not hope to escape hell or the lake of fire, but hope of rewards. Without this hope believers would become bitter and would easily be discouraged even as Paul declared: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1Cor.15:19). Now if there are no rewards for afflictions or sacrifices for the Gospel sake and for doing Chris’s will one may readily asserts: “if it is so then let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die”.

Consistently, the Scripture teaches that erosion of hope affects faith, produces bitterness and leads to ungodliness or profane life (Heb.12:14-17). At Gethsemane, Jesus knew that he was soon to suffer atrocious pains and an agonizing death. He also knew that disarray and despair will overtake his disciples, but he was able to describe to them with great accuracy the effects of God’s rewards after sufferings. “A woman when she is in travail, hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world” (John 16:21).

While working as Christ’s disciple, while being obedient to the teachings of our Christian faith, we should always remember that divine rewards shall be obtained only through our willingness to persevere in facing difficulties and obstacles of all types. In enduring afflictions for God we must not forget that “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 26:5-6).