The concept of reward is built into the world around us. Animals and birds instinctively work for and can be trained for reward. Man organizes his whole life wherein effort is put in to accomplish worldly reward in the form of money, honor, comfort and security. But even as man goes through the routines of life here on earth, he cannot help but think that there ought to be a reward beyond this life, without which life itself becomes a meaningless chasing after the wind. Jesus talks of man’s eternal reward,
For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (Matthew 16:27)
The certainty of reward is evident from Jesus’ statement, which however requires faith on behalf of man to believe and appropriate into his life. The statement also authoritatively indicates the absolute control that Jesus has over creation and man’s destiny- nothing can derail that process. He also states that a person’s decisions here on earth will determine his eternal destiny.
Broadly speaking there can be two aspects of reward- what we do with ourselves, and what we build with our effort.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1Corinthians 9:24-27)
Using the example of an athlete who trains hard to get a reward, Paul describes how man can discipline himself and aim for an eternal reward. Our bodies and our minds have a ‘mind’ of their own- often we find it hard to control the inclinations of our minds and consequently the actions generated by our bodies. Born with a sinful nature, every man gravitates towards what is inherently sinful and finds it hard to direct himself in the path of what he knows is good. A strong will can only get you so far, but what is really needed is for the back of the sinful nature to be broken. And this happens when a person regardless of his background or religion, accepts the death of Christ on the cross for one’s own sin. Then the prescription of Paul detailing discipline to prepare for an eternal reward does become possible.
What about what we build out of our lives? Every person uses his life on earth to build something- be it a profession, a family, a skill, an impact on society, an example to follow, a legacy and so on.
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their 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 person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. (1Corinthians 3:11-15)
What we build has value in our eyes and hopefully in the eyes of those we interact with. But what we have built over a lifetime shall be put to the test. Upon the foundation that is belief in Christ, are we building what will be found eternally valuable or eternally detestable? For an eternal judgment, the description is of the work passing through fire, wherein anything that is found contrary to the nature of God will be burnt up, whereas anything that was in line with God’s nature which permeates all of reality, shall be preserved for an eternal reward.
For one who lives in the present, the invisible is often discarded into the realm of impossibility. But for everyone who finds the physical reality interwoven into a transcendent Reality, an eternal reward is worth living for. In Jesus’ words,
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. (Revelation 22:12)
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