What Reward Do You Want?
If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? (Matthew 5:46)
Not too long ago I remember writing about this issue of rewards as far as heaven is concerned. I began to realize that the rewards that Jesus talked about were likely very different in nature than what we typically think of in regards to reward. Because we associate rewards with selfish things that we want like material possessions or elevated social status or power, we usually translate those motives right into our assumptions about what God might mean when He speaks of rewards.
But if we would be more careful to examine our own assumptions and motivations when we think of heavenly rewards we would begin to realize how much our own sinful thinking has contaminated our ideas of the nature of rewards that we will receive in heaven. In fact, it might even have the effect of diminishing our desires for heaven if we really knew the true nature of the rewards we will receive there until our hearts are more in line with the way heaven thinks and values things.
When I read this passage this morning listening for whatever the Spirit had to teach me, my curiosity was suddenly peaked when I came across this verse. Something I had just read in a morning devotional book may have primed my mind along this line and the connections awakened a new thought that helped me see this passage from a different perspective.
When I applied what I have previously learned about rewards to this text it suddenly made a lot more sense, even in the context of immediate rewards, not just future ones. As I have seen it more clearly, the main core of heaven's kind of rewards has much more to do with bonds of love, friendship and affection with other hearts than it has anything at all to do with material possessions or positions of power or authority in heaven. If we really think about it more carefully we would begin to see how foolish those other kinds of rewards would appear in the atmosphere of heaven where there is no selfishness, no desire for supremacy over others and where the words of Jesus to His disciples are the norm everywhere.
And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.' But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves." (Luke 22:25-26 NKJV)
From this perspective I can see more clearly that if heaven's kind of rewards likely do not involve lording it over others or wanting ownership of valuable possessions in a place where the attitude of everyone is that of totally unselfish sharing of everything, then I need to look for what is more likely something considered of more value in heaven's eyes and that we will cherish the most and appreciate the most after our own hearts have been transformed to reflect the attitude and values of Jesus. From this way of looking at things I believe that the kind of reward's, the things that people who reflect Jesus will crave the most and cherish the greatest will be the relationships that will be discovered, the heart connections that will be in place between people who have sought to lead others into a saving relationship with Jesus and those who have responded to those appeals positively.
As I look at this first text in the light of that view of rewards it suddenly makes much more sense why Jesus would say what He does in this discourse. It is not some sort of arbitrary rule by God that we have to love our enemies in order to earn some sort of merit award, some star He might pin on us in front of everyone for doing a good and noble deed for Him. That is the kind of thinking that we use in this world but is totally foreign in heaven's economy. Public recognition and acclaim in heaven does not come from earning merits and seeking rewards but is something that comes naturally as a consequence of our choices just as sin has its consequences that all lead to death. God is not in the business of handing out arbitrary rewards and punishments like we have thought all of our lives; He is in the business of seeking to enlighten us to the fact that everything has its own inherent consequences that are unavoidable unless His grace shields us from those consequences to allow us time to change our mind and our direction and respond to the real truth about Him and His love for us.
When Jesus says that there is little or no reward in loving those who love you, what is He really trying to get across me?
If you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:47-48 NRSV)
As I look at this more carefully I am beginning to see that this reward has to be linked some way to going beyond what feels normal, the kind of interactive affections that are easy to share between people who already like each other. When Jesus says, what more are you doing than others, He must mean that rewards can only be found beyond the normal bounds of what we naturally feel like doing with those who like us and those who hate us. These verses are also in the context of what just came right before where Jesus instructs us to pray for our enemies and to not resist an evil person.
But this all makes perfect sense when a reward is defined in terms of relationships and joy-bonds instead of in terms of material possessions or political positions. If heaven's kind of rewards are simply inherent consequences, are in fact the very relationships of intimacy that are formed and deepened throughout all eternity but that were initiated here on earth during our short opportunity to do so, then I can see what Jesus is talking about here much more clearly.
If I only love my friends, I am not forming any new connections that will mature into more heart connections than what I already have. That is like saying if I want a bigger garden I am only willing to tend the plants I already have but am unwilling to plant any more new seeds. That certainly doesn't make any sense in a garden and from heaven's perspective it doesn't make any sense in relationships either. If I desire to have more of the kind of relationships that will turn into rich rewards of love bonds with more hearts, the most effective way to do that is not by investing all my attentions and affections on those with whom I already have mutual love with but will turn my attention to breaking new ground and planting more seeds even though it doesn't feel good initially.
The essence of these rewards is the relationships that thrive between hearts. If I want more rewards, either here or in eternity, I cannot spend all my time just enjoying the nice, loving relationships I already experience. I already have those rewards – that does little to create more for me. The real potential for increasing my 'basket' of rewards, when I truly understand the nature of rewards in this context, is in the lives of those whom I don't yet have any connections of love. I must allow the love of my Father in heaven to flow through me to those who don't yet know Him in order to awaken the same kind of love in them. That at times will involve a lot of pain and will require patience and endurance, but the potential heart connections and the bonds of true affection that may be formed if I persevere are the ingredients of the rewards that will be most cherished and honored throughout all of eternity.
Some of these rewards will mature and be able to be enjoyed on a limited basis while we live here on earth. But very many of them will not mature into healthy bonds until after we are gone. That is why we should never attempt to measure our rewards by how much they have given us the pleasure of intimate affections during our short time on earth. We must learn to invest seeds of kindness and selfless, loving service to many more people, especially to those who resist love if we want to see a greater harvest of relationships either here or later after the war is over.
The wise planters are the ones who plant the most seeds and are willing to wait for them to mature whether they personally get to enjoy the fruits of their investments or not. Likewise, the wise children of God, the God who is love personified, will be the ones who extravagantly plant seeds of kindness and love in the face of hatred and persecution with plans that those seeds will sooner or later spring up and displace the sinful confusion that currently motivates those who don't yet know their Creator.
Father, this is all new to me but is very exciting. But immediately I realize that I simply don't have the kind of unconditional love and patience and motivations that are required for such investments in those who are not initially positively responsive to my approaches. That means that You are going to have to live inside of me and reveal Your character through me instead of my natural reactions. When people spurn my attempts to show love to them I feel like getting resentful and withdrawing. But You don't treat people that way and it is Your kind of persistent love that produces the harvest of relationship rewards that all of us really crave to experience.
So Father, please dwell inside of me today and love others through me even when it hurts deeply. Help me to remember that I can't always enjoy the fruit of a tree soon after it is planted. But if I keep close to You and let Your love flow through me to those who right now feel more like thorn bushes than fruit trees, I can trust that Your persistent love will eventually awaken a response of love in their heart and that I can someday enjoy even more heart connections with others because I was willing to invest my life into theirs. Thank-you so much for showing me all of these things this morning. I would never have seen it myself. This is so exciting and yet so intimidating. You must do this in and through me as I let go of my resistance by seeing more clearly how You really treat me as well.
Father, now I can see more clearly what You meant about being perfect like You. It is not about outward performances centered on behavior but it is all about growing into the kind of love that does not back off or become offended when it is resisted. That is what perfection is all about and when I see it that way I now want to be more perfect because I want to have these kinds of rewards – loving, intimate heart connections and joy-bonds with as many others as I can possibly absorb.