Many times, when I talk to people about rewards in the world to come, they respond that such an idea is selfish. They usually add that we should obey the Lord and be faithful to Him because we love Him. That is motivation enough and is the only pure motive.
I wish that I did everything I did because I love the Lord. But oftentimes during my life, loving Him was not my motive for wanting to obey Him. For example, sometimes I do what the Scriptures tell me because I am afraid of the negative consequences that disobedience can bring in my life through the discipline of God.
Recently a friend of mine, Bill Fiess, gave what I think is a great illustration that loving God is not the only motivation the believer has to obey the Lord. Bill is a math teacher at a college in Virginia. He has been doing that for many years. He told me of a situation that he has never encountered.
Suppose he started the semester by telling his calculus class that anybody who did very well in the class would be eligible to take the next, more advanced class. That class would be available to anybody who received an “A” in the current class. Those who did well in the advanced class would then be eligible to receive a scholarship to a prestigious university to study areas of mathematics not available at the school where he was teaching. That university would be able to give them a degree that would allow them to teach at other universities where they would be able to impact the lives of other students in the area of mathematics.
Now envision an imaginary student in Bill’s calculus class who, hearing these things, responded in this manner: “Those things do not interest me. I don’t want to know about advanced mathematics. I don’t want to help others understand it. I simply love math. I love your teaching. I just enjoy being a part of your class. Just being here under your teaching is enough reward for me.” Once that student had enough points for a “C,” he might not even bother to take any more exams or do any other assignments.
Bill told me that no student would ever say something like that. But suppose one did. Wouldn’t it be very strange? If that student truly loved math, wouldn’t he want to know more about it? Wouldn’t he welcome the opportunity to explore deeper things concerning the subject and be thrilled to share those things with others? In a way, wouldn’t it be disrespectful towards Bill, his math teacher, if he didn’t take advantage of the opportunities Bill was giving him? If that student did not apply himself to the things Bill taught him, to do the very best he could in order to obtain those rewards, wouldn’t we conclude that it was a great waste?
The author of Hebrews says that if we want to please God, we must believe that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6). It sounds kind of spiritual to say that we only serve God because we love Him. But if we reject the concept of rewards, we are being disrespectful towards Him. Rewards in the kingdom (and in this life!) will allow those who receive them to know the things of the Lord more deeply. They will give the opportunity for us to serve others in ways that will bring honor to God. God wants to reward us in that way.
We are like students in God’s class. He tells us that if we are faithful to Him and what He tells us to do, He will reward us with greater opportunities to serve Him and know Him more intimately. Which one of us, thinking in a Biblical manner, would ever respond to Him: “Thanks, but no thanks. Loving you is enough for me.”