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What is God's Thought concerning Reward and Punishment? — Part 1

Toward the very end of the book of Revelation the Lord Jesus speaks a word that should really capture our attention: "Behold, I come quickly, and My reward is with Me to render to each one as his work is" (Rev. 22:12). This is the final speaking in the New Testament, a speaking from the Lord Himself concerning His rewarding the believers.

There are numerous instances in the New Testament where the Lord Himself speaks or His representatives, the apostles, speak to us concerning reward (Matt. 25:21, 23; 1 Cor. 3:8; 2 Tim. 4:8; Heb. 10:35). For example, in 1 Corinthians 3 Paul charges us to take heed how we build upon Christ as the unique foundation laid by the apostles for God's building. He said that we may build with wood, grass, or stubble, or with gold, silver, and precious stone. Then he went on to say that the fire will try everyone's work as to what sort it is, and if one's work remains, that one will receive a reward (vv. 10-15).

There are two particular matters here. First, reward is different from the gift of eternal salvation. Salvation is absolutely by grace through faith (Eph. 2:5, 8-9). There is nothing we can do to merit it. We simply believe into the Lord Jesus, receive the Lord into us, and we have eternal life and God's salvation (John 1:12). That is secure and settled eternally. Reward, however, is something in addition to salvation. How do we live our Christian life? Are we faithful to the end? What is the nature of our work (1 Cor. 3:12)? Do we build up or do we mar the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:17)? Have we finished our course? Have we kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7)? Questions such as these are related to the matter of reward. The Lord is very interested in how we live and how we serve or work as believers. If our living and our work, having been tested, are approved by Him, we will receive a reward (1 Cor. 3:14). This reward is related to enjoying the Lord and reigning with Him during the millennial kingdom (Matt. 26:21, 23; Rev. 20:4). The first matter to note is that reward is different from salvation.

The second matter (which is surprising to most Christians) is that along with a positive reward there is also the matter of discipline or punishment. Just as parents may administer proper discipline to their children when they disobey, so God the Father does to His children. If we are careless and loose in our living and if we are slothful or lawless in our work, we face a twofold dilemma at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). First, there may be no reward for us in a positive sense. Second, there may be discipline applied during the millenial kingdom.

According to the Scripture, then, our salvation is eternally secure. Whether we will be rewarded or disciplined by our loving Father during the millenial kingdom depends upon how we live and work today.

From Issue No. 3, July 1998

What is God's Thought concerning Reward and Punishment? — Part 2

Our Father is very wise. On the one hand, motivated by His love, we are saved by grace through faith. On the other hand, the Father understands us and knows our fallen nature. He realizes that many of us will not be serious with Him for our whole life on earth. He knows that many of us will not obediently follow the divine revelation in the New Testament. This means that although we are saved, our lives may amount to nothing with respect to the carrying out of God’s economy. Knowing this, the Father has taken a portion of time, the millennial kingdom of a thousand years, and makes that either a reward or a time of punishment to all the believers in Christ. This is done to serve as an incentive to us. Without such an incentive, the vast majority of believers would not pursue the Lord sufficiently, and as a result, God’s purpose would not be fulfilled through them. So although we are saved eternally by grace through faith (Eph. 2:5, 8-9), God Himself in His government has set up a system of reward and punishment for His children. Both reward and punishment are focused on the coming kingdom age (Matt. 25:21-30; Heb. 12:28; Rev. 20:4, 6).

We present this truth for your consideration. We urge you to examine the Scriptures again in this light. We uncompromisingly testify that eternal salvation is a gift (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8). But we also uncompromisingly bear witness to the fact that reward or punishment are related to how we live our Christian life and how we serve the Lord during the entire course of our Christian life (Matt. 16:27; 1 Cor. 3:8-15; 4:5; Rev. 22:12).

An obvious fact must impress us deeply: we are not in charge here. We are not the One on the throne setting up the principles by which we are to live. There is One on the throne administrating on behalf of God’s interests. Our Lord is the One who establishes the principles by which we must live and serve (2 Tim. 4:8). We may try to avoid this unpopular truth, but there is no way to avoid it permanently. Sooner or later what is written in the Word of God will be applied to us as we give an account to the Lord (Rom. 14:10, 12).

Please soberly and prayerfully consider those words in Matthew, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, Revelation, and elsewhere in the New Testament concerning reward and punishment. It is a fact that at the judgment seat of Christ every child of God will hear an explicit word from the Lord Jesus, not concerning eternal salvation but concerning dispensational reward or punishment (2 Cor. 5:10). If we realize this and if we mean business with the Lord, surely we will want to live and serve in such a way that when we meet Him the Lord Jesus will say, “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful over a few things; I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21, 23).

For further reading on this subject see Witness Lee's footnotes for the above referenced verses in the New Testament Recovery Version.

From Issue No. 4, August 1998

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