I have been asked this question again and again: What are heavenly rewards? Or, how do rewards fit in with grace? Some say there are no rewards, yet Jesus spoke about storing up treasure and Paul spoke about being rewarded for our labor.
I have a long chapter on Eternal Rewards in my book The Gospel in Twenty Questions. In that chapter I talk about heavenly treasures and how to store them up. The following is an extract:
The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. (1 Cor 3:8)
Rewarded according to his labor? How does that fit in the economy of grace? In the Greek the word for reward means pay or wages. God is going to pay us like a paymaster? How does that work?
Paul says we are rewarded for our labor. What is our reward? It’s people – spiritual children and eternal friends.
Think about it. What labor is more rewarding than the labor of childbirth? As in the natural, so in the spiritual. What is more fulfilling than co-laboring with the Lord to create new life? Honestly, there is nothing! Nothing compares to the thrill of new birth.
You tell someone the good news, the lights go on, a smile dawns on their face, and you realize that you and the Holy Spirit just did something special. A moment ago this person had no great regard for Jesus; now they’re shining with his very life. They just became a new person, one who will learn to call God, “Abba, Father.” It truly is a miracle.
The Father-heart of God beat within Paul with such intensity that he felt compelled to preach the gospel. He didn’t do it for mansions or money but people.
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. (1 Cor 9:19)
Paul had a deep desire to raise spiritual offspring. Through the gospel he became a father to the Corinthians and a mother to the Thessalonians (see 1 Cor 4:15, 1 Thess 2:7). He called men like Timothy and Onesimus his sons in the Lord. And when he saw those he had nurtured standing firm in Christ, he exalted, “Now we really live” (1 Thess 3:8)!
Seeing people get zapped by grace is about the greatest thrill on earth. I’ve seen people healed, families restored, and addictions broken. Just yesterday I helped save a marriage simply by dispensing grace. What a buzz!
Outside of the Lord himself, there is no greater reward than co-laboring with the Holy Spirit to reproduce the life of Christ in others. Paul understood this and bragged about it:
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Thess 2:19–20)
Perhaps you’ve heard it said that God keeps a photo of you in his wallet. Well, Paul kept photos of the Thessalonians in his. They were his children in the Lord, and he delighted in them just as God delights in you. They were his crown, his joy, and his eternal reward.
When Solomon said that children are a reward from the Lord, he was quoting an old covenant law (see Deut 28:4). If children are a reward under the death-dealing ministry of the law, how much more should we expect offspring under life-giving grace?
There’s no life in the law, but grace is fertile. It is the nature of grace to reproduce good fruit among those who receive it.