I became a believer in Jesus many years ago. Details of that awesome experience are written in my autobiography, Him ‘n me. Immediately after I became a believer in Jesus, I began voraciously reading the Bible—and haven’t stopped since, reading it completely through a minimum of once a year—sometimes more. In addition to reading the Bible, I often study certain portions and texts in much more detail.
Naturally, during all those years of reading and studying the Bible. I often came across what it teaches about rewards and awards in the “afterlife” for serving God in this life. For whatever reasons, I seemed to skip over those texts as simply being something I was not interested in. In addition, I would sometimes hear preaching or teaching about such rewards, but they simply weren’t in the forefront of my thinking; I just “spaced them out.” Why, I don’t know. Perhaps I felt it was a matter of harmful pride to think about rewards for serving God. Or, false humility. Only God knows why I felt that way.
The matter of “earning” rewards for serving God just never “registered” with me for many years and remained outside of my thinking and personal “theology.” How about you? Are future rewards from God part of your thinking?
Not long ago I was loaned a book to read entitled, All Things New, by the well-known author, John Eldredge. In his book, Eldredge devotes 8 pages to the biblical subject of rewards within the overall theme of the book about God’s future restoration of all things upon Jesus’ return to earth.
For whatever reasons, Eldredge’s treatment about rewards lodged deep in my soul and spirit and I simply couldn’t stop thinking about such matters. Somehow, during almost all my waking moments, in the back of my mind and deep in my spirit it seemed all I could think about was rewards. After all those years of avoiding thinking about rewards, now it seemed I just couldn’t escape thinking about them. For a number of months I was actually deeply troubled and distraught thinking about rewards; perhaps this was a “God thing,” and maybe it was His timing for me to look into the biblical subjects of rewards and awards. I have now spent a number of months doing so. The rest of this teaching contains my findings.
Even though I think I now have an honest and balanced view about what the Bible teaches concerning rewards, I readily confess I still don’t like to think about them; it’s just something that “grates” on my mind and spirit. I still don’t know why that is, but I will attempt to be fair and balanced about what I teach herein. I’m assuming in his own good time God will somehow make it clear to me why I have such inner resistance to the matter—and, if necessary forgive me for it.
Let’s begin with some simple definitions. Rewards: They are given for successfully and properly carrying out assigned work. Awards: Although not mentioned in the Bible, I am giving their definition here because they are “related” to awards; they are given for going “above and beyond” completing assigned work. Prizes: They are given out based upon one’s attitudes, character, and nature while carrying out assigned work; example: “She received a prize for always being cheerful around her fellow workers.”
Now let’s begin to look at rewards for doing our assigned work and service for God. First, I want to point out that we really cannot work for God or serve Him. All we can do is invite Jesus into our lives and then let Him do his own work in us, through us, as us, and with us. Similarly, we cannot live a Christian life! Only Jesus can live a Christian life. All we can do is cooperate with Jesus in letting Him live his own life in us, through us, as us, and with us. Many years ago, I gave up attempting to live a Christian life as being absolutely futile. I simply let Jesus live his own Life in his “Bill Boylan skin.”
Nevertheless, the Bible clearly teaches Jesus does dispense rewards, awards, and prizes—and crowns!—for serving Him and working in cooperation with Him through the inner power of his Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is Jesus in his “unbodied other form” living inside those who believe in Jesus and have an ongoing relationship with Him.
With the foregoing preliminary information, let’s examine these matters in more detail now. First, we can be certain Jesus will return to earth from Heaven where He is presently enthroned. One of Jesus’ last statements is that He said He will return and bring his rewards with Him (Revelation 22: 12).
Yes, upon his return to earth, Jesus will bring with Him all his rewards, prizes, and crowns to dispense in great ceremony before all of Heaven’s inhabitants and the onlooking universe!
During December of each year I spend extra time reading my Bible, praying, and fasting—asking God to give me some insights into his work “assignments” for me for the upcoming year. Last December, here’s what God said to me for this year:
“When I return I will dispense my rewards, awards, and prizes. Ever hold in the back of your mind and deep in your spirit that, yes, there are rewards for serving me in this life. You serve Me because you love Me, and I will reward those who lovingly serve Me! At this time you cannot begin to understand what your rewards, awards, and prizes will be, but they will involve your ever-growing relationships with Me and with others. Many of your rewards will be to see the abundant ‘harvest’ of fruit from seeds ‘sown’ into the lives of hundreds of other people through the brief years of your pilgrimage toward your True Home.
Gold, silver, and precious stones are your works in serving Me at my direction and with my inner empowerment. They are supernaturally created in your life by intense heat and pressure. Wood, hay, and stubble are your futile and wasted works done for Me by natural means, ‘ in the flesh’—to be burned up, of no worth to Me.” [1 Corinthians 3: 10 – 15; Revelation 22: 12; Isaiah 42: 10; Isaiah 62: 11]:
Rewards are given for carrying out assigned work.
Awards are given for going “above and beyond” assigned work.
Prizes are given based upon one’s attitudes, character, and nature while carrying out assigned work; example: “She received a prize for always being cheerful around her fellow workers.’”
When I began to study these matters in more detail, I then learned that God also dispenses crowns to certain individuals; we’ll teach about them later in this study.
Let’s do some basic biblical background studies now. I have long taught that before arriving at a conclusion about any subject in the Bible one must first study all the references about that subject, put all the references together, and only then form conclusions about what the Bible teaches concerning that particular subject. Among other reasons, that type of approach to Bible study guards against using isolated “proof texts” to push a particular point of view on others.
The word “reward” (and derivatives thereof) occurs 68 times in the Old Testament portion of the Bible. In the New Testament portion of the Bible, the word occurs 38 times—for a total of 106 in the entire Bible. As already mentioned, the word “award” does not occur at all. The word “prize” occurs only 2 times—in the New Testament portion of the Bible. Thus, we can’t build a case from the Bible for awards from God, and we can only make some suppositions about prizes from God.
As to “crowns,” there are a large number of references throughout the Bible, but most of them are about “earthly” crowns for earthly monarchs. The crowns we will look at later in this study are: 1. Crown of life. 2. Crown of righteousness. 3. Crown of glory. 4. Imperishable crown. 5. People who comprise a “crown” of sorts for the Apostle Paul. 6. Crown of rejoicing.
Every major subject in the Bible always has one reference or verse that summarizes and encapsulates that subject. For example, the matter of how and when your resurrection from the dead will occur is summarized in an entire chapter in the Bible: 1 Corinthians 15. The subject of giving money to God is summarized in two references that dovetail with one another: Acts 20: 35 and Luke 6: 38. The matter of rewards is encapsulated in Ephesians 6: 7 – 8. Of course, there are usually other references about each subject that support and give additional information about a specific subject.
We should never serve God specifically to earn rewards, awards, or prizes, but only because we know He loves us (and all humanity!) deeply with eternal love ever flowing from his own innate, basic character and nature of love; God is love!
However, knowing there are rewards for serving God should cause us to serve Him wholeheartedly, rightly, honorably, and properly, not reluctantly, double-mindedly, poorly, or sloppily. To serve God with less than excellence is simply not an option. We either choose to serve Him with excellence or not at all.
Rewards should never be foremost in our minds, but, yes, to have them ever in the back of our minds as a secondary motivator is well and good—simply because Jesus Himself spoke and taught much about rewards; we’ll look at some of those biblical references later. On the other hand, I should not ignore, denigrate, or minimize the matter of receiving rewards for serving Jesus. Nor should I ever ask questions such as “What is the ‘size’ or worth of my rewards for doing this or that service”?
To ask such questions leads to serving God for many wrong reasons. The size, nature, and worth of rewards for specific service is entirely up to the sovereign God, remaining largely unknown to me while I go about serving Him in this life. I must leave the rewards to God! Some service to God has its own rewards in this life; other rewards—entirely unknown to us—must wait until a time and place of God’s own choosing in the life to come. Thus, rewards for their own sake must never be pursued. They should remain ever secondary to our simple, honest motives of serving God because He loves us . . . and we love Him!
Some of our greatest rewards in this life are to see other people changed and transformed as the result of something we’ve said, done, taught, written, shared, or prayed. Or as a result of simply touching or hugging someone. Are rewards in the Kingdom of God the same or similar as noted above, but in a greater, fuller, broader, deeper sense?
Are such rewards in the life to come relational rather than tangible such as medals, trophies, olive wreaths, fame, or fortune? In this life, for most people relational—rather than tangible—rewards are far more satisfying. From what I’ve studied so far, it appears to me that rewards in Jesus’ Kingdom are largely relational in the sense of a “harvest” of relational “seeds” we’ve planted in the lives of others by serving them in this life.
I might mention at this point that a dear friend of mine died a few months ago; before he died I know that for many years he prayed daily for me and for my service to God. His prayers for me kept me going on many occasions. When I attended his funeral service I was strongly impressed that I should “give” any of my upcoming rewards to my deceased friend simply because of his faithful prayers for me during his lifetime. I don’t know if we can do that sort of thing—or the “mechanics”—of doing so, but I did it. I suppose it remains to be seen upon my death and entrance into Jesus’ Kingdom whether or not that was an acceptable thing for me to do: to give all of my rewards to my friend.
Let’s consider Jesus’ “inheritance” from God. Hebrews 1: 2 says Jesus has inherited all things from God. Romans 8: 17 says we are “joint heirs” with Jesus. Among other things concerning our rewards, is that we who are believers in Jesus will inherit exactly everything Jesus will inherit from God. I don’t know precisely what that means or exactly what Jesus will inherit, but sharing equally in his inheritance in and of itself will be sufficient reward for me personally, but there is more, much more.
Now let’s look at rewards in the Old Testament portion of the Bible. I’ll begin with Genesis 15: 1. In that text, God told our spiritual forefather, Abraham, that God Himself is Abraham’s reward. Couple that text with Proverbs 11: 18 and we find that rewards are given for right living (righteousness). Jeremiah 23: 6 says that one of God’s Names by which He reveals Himself to humankind is “JHWH Tsidkenu” (in the Hebrew language) or “The LORD our Righteousness” (in English).
From these references and others, we find from the Old Testament alone that the way for us to live righteous lives is simply to let “The Righteous One” live his own righteous life out through us. When we “allow” Him to do that, his righteousness is its own reward in our lives: God is our reward. And that is enough. Psalm 58: 11 states simply that “there is a reward for the righteous.” Psalm 19: 11 teaches simply that keeping God’s Word (obeying what God tells us to do) is its own reward; in fact, it’s a “great reward.”
What does the New Testament teach about rewards? Although not using the word “reward,” Ephesians 6: 6 and 7 (paraphrased) says this: “Don’t work only while being watched, but always work with a good attitude, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving you orders, you are really working for God. Good work will get you good wages [rewards?] from the Master . . . “
Jesus has much to say about rewards, even “great” rewards in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5: 12) It appears also that rewards granted in Heaven will be given openly, not secretly. Whether or not that involves some sort of public “ceremony,” the Bible doesn’t say, but it is implied in I Corinthians 3: 12 – 14.
Jesus goes on to teach in the Book of Matthew that simply being a gracious “host” to others will result in rewards to such a host (Matthew 10: 41 and 42). Matthew 16: 27 are Jesus’ own words similar to some of his last words in the Bible that when He returns to earth He will reward people according to their works.
When we turn to some of the words of Paul the Apostle, we find that it’s important that the work we do be done willingly and freely if we are to obtain rewards for our work (1 Corinthians 9: 17 and 18). Also, we must work “heartily” at whatever it is that God assigns us to do (Colossians 3: 23 and 24). John the Apostle tell us that there is a possibility of “losing” our full reward if we don’t work hard at God’s assigned tasks (2 John 8). And, the writer of the Books of Hebrews tells us there are rewards simply for “seeking” God diligently (Hebrews 11: 6).
The previous few paragraphs have simply been a brief “safari” through what the New Testament teaches about rewards for service done for God. There is much more I could write and teach, but I think I’ll just let those few references speak for themselves.
Bottom line? Are there rewards for serving God? Yes! But much depends on how diligently we work at the tasks He assigns us and our prevailing attitudes while we work. As we pointed out earlier, who even thinks about rewards from God anymore? From reading John Eldredge’s book, I, too, have searched my own relationships with others, and in all the years I’ve been a believer in Jesus, never once have I ever had a conversation with another believer about rewards in his Kingdom after Jesus returns. Not once!
However, now that I have learned more about such rewards, have written about them, and have discussed them with others, I’m much more aware of how important they are to God—and how important they should be to me as a believer in Jesus and as one who has been serving God for many years.
Tied in with rewards for serving God, what about the crowns I mentioned earlier? And prizes? First, let’s examine crowns.
As mentioned earlier, it seems the Bible teaches there are six crowns available to be awarded to believers in Jesus; it’s not clear to me whether each believer will receive one or more crowns—or crowns are awarded only to certain believers for specific service to God. But, let’s examine what the Bible teaches. First, I want to make it clear that if I am awarded any crowns, I fully intend to cast my crown(s) at Jesus’ feet just as the heavenly Elders do who surround God’s throne—giving Jesus all honor and glory (Revelation 4: 10) Also, I am not certain these are literal, tangible crowns such as earthly monarchs wear; it seems they are perhaps something much more and greater than literal crowns, but—again—I’m not certain.
First, there is a “crown of life.” This crown seems to be awarded to those who have resisted temptation and have proved they love God by overcoming such temptations (James 1: 12).
Next, there is the “crown of righteousness.” We have already discussed the righteousness of God which He gives to those who believe in Him; He makes them righteous with his own righteousness. Further, this crown seems to be given to those who have come to the end of their life having fought “a good fight, having finished the race, and having kept the faith.” In addition, it seems to be given to those who “have loved [Jesus’ appearing].” (2 Timothy 4: 7 and 8)
There is also a “crown of glory.” Clearly, this crown is given to “shepherds” (Pastors? Elders”) in Jesus’ Church for being good and faithful shepherds, examples to the “flock.” (1 Peter 5: 2-4)
Next, the Bible teaches there is an “imperishable crown” awarded to those who have disciplined themselves to maintain self control and to “run a good race.” (1 Corinthians 9: 24 – 27) It doesn’t look like winning the race is necessary, only that one has run a good race.
Paul the Apostle wrote to believers in Jesus in the city of Philippi that they were his “joy and crown.” (Philippians 4: 1) Not much more is said about this crown, but perhaps it’s an example of how people themselves are actually one’s crown for serving those people.
Finally, the Bible teaches there is a “crown of rejoicing.” (1 Thessalonians 2: 19) this crown seems to be the same as the one Paul wrote about to the believers in Philippi. It seems to be a “people-crown”—a relational crown—awarded when Jesus returns.
Let’s examine now the two instances in the Bible where the word “prize” is mentioned: 1 Corinthians 9: 24 and Philippians 3: 14. Remember, God “told” me in December of last year that prizes are given for attitudes while serving God, not necessarily for the service itself.
In Paul’s letter to the believers in the city of Corinth, it seems the prize is given for self-control while one is “running the race” through life. In Paul’s letter to the believers in the city of Philippi, it seems to be that one’s attitude of not living in the past, but—instead—looking to the future is necessary for one to receive this prize.
There you have it: a brief safari through the Bible about rewards, awards, crowns, and prizes awarded to believers when Jesus returns to earth to establish his Kingdom. I can no longer ignore what the Bible teaches about them. As I continue to serve God with all my mind, heart, and strength, if it should turn out that I will receive recognition in the form of rewards, I have already “given” them to my friend who died recently. And if that scenario doesn’t occur for whatever reason, I choose to cast my crowns at the feet of Jesus who alone is worthy to receive them from me.
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Revised and Updated October 2020