In Genesis chapters one and two, Scripture presents a situation where mankind had fellowship with God and rulership over the earth. However, putting it tersely, "We lost it." I'm afraid we know the story all too well. Man sinned, lost close fellowship with God, and pulled the universe down with him.
2nd. Law of Thermodynamics
The second law of thermodynamics, the law of entropy, entered into the universe at this time and fractured its beauty and longevity. Our universe became a hostile, unloving place filled with hostile, unloving creatures. One third of the angels fell, and biological life forms began to die everywhere. Animals turned on each other, devouring other creatures for food and to win the law of "survival of the fittest" - Darwin's ugly scenario.
A Two-World View
But, in Revelation chapters 21 and 22 the Lord reveals that he has arranged for mankind to regain fellowship with God and rulership over the earth again: first during the Millennium, and then over the New Earth in the city of New Jerusalem.
In other words, what God started God will complete, and the Lord is sovereign over all things. As such, we must always keep in mind a "two-world" view: one worldview for living in the present earth, and one worldview focused on the new earth of the future.
Not All are Equal in Heaven
In His book The Believer's Payday, Paul Benware presents the staggering concept that not all of us will be equal in our rulership, responsibilities or duties on the New Earth. What is more staggering is that he backs it up with Scripture.
Focusing on the "partakers of Christ," Benware asserts that there will be a difference in heavenly rewards between those who suffered and worked for the King and those who did not. Some will rule over many cities - others will rule just one and some over none.
Some will share in a special fellowship with Christ as "companions" (metachoi), because of their obedience and willingness to share in the suffering of Christ for His sake. Dr. Benware quotes G.H Lang. "it will be much to be in the Kingdom of the saved: It will be far, far more to be a companion of the King."
This idea of special rewards and favored position in Heaven is consistently repeated in God's Word. Jesus presented it to us over and over through His parables and sayings such as the parable of the minas in Luke 19 and the parables of the talents of Matthew 25:14-30, to name a few.
Consistent reading of Sripture with this mindset shows that Paul and the other writers of Scripture understood this truth. For that reason alone we need strongly consider this and apply it to our actions here on earth.
Does this seem unfair?
Modern Mina Parable
Suppose for a minute that you have a brokerage account at Schwab and your son has investments at Morgan Stanley. Your son's broker made 30% on his IRA account in the past five years, but your broker made only 5% for you.
In seeking a new broker, wouldn't you consider your son's brokerage firm?
I think so!
This is essentially what Jesus proclaimed at the end of the Parable of the Minas. Jesus explains, "I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away" (Luke 19:26, NASB).
In other words, if Morgan Stanley does a better job of investing money, then Morgan Stanley deserves more accounts. They have been good stewards of their clients' funds.
Faithfulness and Stewardship
Faithfulness and good stewardship. What have we done with what God has given to us? That's what it is all about. Being faithful stewards here in this life will reap great rewards in our future life.
Review of our Stewardship :
In our article, "What Christians Can Lose During Judgment," we said that God will judge three areas of our lives, our words, our motives, and our works:
Accountable for Every Word
"I tell you on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36-37, ESV).
Accountable for our Motives
"Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart…" (1 Cor. 4:5).
Accountable for our Works
"For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints…" (Hebrews 6:10).
Yes we can Suffer Loss
We learned that we can lose part of our reward: "Watch yourselves so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward" (2 John 1:8).
Yes we can be Ashamed
We can be "ashamed" before Christ at His second coming: "Little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming" (1 Jn 2:28).
God Wipes away our Tears - Where do they come from?
Because our judgment occurs prior to entrance into the New Jerusalem when God wipes away all of our tears (Rev. 21:4), we must assume that we will shed tears that God will wipe away!
Chuck Missler suggests that we will probably cry over all of those lost opportunities we had on earth. However, remember that a day will come when we are no longer grief-stricken over our differences in rulership-responsibilities or grief-stricken over our squandered stewardship, either. That will come in the city of New Jerusalem in the New Heavens and New Earth.
Rewards in Heaven
We need to be deliberate in our Christian walk and take it seriously. God does. If He takes it seriously, shouldn't we? Let's carefully explore those attitudes and deeds which will bring us treasures and rewards in Heaven, something we will desire at that point in our forever-lives. To please the King will be our greatest desire. Each of us will fervently wish to hear these words,
"Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little. I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21, ESV).
Again and again Scripture gives detailed information about the day when believers will give an account for all they have done. If a Christian does not consider the matter seriously, perhaps it indicates outright unbelief. Then we must deal with the sin of unbelief which is another issue entirely.
If you struggle with unbelief, we tell you in all seriousness, as surely as man is able to "clone" human beings - which is sort of like resurrecting people - we will stand before Yeshua with all of our thoughts, deeds, and motives scrutinized in painful or joyful detail.
Maybe we should try to "get a grip on it," now. What do you think?
Preparation for our Day of Judgment
In preparing for the day of judgment, Dr. Benware highlights 2 Peter 1:5-ll as a passage which "contains a wealth of valuable truths that will enable a believer to receive great reward or, as Peter says, an abundant entrance in the eternal kingdom" (Benware 2002).
7 Virtues to Develop in our Lives
2 Peter 1:5-11:
:5 "Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply MORAL EXCELLENCE, and in your moral excellence, KNOWLEDGE,
:6 and in your knowledge, SELF-CONTROL, and in your self control, PERSEVERANCE, and in your perseverance, GODLINESS,
:7 and in your godliness, BROTHERLY KINDNESS, and in your brotherly kindness, LOVE.
:8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
:9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.
:10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you, for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.
:11 For in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you." (NASB)
"Applying all diligence" in verse five is Peter's way of stating that the believer is to live for Christ in everything he does. This takes perseverance and commitment, a willful decision to bring one's life under God's will. The seven virtues mentioned after "applying all diligence" renders the believer useful and fruitful in his Christian walk (v. 8).
1. Moral Excellence
Moral excellence comes from a Greek word, "areten," which means that something fulfills the purpose for which it was made. A garden hose may function well as a hose to water plants. Or, a shovel is useful for digging. In this sense, believers are to do the will of their Father just as Jesus fulfilled God's purpose for His life.
In practical terms, Benware states that such a purposeful life starts with today. "What would God's purpose for me be today? The answer will usually revolve around the relationships, opportunities, and activities that are part of life today" (Benware 2002, 185).
This carries with it the belief that God is sovereign over the affairs of our lives - who we work with and meet on a day to day basis. Within those relationships and events, we are to practice our faith diligently and with excellence.
Malicious Acts or Unintended Mistakes
As author Jerry Bridges says so eloquently, "Neither the willful malicious acts nor the unintended mistakes of people can thwart God's purpose for us. 'There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord'" (Proverbs 21:30).
God's Sovereignty over Us
Bridges continues, "One of our problems with the sovereignty of God is that it frequently does not appear that God is in control of the circumstances of our lives. We see unjust or uncaring or even clearly wicked people doing things that adversely affect us. We experience the consequences of other people's mistakes and failures. We even do foolish and sinful things ourselves and suffer the often bitter fruit of our actions. It is difficult to see God working through secondary causes and frail, sinful human beings. But it is the ability of God to so arrange diverse human actions to fulfill His purpose that makes His sovereignty marvelous and yet mysterious." (Bridges 1992, 40-41).
As Nancy and Chuck Missler presented from their position of personal pain and tragedy, "The darkness that He allows into our lives is Father-filtered and is good. This is the process that He uses to 'replace us with Himself' - to purge our souls of sin and self, so that He can fill us with His fullness and give us His life." Not one thing happens in our lives outside of God's control and sovereignty (Missler 1999).
After the quality of moral excellence comes "knowledge." Knowledge suggests that we are intellectual creatures who think and reason. We are instructed to be "transformed by the renewing of our minds" (Romans 12:2).
2 Timothy 2:15 tells us to diligently "present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." (NASB).
Knowledge takes careful study of God's Word so that we can replace lies in our lives with truth - God's truth. We need a new worldview - a "two-world" view encompassing this world and the world to come.
For those of us raised in ungodly or nonreligious families, it is particularly difficult to be "transformed by the renewing of our minds" (Ro. 12:2). Yet, we need it the most.
For example, we cannot imagine godly mothering if we never had a mother who said prayers with us at night or who gave blessings at the dinner table. If our fathers pursued esteem and prestigious jobs and money through their work, how can we understand a life given over to Christ? If our biological sisters or brothers ridicule our conversion to Christ and beliefs, it is difficult to "shake the dust from our shoes" and move on (Matt. 10:14).
It takes a special kind of dedication and diligence to overcome years of "programming" from a hostile world ruled by Satan. But, it can be done! In fact, God commands that we do it. We must study hard to show ourselves approved to God (2 Tim. 2:15).
In these instances we need to remember that God is sovereign over the lives of children raised in non believing families, too. In fact, he interrupts generations of hostility toward God by doing just that - saving the souls of millions apart from Christian backgrounds.
Overcoming Distractions - T.V., Phone, Internet, etc.
To study thoroughly we need to overcome hindrances in our lives which prevent adequate time to study God's Word. This includes such things as the all-consuming television, telephone, shopping, and internet distractions.
This is not easy to eliminate. It is even difficult to cut down on the time we spend in front of a T.V. and computer, on the telephone, or in the mall! Nevertheless, we need to do it! Perhaps we could just cut the time we spend on entertainment in half. You may wish to try it. It is our personal choice. But, remember that we will account for our time before the Lord. Because of these distractions, we have strayed far from true, godly living and have neglected the Word of God which is our primary manual for how to live on this planet.
Self-control is our next virtue. We are to control our emotions, thoughts, and desires. Benware notes that this includes not only passions or infidelity in marriage, but also not "losing control in a religious service by falling on the ground and writhing around." We are to take "every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).
All of us have areas in our lives over which we suffer lack of control. This can include drinking, sex, overeating, drugs, and a myriad list of "do's and don'ts."
A Religion of Convenience?
"There is no passion, desire, or thought that cannot be controlled by the Holy Spirit using the Word of God. It directly contradicts the teaching of Scripture to imply otherwise. The believer bears the responsibility to saturate his mind with God's thoughts and perspectives and to focus his thinking on good and pure things (cf. Phil. 4:8).
Self-control is a maturing virtue to add to our faith when the mind is won over to the excellent things of the Lord Jesus and away from the lesser (and oftentimes shabby) things generated by the world system of Satan. It is probably going to be very difficult for a believer to mature in the virtue of self-control while attempting to maintain a religion of convenience" (Benware 2002, 187).
Perseverance is the fourth virtue. "Perseverance is a virtue that does not move away from the Lord when confronted by adversity, difficulty, or distress. The believer who possesses perseverance does not give up but rather increasingly submits to the sovereign workings of a loving Heavenly Father" (Benware 2002, 187).
Jerry Bridges states that "perseverance is the quality of character that enables one to pursue a goal in spite of obstacles and difficulties. It is one thing to simply bear up under adversity. This in itself is commendable.
But God calls us to do more than simply bear the load of adversity. He calls us to persevere (to press forward) in the face of it. …The Christian life is meant to be active, not passive. The Christian is called to pursue with diligence the will of God. To do this requires perseverance."
…"It has often been observed that the Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon. But even those metaphors fail to adequately express reality. The Christian life could better be described as an obstacle course of marathon length."
Bridges continues, "But God wants all Christians to finish well. He wants us to run with perseverance, He wants us to persist in doing His will whatever the obstacles might be."
"William Carey, often called the father of modern missions, is a famous example of one who persevered. Despite a succession of unbelievable obstacles (including an unsympathetic wife who later became insane), he translated all or parts of the Bible into forty languages and dialects of India."
"And William Carey's sister is equally an example of one who persevered. Almost totally paralyzed and bedridden, she lay on her bed in London and prayed for all the details and struggles of her brother's work in far-off India." (Bridges 1988, 185).
Godliness encompasses an attitude of reverence that "seeks to please God in every area of life. Believers of past generations used to speak of 'practicing the presence of Christ" (Benware 2002, 188).
Living in our culture has caused us to compartmentalize almost all things religious. We attend church on Sundays, if even that. But, our work, families, associations, and forms of entertainment run contrary to church life and a biblical worldview. In other words, we behave one way on Sunday, and another way the rest of the week.
Demands of an Ungodly Culture
Organizations such as the ACLU or our concepts of separation of state and church have wreaked havoc with our quest to live a godly, Christian life. Folks, we need to stop it right now. We need to quit this process of syncretism - blending the secular with the religious. We will not earn rewards in Heaven if we consistently bow to the altar of ungodly demands from an unbelieving world. According to pollsters such as The Barna Group and authors like Ronald Sider, evangelical Christians embrace lifestyles "every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general" (Sider 2005).
Come out of her My People
Like in the days of Corinth, many believers are facing difficult decisions and taking actions such as removing their children from public schools to home school them. Some turn off the T.V. or subscribe to Christian satellite networks. Many install filtering systems to weed-out filth from their childrens'computers. Remember that in Satan's slick world, friendly, smiling, whistling "Bob" greets us and our children at every turn with commercials designed to titillate sexual passions and behaviors. Our culture would have us believe that sex, money, work, entertainment and consuming are the primary functions of life. (Yes, there is more to life than this).
"Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues. For her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities" (Revelation 18:4-5, ESV).
Coming out of our culture and not participating in the things of the world is not easy. It is a deliberate yet necessary act.. But how do we do it?
Paul tells us to focus on "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8, ESV). We are to actively pursue godliness.
6. Brotherly Kindness
While we live our lives on earth we are infected with evil hearts, intentions, and emotions. It would seem that this is a genetic problem - we are all "S-I-N" positive! (See Jeremiah 17:9).
Therefore, treating our fellow believers with kindness is not something which comes naturally to us. Romans 12:10 gives us an idea of what brotherly love should look like in our lives:
"Be devoted to one another in brotherly love, give preference to one another in honor, not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" (NASB).
Ephesians 4:32 tells us to "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."
Finally, Philippians 2:3-4 says we should, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others."
Our Forever Families
Most Christians know they should develop these qualities in their relationships with one another. The New Testament is clear that brothers and sisters in Christ are our Forever Family. In other words, that lonely sister or brother sitting in Sunday School class is closer to us spirtually than an unsaved biological sister, mother, or father.
Ephesians 2:19 tells us, "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household," (NASB).
John MacArthur notes that, "Redeemed sinners not only become heavenly citizens but also members of God's own family." (MacArthur Study Bible 1996, 1806).
Ephesians 3:14-15, NIV says, "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name."
The Life Application Study Bible notes state that "The family of God includes all who have believed in him in the past, all who believe in the present, and all who will believe in the future. We are all a family because we have the same Father…God promises his love and power to his family, the church (3:16-21). If we want to receive God's blessings, it is important that we stay in contact with other believers in the body of Christ." (Study Bible 1991, 2534).
Jesus said, "whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother" (Matthew 12:50.
How we Treat Believers Counts Forever
We believe this is why Hebrews says, "For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints" (Heb. 6:10, NASB).
Shocked by Christian Snobbery
Church members need to consider including singles, widows and orphans in their family holiday festivities whenever possible. You might be shocked to learn how many Christian believers are shunned by other Christians on important holidays. Yet, there should be no such thing as "snobbery" or deliberately inviting only blood-relatives to Christmas dinner or Easter celebrations. No Christian should be alone within God's family during special times.
Stuck for an Eternity
For some reason, many in the church have neglected their own and raised the status of blood-relatives to an idolatrous level. It is clear that God will reward our efforts to view all believers as "real" family. May we dare to suggest that some church members will be "stuck" with each other for eternity? So we may as well get used to each other now!
7. Final Virtue - Love
The final virtue mentioned in 2 Peter 1:5-11 is "love." This is "agape" love "which is the divine love that God is in His nature. This kind of love 'seeks the best' of others and is produced in the heart of the yielded believer by the Holy Spirit. Strictly speaking this love is not an emotion but an attitude and choice of the will that impels the believer to deny himself for the benefit of another" (Benware 2002, 189).
All seven of these virtues require diligence and effort to acquire. We must fight the natural man with the help of the Holy Spirit. "Peter reminds believers that if these are present in a person's life then that life will be one of worth (2 Pet. 1:8). Before we came to faith in Christ, it was impossible for us to 'grow' these virtues, but now we can" (pg. 189).
Jesus says, "The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity" (Matt. 8:14, NASB).
Worries, riches, and pleasures in this life are unfruitful and reflect a life lived in unbelief. "Worries reflect unbelief, and without faith it is impossible to please God. Riches possessed or longed for are a matter of idolatry and can never produce spiritual fruit because the wrong god is being served. Pleasure, which places the focus on self, is the exact opposite of the virtues Peter listed."
Benware continues, "How can believers not passionately and energetically give themselves to serve Christ diligently when they 'remember' what the Lord Jesus has done for them? This is why understanding the doctrines of Scripture are so vital and so foundational for living authentic Christian lives! It is only when we 'remember' that we will live diligently over the long haul of life" (Benware 2002, 190).
In closing, rather than give a laundry-list of things for which God will reward us, we have chosen to list foundational things we must learn which will produce "fruits" in our spiritual walk, which will then lead to rewards during judgment. We are grateful to Dr. Paul Benware and Jerry Bridges for their careful exegesis of Scripture regarding rewards in Heaven and God's sovereignty and providence.
Please…don't waste your life and precious time.
Only one life twill soon be past.
Only what's done for Christ will last.
Benware, Paul. 2002. The believer's payday. Chattanooga, TN: AMG.
Bridges, Jerry. 1992. Trusting God even when life hurts. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
Lutzer, Erwin W. 1998. Your eternal reward. Chicago: Moody.
Missler, Chuck&Nancy. 1999. Faith in the night seasons. Coeur d'Alene, ID: Koinonia House.
Authors Ken Emilio holds an MA in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University. Valorie received her MA in History from UCLA having specialized in Christian origins. Both hold a V.O.M. Certificate in Persecuted Church Ministries from Oklahoma Wesleyan University.