Some Christians Will Achieve Greater Eternal Rewards Than Others

Introduction

Video


Summary

Even though most people don’t have issues decorating only certain particularly worthy soldiers for exemplary service, for example, many seem to have problems when that idea is mapped onto the concept of eternal rewards from the hand of God. Despite the skepticism, scripture is actually pretty clear on this specific question, so for all who are truly willing to look at what the Bible says, it becomes quickly apparent that God will in fact reward some individuals more than others in eternity, based upon the quality of their Christian walk here in time.

Timestamps

Content

Merit-based rewards are not generally controversial

Every day people give honor to distinguished service and scorn laziness. The idea of different levels of recognition and reward for different levels of service does not seem to be very controversial to most people.

However, when the rewards in question are eternal, people seem to be a bit more skittish

However, some people seem to have a problem when the rewards in question are not physical rewards in this temporary world of ours, but eternal spiritual rewards. There are several reasons why people might take issue:

  • Maybe it is because these rewards are eternal, so the overall consequences are much larger.
  • Maybe because people are familiar with the correct teaching that salvation comes by grace through faith and not by works, they think eternal rewards must work in exactly the same way.
  • Maybe they want everyone to be rewarded the same because if we are instead rewarded according to service they will not do very well!

Whatever the reasons, this idea of different levels of eternal reward for different levels of service seems to be hard for many people to accept. The goal of this short study is to briefly put forward some of the scriptural evidence for the concept.

Some general passages dealing with differing levels of eternal reward

Scripture is quite clear that upon Christ’s return, judgement will be rendered as to the works of men. For example:

All these passages speak of an evaluation of our works. It follows naturally that if some people have “better works” than others, then they will receive more reward. There is no other way to responsibly interpret these passages.

More on the process of evaluation: 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

Paul gives us some more detail on the process of evaluation in 1 Corinthians 3:

After the fires of judgement, only those things we built upon the sure foundation of Jesus Christ will remain. (This applies to words and thoughts as well as actions: compare Matthew 12:36–37).

This passage in 1 Corinthians 3 teaches that those who build with gold, silver, and precious stones have works that survive the fire. On the other hand, those who build with wood, hay, and stubble have works that do not survive the fire.

The fire represents God evaluating the things we do in this life, and the things left behind lead to reward for us (see verse 14). For this reason, this passage clearly teaches that some people receive greater reward than others.

Eternal ranking is implicit in “Many of the first will be last, and the last first”

Finally, consider the passages that teach that many of the first will be last, and the last first:

These passages directly teach that there is ranking in heaven. If we were all the same in eternity, it would not be possible to have people who are first and last.

Video/audio transcript


The Parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Minas

Video


Summary

The parable of the talents and the parable of the minas both clearly teach that the level of our reward in eternity is dependent upon what we do here on Earth. When the master (Christ) returns from His long journey (the second coming, Christ’s παρουσία), he will judge individual Christians (servants) according to what return they have produced using the resources he gave them (everything we are blessed with in life – talents, wealth, and so on). Those found to have produced more with that which they were given will be rewarded proportionally more highly.

Timestamps

Content

Introduction

These two parables clearly teach that the level of our reward in eternity is dependent upon what we do here on Earth.

The two parables are not exactly identical, but they do both teach this general principle.

The parable of the talents

Sidenote

Tangential aside: On Bible versions that translate ’talent’ with some actual dollar amount

The NIrV, a Bible version intentionally written at low level of writing (somewhere around where a third-grader can read) translates ’talent’ as the actual dollar amount of $2,000.

Here, this is done in an attempt to make the passage mean more for children who do not know what a talent is as an ancient unit of currency. It is actually not as simple as one might think to explain different currencies and measures in antiquity, especially to younger children. So choosing a dollar amount is not a translation choice completely without merit.

But there are dangers

However, there are certainly dangers too. For example, figuring out exactly how much buying power a talent really represented is wrought with difficulties, and would be far from perfect even if we had perfect historical economic knowledge of a particular area (which of course we never do), because relative buying power always varies according to geographic market conditions, as well as politics. To quote the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary:

Quote from the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary

The metrology of the Near East during the Greek and Roman periods is still poorly understood. Coins bring additional evidence but complicate matters enormously because we do not have the evidence to control either the effect of prices or politics.

Conclusions

The upshot of all this is that picking a specific value, any value, is already treading on somewhat shaky historiographical ground. And let’s not even talk about the differences between the fiat money of today vs. the commodity money of antiquity, and the fact that due to modern-day inflation, whatever value you pick in translation will not represent a consistent measure of buying power over time, especially over longer periods. (The dollar of the 1940s is worth a lot more than the dollar of today when adjusted for inflation, e.g.).

The point of all this discussion is not necessarily to condemn translations that use actual values, but just to note some of the complexities and perils involved. Here, as always, we can see that translation is a grossly imperfect process, even when you take the utmost care and properly do your homework.

The parable of the minas

Interpreting the parable of the talents and the parable of the minas

While these two parables are not identical in all the particulars, they teach more or less the same thing. When interpreting a parable, an important first step is identifying exactly what things in the parable stand for. With this in mind:

  • In both these parables, the master represents our Lord, Jesus Christ.
  • In both these parables, the servants represent believers. An exception is the servant who buries his money and is subsequently thrown into the darkness (see Matthew 25:30). This servant did not do anything with all that God had given him. As the Bible makes clear elsewhere, faith without works is dead (compare James 2:17). That means faith without works is not true faith at all. (As a sidenote, it is sometimes helpful to put this dead faith in scare quotes when discussing it, as this “faith” can otherwise get confused with actual faith).
  • In both these parables, the money given to the servants (us) represents all that God has given to us. This would include talents/aptitudes, material possessions, opportunities, and so on. (In truth, all we have in life comes from the hand of God, in Whom all things hold together — Colossians 1:17).
  • In both these parables, the going away of the master represents Christ’s ascension to be with the Father in heaven. We can no longer see Christ directly just like the servants in the passage cannot see their master, as he is far away. The return of the master represents the second advent of Christ (his parousia, Gk. παρουσία).
  • In both these parables, the rewards given to the servants after the master’s return represent the rewards that will be bestowed upon believers after Christ’s second advent in the judgement and reward of the Church.

Conclusion

Having made these identifications, it should be evident that it is impossible to get around the fact that these parables teach that there are differences in reward for believers based upon how well we make use of the resources God allocates to us.

We should take care to not get arrogant and think to ourselves that we deserve something for our actions – that somehow God owes us something. God has every right to cast us away from himself in judgement, for on our own, we are irreparably broken and tainted by sin. But instead, out of His good grace, he sent His one and only Son to take the penalty for our sin upon His shoulders, redeeming us unto Himself. And just as we are saved on pure grace, so too are we rewarded by pure grace, and nothing more.

If (only by leaning on God’s power, not ourselves) we accomplish that which he commanded us to do, rather than getting a swelled head and feeling that we are most special, we should instead humbly bow our heads and acknowledge that we have just done that which we ought as servants (Luke 17:10). What is praiseworthy in rendering to our Master that which is His right to demand? (And imperfectly at that, for no matter how hard we try, we are bound to present to him only the crudest works, like unskilled children proudly holding up rags while not even knowing that they ought to instead feel shame).

In reward for the (proportionally) small matter of doubling ten minas, ours is a God who puts men in charge of ten cities. His grace is positively scandalous. Who are we to rule ten cities?

But he doesn’t reward everyone in such measure. Some people are thrown out into the darkness, having accused the Lord who bought them out of slavery with the precious blood of His Son of being a hard master who demands unreasonable things (!). And others, even if they do not so openly rebel against their master (and thus retain their status as servants) nonetheless bring shame by their lack of diligence, and squander away all the gifts of their master, living their lives out in a shameful flood of dissipation and worthlessness rather than bringing glory to the name of Christ.

So no, we will not all share the same level of reward in eternity, but some people will receive more. For though none of us will ever be perfect – far from it – that does not mean some people do not get a whole awful lot closer than others. (Such is obvious to all who are honest: spiritual excellence always stands out quite distinctly down here in this moral cesspit, this present kosmos under Satan’s control). And while God is not obligated to give us anything for rendering unto him the service that is His right to demand of us as King of the Universe, the Bible makes it clear that He will in fact fabulously reward all those who choose to follow Him with distinction. So that is exactly what we should aspire to do.

If we end up ranking poorly in eternity, the only people we have to blame are ourselves, because God gives equal opportunity to all, judging us completely perfectly according to our specific circumstances (as only an Omniscient being can). No one gets more or less than exactly that which they deserve.

Keeping this in mind, may we live our lives in such a way that we bring glory to God by receiving a bountiful reward on that Great Day of Days!

Video/audio transcript