Reward
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First Corinthians

Reward

1 Corinthians 3:1-15

In this passage Paul lays out the concept of reward for service to God. There are two misconceptions current in Christianity which concern this:

One says that we need do nothing in our Christian lives. After all, grace is God’s free gift. But as James says, faith without works is dead. If you have faith, then works will surely follow.

The other says that works are a requirement for salvation – you must work your way into heaven. This, surprisingly, makes salvation too cheap. Salvation cost the blood of the perfect Sacrifice; it is not for sale at the price of our works.

All this, however, does not mean that God does not recognize nor reward good works. Indeed, God is just; and being just he does reward.

(1 Cor 3:1-15 NIV) Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly--mere infants in Christ. {2} I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. {3} You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? {4} For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men? {5} What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task. {6} I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. {7} So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. {8} The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. {9} For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. {10} By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. {11} For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. {12} If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, {13} his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. {14} If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. {15} If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

 

The worker is nothing

One of the difficulties that the able Christian finds is that God is not in need of what he can bring. Indeed, God makes it very clear that we should consider ourselves as unimportant in the kingdom – because we are.

“Only servants”

See how Paul is careful to phrase it: “through whom you came to believe.” It is an odd way of putting it; most of us would say, “I converted you to Christ.” But Paul wants to make a point – that he, himself, is not important. Why?

First, because humility is the proper attitude of the Christian towards God. Without it, your relationship is on the wrong basis.

Next, so that no one will make the mistake of worshiping the human messenger rather than the God who sent him.

Finally, so that grace may be seen in action. Paul laid the foundation – by the grace that God had given him. Thus in his words and deeds Paul shows us the grace of God to be primary in his kingdom.

“You are God’s field”

The servant of God must always remember what he’s handling – and that it belongs to God, not to him. But the “field” – those in the church – must remember also that they belong to God:

You are God’s by right of creation. If I make something, it’s mine. He made the universe and all that is in it; you are his.

You are God’s by right of redemption. He sent his Son to the cross for you; he bought you from sin with his own blood.

You are God’s by right of lordship – for you accepted Jesus as both Savior and as Lord.

God “makes it grow”

God is the life giver; from him all life flows. We need to remember that we are not the ones responsible for the result, only for our own efforts toward the result. The results are God’s.

They arrive on his schedule. He does not normally work miracles, but usually allows these things to proceed like growing things, little by little.

They arrive by his supply. The church often looks starved and poor in the world’s eyes – but they do not see the purpose, nor the supply for it.

The results are his results. Those results may not be the ones we dreamed of; they are the results he planned.

Working in God’s Plan

God is the one doing the planning – though we often like to think otherwise. He has his plan, and it will be fulfilled. It’s important for us to remember that.

Each his assigned role

We know – as members of the body – that each of us has a different role, as assigned by God. It’s a good thing to know what you’re supposed to be doing.

But in so doing we need to remember that we are fellow workers. We are not out there independently, but should be upholding each other.

Always – remember that we have the same purpose. The Great Commission was given to all of us.

Fellow workers with God

Note that phrase. We are not just fellow workers with each other, but fellow workers with God! The Greek word used here for “fellow” is the one from which we get our word, “synergy.” We are working in the “same energy” as God, for that is the literal meaning.

We need to remember what an honor this is. We don’t deserve it, but this sacred trust has been put in our hands. We should handle it with the gravity it deserves.

We also need to remember our place on the team. If God is our leader, where should there be dissension?

We have individual responsibility

Do you see how Paul tells them that they were not mature enough to handle the things he wanted to tell them – as evidenced by their infighting? That’s a key point here. It tells us that each of us has the responsibility to examine our circumstances, in prayer and thought, and then do what we believe to be the best for God. Paul didn’t charge ahead like a robot thinking, “God will change and enlighten them – I can go straight to the meat of the thing.” He evaluated their situation and brought them along as they could handle things. If we misjudge things and aim too high or too low, God will provide for that as well.

The growth is by his plan. This can lead to results we don’t expect. Sometimes those results are discouraging; we think, “I’ve labored in vain. God threw away what I did; it must be useless.” We must remember that God is just. He rewards us according to our labor.

 

Reward according to labor

It can be confusing. Salvation is free, and equal to all – but reward is according to your labor, not your results. God is responsible for the results. So how shall we approach this problem?

Be careful how you build

If you’re working for God, think like a good craftsman. God rewards good work. He’s not at all fond of slipshod construction.

Build on the right foundation. Many people establish a “ministry” based upon good works – feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless and so on. These are good things. But if the ministry is not built on Jesus Christ, it counts for nothing. It is of little use to feed the poor physically if you deny them spiritually.

Take care in what you build with. If your work is done at leisure, with no thought for the quality of your labors, then what good is it? You would not accept that from a carpenter; why should the Carpenter accept it from you?

Remember that others will build on your work. Don’t force them to tear down your mistakes to correct them. More than that, when they do – and surpass you in the process – rejoice. It means your work is approved in God’s plan!

The test is by fire

Suppose you get your car’s wheels aligned. You may not know anything about how to align those wheels – but you know whether or not they wobble and vibrate. You take that car out for a drive before you accept the work as being done correctly. Our Lord will follow a similar process – his test is by fire.

What survives? The costly. If your work for God costs you greatly; if you put your heart and soul and treasure in it, then it is precious to God. Good work often takes more time than shoddy. Was your heart in the job?

What doesn’t survive? The cheap and the shabby. If your work for God came from what you had left over; if your chief contribution to charity is used underwear going to Goodwill; if your service to God is mainly singing during the worship service, then your work will get the reward it deserves. If Christ were to dine at your house, would you serve him leftovers?

Don’t think you can hide it from God. You can hide it from me. I’ll only know about it at the Judgment Day, if then. But then, my opinion doesn’t count – His does.

The Foundation remains

All this talks of reward, not of salvation. The foundation – Jesus Christ, our Savior – remains. What we do may be burnt up, or may be valued – what he does is eternal.

Grace is his eternal plan. Since we cannot earn it, it is not connected to our reward.

Reward is according to our labor – quality and quantity, I suspect – not according to our circumstances (which God arranges anyway).

Both reward and grace are based on the eternal character of God. Grace, for he is love; reward, for he is righteous and just.

Summary

Keep your pride in check; God doesn’t need you. He wants you.

Work at your assigned post, considering it an honor to be a fellow worker with Christ.

Do your work with craftsmanship, and the Creator will honor and reward you for it.

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