Every other command in the Bible is subsumed under the “greatest commandment.” The whole law and prophets is summed up in the command to love God and love neighbor. This means that all those other commands, and more specifically, the commands to explicitly seek rewards, fall under the command to “love the Lord your God.” Here’s an example. Jesus tells us to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” (Matt. 6:20). This is not optional, it’s a command. But it’s also a command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind,” because all commands fall under that command. Thus, there is no reason Jesus should have put an explicit reward on the end of his stating of the “greatest commandment.” All of the rewards are assumed. Just like when Jesus says, “Love you neighbor as yourself,” Jesus assumes that you already love yourself. He does not have to tell you at the end of that command to “love yourself.” As Paul says in another context, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” (Eph. 5:29). This is a truism. We all already seek our own personal gain and pleasure. The question is never whether we will seek it; the question is “in what” or “in whom” will we seek it?
Making “rewards” the primary motivating factor in your life is right because it’s never error to obey God, and God commands us to make it the primary motivating factor. Again, God says, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6). What is this “faith” without which we cannot please God? The author tells us that the faith which pleases God is the belief “that God exists and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” This means I must come to Jesus expecting reward, or else I cannot please Him.
This, of course, raises the question: What is the reward(s) I am to expect as I serve God in faith? The list is long, but at a high level, it includes every possible reward God offers. I should pursue every possible reward, just as God commands, “Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one gets the prize. Run in such a way so as to get the prize.” (1 Cor. 9:24). The ultimate prize is seeing and savoring the glory of God, as John Piper says. Knowing Jesus, serving Him and honoring Him, that is the ultimate reward or prize we are to seek above all. The greatest reward we can possible experience is to see and exult in the glory of God. Jesus prays for us: “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me.” (John 17:24).
Being motivated explicitly by the rewards God promises does not mean that I would be failing to recognize my own weakness and fallen nature. Nor does it mean I would be failing to see the incredible act of love and sacrifice Christ has made for me while I do not deserve the gift and have done nothing for the gift. When one comes to Jesus motivated by the rewards He promises, that person is magnifying his or her own weakness and fallen nature. He is saying to God something like this,
God, I recognize, like Adam and Eve, I have been, like all sinful human beings, trying to find life, joy, pleasure, reward, honor, etc in anything and everything other than You. As a sinful rebel, I have been committing two errors, namely, forsaking You, O God, the fountain of living waters, and I have been digging for myself broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jer. 2:13). This is a grievous sin and error, Lord, for me to think that I can find ultimate and satisfying life and pleasure and treasures elsewhere other than You.
I have been disobedient to your truth which tells me that in Your presence there is fullness of joy, in Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16:11). I will repent of pursuing my joy and future gain in other things or in myself or in my family. Though I deserve nothing but condemnation from you for believing other things are better, more glorious and more satisfying than you, I will come to you as the overflowing fountain of blessing and reward, because you tell me that men may drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; and You give them to drink of the river of Your delights. (Ps. 36:8-9).
I will now seek reward, life and pleasure in You because it magnifies You as the generous, overflowing, infinitely resourceful Giver of all things, which glorifies You more than anything else. That’s why you tell me: ‘Call on me in the day of trouble; I will rescue you and you will glorify Me.’ (Ps. 50:15). Thank you, Jesus, for dying for me so that I would no longer be your enemy, but instead an undeserved recipient of all your many promised blessings and rewards, and chiefly, of fellowship with You, the Father and the Holy Spirit. Thank you that your blessings and rewards are freely given, and not based on my merit or earning, for You are an overflowing fountain, and I want my life to show you as such.
When we come to God in this way, we glorify Him most, because we are seeking Him as our ultimate reward, and we are confessing our sins and our unworthiness by acknowledging that we are cut off from Him by our sins, and that in our rebellion and weakness and fallenness, we have thought of Him as lesser than He is. We have pushed Him aside for baubles; we have ignored Him and despised Him as an interrupter of our own plans and purposes. This is folly, and so we repent.
Moreover, I hardly think that a godly man like Jonathan Edwards, when he resolved to “endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of” was making a grievous error. Edwards also made this resolution: “Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence.”
In other words, Jonathan Edwards accurately saw that there is no distinction between pursuing God’s glory and pursuing my own personal good, profit and pleasure. My desire for personal gain and God’s glory are not at odds, unless my desire is to find ultimate pleasure in something other than God. Indeed, Edwards (and I might add, St. Augustine) would say that a person cannot glorify God rightly without that person pursuing his own good, profit and pleasure. That’s why Edwards had those resolutions. He meant them. Of course, he and Augustine would say that “my own good, profit and pleasure” can only be found in God Himself, the ultimate reward, and in the pleasure obtained from seeing and experiencing God reflected in the gifts God gives.
More to come.
I’d like to talk about being motivated by spiritual rewards as a Christian. I am ultimately indebted to John Piper for all of these reflections. His teachings on “Christian Hedonism” have laid the foundations for my Christian faith. I cannot recommend his book, Desiring God, more highly.
The main reward of being a Christian is being in fellowship and relationship with the Triune God in all His glory and fullness. And every reward has this as a part of it. I do not think there is the reward of knowing God and then some kind of other rewards separate from that. All rewards follow from knowing God and have that as an encompassing reality, in my view. But the Scripture is quite clear about some of the rewards.
Revelation 1:6 says that Jesus has made Christians “to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.” So one reward is a priestly function believers will fulfill. Another reward is that believers who overcome will get to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God. (Rev. 2:7). I’m not sure what this looks like exactly, but it is clearly a spiritual reward that is not precisely the same as every other reward, otherwise it would not be listed separately.
Jesus says: “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10). Other believers who overcome will receive “the hidden manna” (Rev. 2:17), “a white stone, and a new name written on the stone, which no one knows be he who receives it.” (Rev. 2:17), “authority over the nations” (Rev. 2:26), “rulership of the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev. 2:26), “the morning star” (Rev. 2:28), “clothed in white garments” (Rev. 3:5), be made “a pillar in the temple of God” (Rev. 3:12), granted to “sit down with [Jesus] on [His] throne” (Rev. 3:21).
The author of Hebrews says that some Christians who were being tortured did not accept their release. Why not? “So that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (Heb. 11:35). That is, they were explicitly motivated by the reward of a “better resurrection.” What is encompassed by a “better resurrection?” It’s not spelled out. But what is spelled out is that it’s something these believers wanted and it spurred them on. The apostle Paul says that he forgets “what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14). Thus, Paul is clearly looking ahead, to a prize, and that is what motivates him. Hebrews 11 says explicitly that Moses endured what he did “for he was looking to the reward.” Revelation 22:5 (and other places) say that believers will reign with Christ “forever and ever.”
I do think Christians will have tasks and responsibilities in heaven. Isaiah speaks of a banquet feast of aged wine and meat fat full of marrow (Isa. 25:6). Jesus talks about rewards like inheriting the earth, being filled or satisfied, and reclining at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus says that we should be glad and rejoice when we are persecuted “because your reward is great in heaven.” Reward in heaven should motivate us to endure persecution joyfully.
But should rewards be the motivating factor?
The Bible certainly teaches that Christ should be our reward, and other rewards, in all their fullness and varied manifestations, should also be the explicit motivation for our Christian lives. Our entire Christian life, as John Piper says over and over in his book, Future Grace (another tremendous book), should be lived by banking on God’s promises to do us good, tomorrow, the next day, and on into eternity.
Now, when I say “rewards,” I mean everything good that comes to us as a result of our salvation, absolutely everything as it reflects and leads us to greater fellowship with Jesus. It is all rewards. Salvation is a gift, but there is no NT evidence for saying it is not a reward. Should we look back to Jesus’ sacrificial death with gratitude? Absolutely. But we are motivated by what Jesus’ death secures for us, namely, every good spiritual gift and reward we receive from tomorrow on into eternity.
And let us not think we are earning anything with this forward-looking faith. We are not. The rewards are the fruit of a life trusting and banking on Jesus and His promises to do us good.
But we may be cautious about being motivated by rewards. Why? Do we suspect that our “personal gain” is somehow at odds with “the love of God” or “love of neighbor?” I would ask why we think these are at odds? Where do we see the explicitly pursuit of personal spiritual rewards at odds with loving God and neighbor in the NT? Are there NT texts that put these things at odds?
Perhaps this is not why we are cautious, but again, why are we, if not for these reasons? The fact that Jesus does not put an explicit reward at the end of the greatest commandment does not mean there is no reward held out to us for obeying that commandment. The assumption is that this commandment is to be motivated by all the rewards laid out elsewhere in the NT. When it says that Moses was “looking to the reward,” we can assume that the reward was ultimately for obeying the great commandment, which is what Moses sought to do (as did Abraham, etc).
More to come.
I don’t know a whole lot about Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s current running mate, but best I can tell, he considers himself a genuine follower of Jesus. I’ll assume he is.
In that case, he should never have agreed to joining the Republican ticket in the first place. In my view he has tarnished his name in doing so, and must be experiencing a good deal of cognitive and moral dissonance in trying to defend an indefensible man. This means that, should the Republican party somehow (can’t imagine how) get Trump removed as the Republican candidate, Pence is not worthy to be Trump’s replacement. He has already disqualified himself by running alongside Trump.
In that light, I believe Pence has only one proper course of action, which he should take this very day. He should get himself a press conference and announce his withdrawal as the Republican vice-presidential candidate. And he might say something along these lines:
I come before you to announce that I am withdrawing as Donald Trump’s running mate. Unfortunately, I am just now coming to my senses, and it is clear, to use biblical terms, that I need to repent in dust and ashes, as it were. I intend to do so now, sincerely and wholeheartedly. The truth is, I should never have agreed to join the Trump ticket in the first place. I was wrong to do so, and in my heart of hearts, I knew it was wrong. I knew Donald Trump’s character, and I knew that defending him was a spiritual compromise on my part. I cannot go on denigrating my Lord and Savior by standing beside Mr. Trump, politically or otherwise. I understand that in withdrawing, I have probably brought my political career to an end, but that is not half so disheartening as to think of how I would make a continual hash of my soul by continuing to stay on the Republican ticket. Jesus has taken care of me with great generosity all of my life, and He will continue to do so, whatever the future holds for me and my family. I will go on trusting Jesus, humbly and in repentance and gratitude. And for that reason, I am no longer the Republic vice-presidential candidate. Thank you.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of [the other nations], for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Dt. 31:6).
Then you will prosper if you are careful to observe the statutes and the rules that the Lord commanded Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Fear not; do not be dismayed. (1 Chron. 22:13).
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13).
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:6).
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. (Ps. 3:6).
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 27:1).
So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:6).
I read somewhere yesterday that, in these times, the virtue Christians most need to cultivate is courage. I have an old friend who used to pray routinely for courage and humility. This prayer is more urgent now that Christians in the West are coming to be viewed as the “troublers” of civilization.
Courage will not mean an arrogant boisterousness in the face of those who oppose God’s gospel. But it most certainly will mean standing firm on the truth God has revealed. It will mean affirming and suffering for God’s sovereignty and lordship in absolutely every arena of life. It will mean affirming, in public ways, that God defines reality and has not left the defining of it open to us in any part of life. God created us “male and female” and we must courageously affirm that sinful human beings do not have the power or authority to try and define sexual reality for themselves. God invented marriage and He decides what it is and isn’t. He has determined the nature and purpose of sex and sexuality. We must stand with Peter and John when they said: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you be the judge.” (Acts 4:19).
God is the one who says that people from every tribe, tongue, nation and language matter to him, both the born and the unborn. God defines justice and with Him there is no favoritism.
As Os Guinness has said, there is no god but God, and so we must courageously obey Him in all things. His Word must be our constant standard of truth and reality. It will take courage to affirm the Bible’s truths, to defend its precepts, to proclaim its very words, to avoid softening or bastardizing its language and teaching, and to demonstrate its beauty with our lives.
We will not do this in our own power. Yet it is sobering, and indeed terrifying, to remember what God says: “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:7-8).
The Preacher says: “[R]ejoice in the wife of your youth.” (Prov. 5:18b). Husbands, this is a command, and as such, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it can be joyfully obeyed.
I have officiated at numerous weddings, and at my most recent one, I told the bride and groom, in effect, that their frail and fleeting human love does not give rise to the marital promises. It’s the promises, in the power of Christ, that allow the love to grow and flourish. This is something the world rarely, if ever, acknowledges. We are told that when the love is gone, the relationship is as good as dead. But it’s the commitment, the promises, that give rise to the love, and that allow it to grow even in the midst of struggles, conflict, losses, and suffering, which will inevitably come.
So God would have us “rejoice in the wife of our youth,” whether we have a storm of emotions about it or not. We must set ourselves to do it. I say “must,” but God’s commands are never a drudgery. We have the privilege of such rejoicing, and in my experience, when we decide that we will indeed rejoice in our wives, the wonderful fruit of joy, warmth, attraction, intimacy, longing, pursuit, sacrifice and service burgeon in our hearts and lives.
Husbands, I commend this to you. It is the way to happiness and contentment in your marriage. It is not fake or disingenuous. To obey God is always the path of goodness and satisfaction. Further, it is something you can do no matter what the state of your marriage. You can obey now, today, and find that what God commands he also enables his children to do, as Augustine said.
If you set yourself to “rejoice in the wife of your youth,” you will find that you are, in fact, “rejoicing” in her, which means taking joy in her, finding delight in her, seeing the good things in her, longing to do her good and contributing to a greater foundation and possibility for romance and intimacy.