Being Explicitly Motivated by Spiritual Rewards is Obedience to the Great Commandment
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.