Rewards and Blessings
By Elder J. F. Poole
I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then
neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that
giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and
every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour (I
It is impossible to review the subject of rewards without an
additional deliberation of blessings, for as different as the words appear in
the Scriptures, many use the terms interchangeably. The two words stand as
opposites in their proper use, as may be seen from the following definitions:
reward 1. something given in return for good or, sometimes, evil, or
for service or merit. Websterís New World Dictionary, Second College Edition,
blessing 1. the act or prayer of one who blesses; invocation or
benediction 2. a grace said before or after eating 3. the gift of divine favor.
While these two dictionary definitions reflect their everyday
application by English speaking people, the definition of reward is not
reflective of how the word is often used in Scriptures. It is our design to give
from those Scriptures the manner the Lord used the word.
We are not prepared to undertake a comprehensive study of this entire
topic, enlightening as it might be. Rather, we will furnish what is the
customary way the words are used throughout the Bible. Neither are we prepared
to deny the subject is void of difficulties; especially in the words of our Lord
during His earthly ministry. An example of this is found in what is commonly
referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile
you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely,
for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven:
for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matthew 5.11,12)." In
the 11th verse the disciples were pronounced (already) blessed; whereas in the
12th they were directed to anticipate a great reward in heaven. Even a casual
glance at this text reveals the Lordís intent. He spoke of a future reward. From
the context it is clear there was nothing the disciples had done, either to be
blessed, or as a basis to anticipate this reward in heaven. All was, on their
part, circumstantial, both as it involved the revilings of their enemies and the
good favor of the Lord. We leave this example for the moment.
FIRST AND LAST USAGE
The first usage.
Bible students often exercise what is termed the "law of first and
last usage." We have ourselves occasionally found it extremely useful, and never
more so than in the study of rewards and blessings. As might be expected, the
first use of reward is found in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. "After
these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not,
Abram: I am thy shield, and exceeding great reward (Genesis 15.1)." "After these
things" refers to Abram delivering his nephew Lot, slaying the kings of the
plains, and his refusal to accept offerings from the king of Sodom lest he
should say, "I have made Abram rich (Genesis 14.23)." We give specific notice to
the pronouncement God made to Abram that He, God, was his "exceeding great
reward." These words are simple, sublime, and profound; they are also vital in
understanding how our sovereign God intended the word, reward to be used.
Adjectives classified as superlatives are often thrown about by
writers and speakers in exaggerated tones to embellish a statement. Accuracy
often fails them. Not so with our God! His every word is eternally precise, and
means exactly what He designs to communicate. With God there is no ambiguity.
Neither is there excess. Just so did He acquaint Abram in regard to his reward.
"I am thy shield, and exceeding great reward." Abram would have a reward; not
for any effort, work, accrued merit, or service, but because God was pleased to
reward him. Abramís reward was exceeding, and it was great. What, we ask, made
Abramís reward so exceeding, and so great? God Himself! I am thy exceeding great
reward. Here, in our application of first usage, the reward of Abram is not a
"what," but a "Who." God, in His unfailing presence with the father of the
faithful, (Romans 4.12) was Abramís reward. I am was the reward! It cannot be
overstated; the Person of God was the reward of Abram. We doubt that many
Arminians will hasten to assert that Abram accrued, earned, labored for, served
for, or was owed the Person of God as his reward.
"And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go
childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis
15.2ff)?" Without attempting a protracted digression, we mention two points in
the question-response of Abram. First; he inquired what God would "give" him,
suggesting Abram at this point was not fully aware of the enormity of Godís
being his reward rather than Godís giving him a reward; and second, Abram
pointed out he was as yet childless with no discernible possibility of the
circumstances changing. There must have been in the mind of the old pilgrim the
earlier revelation from God to him regarding his seed and inheritance in Genesis
13.14-17, and previous to that in Genesis 12.1-3. Nevertheless, in viewing the
first use of the word, reward in the Old Testament it is abundantly obvious how
our God first used the word. We now have a basis for understanding the word
elsewhere in the Scriptures.
This brings us to the first use of reward in the New Testament, which
is also the first time the Lord Jesus Christ used the word. It is found, not
surprisingly, in the text we previously quoted from the Sermon on the Mount.
"Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so
persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matthew 5.12)." We
italicized three words in the text, exceeding, great, and reward. Surely, this
is not a coincidence! Thousands of other words could have conveyed the same
message, but they were not used. These are precisely the same words Jehovah used
in speaking to Abram. It cannot be doubted by those that believe in the
inspiration of the Bibleóour Saviour, and His Father, speaking centuries apart,
were addressing strictly the same thought. God the Father and God the Son were
both imparting to the saints the same doctrine; the eternal I AM is the
exceeding great reward of the blessed family.
The last usage.
A brief view of the last use of the word, reward, in Scriptures is
also essential. It gives us a conclusion to the framework of interpretation
begun in Genesis 15.1. "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which
is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be
righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come
quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall
be (Revelation 22.11,12)." Strangely, the disciples of the works system will
passionately argue for verse 12 as proof of their "pay for service rendered"
position. Not in a million worlds, nor in several eternities, shall the Lordís
final expression on rewards fit the scheme of workmongers. We propose why from
Observe; there was no last minute effort by the Lord to persuade the
unjust. "Let him be unjust still" was His grave declaration. Neither did He
adjure the filthy to wash in the pure river of the water of life. To the filthy
He says, "let them be filthy still."
From the other side of the scales of eternal justice came the
declaration that the holy and the righteous would remain as they were. We ask,
how did each company, on either side of the scales, become what they would
finally be? Inquiring from the principle of first causes, did the unjust and the
filthy become so because their works were evil, not meriting a good reward? On
the basis of the same rule, did the holy and the righteous become holy and
righteous because their works demanded a suitable reward? The answer is no in
both cases; an emphatic and firm no! Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit,
furnishes us with the reason. "For the children being not yet born, neither
having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election
might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth (Romans 9.11)." Our
adversaries may argue that Paul spoke of eternal salvation, not of the benefits
of that salvation collected in time. This is a half true, but half-truths are
also half-lies. The full truth is, those chosen as vessels of mercy bring forth
fruit after their kind resulting from a spiritual birth. Those fruits never
spring forth by creature effort or fleshly labor; they are the certain results
of God working in us, not us working in God. There is a difference!
Consider next the reprobate. Chosen vessels of wrath, they only bring
fruit after their kind, and after their natural birth. It is the only birth they
have. To illustrate, we ask, why does a person lie? Is it to become a liar, or
because he is a liar? The answer is obvious. Two of the Lordís illustrations
demonstrate why fruit is brought forth after its kind. First, "The hireling
fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep (John 10.13)."
The hireling does not become a hireling by fleeing; he flees because he is a
hireling. Second; "But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said
unto you (John 10.26)." In verse 13 the illustration is a positive lesson. The
individual was a hireling, and consequently he acted as a hireling. In verse 26
the illustration portrayed a negative thought. Those addressed did not believe
because they were not sheep. The manifest lesson is, sheep do believe because
they are sheep; it is their nature. They bring forth the fruit of believing
after their kind.
All this has significant relevance to the subject of rewards. The
unjust, the filthy, the liar, the hireling, and those not His sheep will be
rewarded, not for what they did, but for what they are (and ever have been).
Their deeds are but a manifestation of their nature. Their works, in this
instance all wicked, are just so many fruits from a corrupt tree. "Ye shall know
them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even
so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth
evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt
tree bring forth good fruit (Matthew 7.16-18)." Is not eternal certainty stamped
upon this text?
Returning to the last use of the word, reward as found in Revelation
22.12, we shall anticipate the howl of duty-mongers. "Jesus promised to reward
both the good and the bad for their works," they will insist. If the text said
"for their works" the duty-mongers might have some meager complaint. That is not
what Jesus said, however. This is what He said: "And, behold, I come quickly;
and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." It
is our conviction Jesus is referring to His coming at the end of the world, but
no matter, if then or at some other period, the message is the same; "My reward
is with me."
Are words meaningful? Let us see. Jesus did not say, "Your reward is
with me," but "My reward is with me." The difference between my and your is as
broad as night and day, heaven and hell, and God and man. There can be no
misunderstanding here; the reward with Jesus was His, and His alone. His solemn
enunciation reminds us of what He said in a familiar parable. "Is it not lawful
for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good
Language related to that found in Revelation 22.12 is used by the
prophet Isaiah. "...Behold, thy salvation cometh: behold, his reward is with
him, and his work before him (Isaiah 62.11)." When comparing the two texts we
are persuaded to conclude the Lord meant strictly what He said in the phrase,
"My reward is with me." God the Father had given all authority to Jesus to
reward both sheep and goats according to their standingóeither in or out of the
everlasting covenant. The works of the wicked did not produce their reprobation;
their reprobation gives rise to their works. Conversely, good works by Godís
children do not cause their election; their election occasioned their good
works. Conclusively then, all humanity is rewarded on the basis of their eternal
Finally, in Revelation 22.12 Jesus said, "...to give to every man
according as his work shall be." Conditionalists and assorted other Arminian
expositors would no doubt rejoice if the language was, "to give to every man
according as he worked," but that is not what the text says. What our Lord gives
is determined by "as his work shall be." No plural works here. Nothing is
mentioned about how oneís work was. Just, "as his work shall be." The only
standard is, of what sort is the work? Does it flow from carnal nature on the
one hand, or from Christ working in us both to will and to do of His good
pleasure on the other hand? Simply put, the sins will not be weighed, but the
sinners. Are they redeemed sinners? If so, their work will be according to their
redemption, and they will be everlastingly with Him, Jesus; for He is their God
and His reward is with Him. Are they unredeemed sinners? If so, their work will
be despised by God, and they will hear the solemn sentence, "Depart from me ye
cursed." Their reward will be, they are without Him. Surely, "His reward is with
Him." If one is a child of God, and if all Christ possesses belongs to His
family, then what is His reward is their reward also. His reward is with Him, so
the children will also find their reward with Him. This is a fair analysis of
the first and last use of the term, reward, as found in the Scriptures.
I CORINTHIANS, CHAPTER 3.
We return to the text at the heading, and those corresponding verses
in I Corinthians 3. By recognizing the first and last use of the word reward
there is now a basis for analyzing this, and all other texts, that pertain to
the subject, for there are no contradictions in the Word of God.
"I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase." Did
Paul claim he became a planter because he planted? No; he planted because he was
called by God to be a planter, thus he planted. Even so, Apollos watered, not to
become a waterer, but because God called him to be a waterer. In both cases God
gave the increase. What reward could Paul claim for planting? A planterís reward
only. And what of Apollos? The same must be said for him. His was a watererís
reward. Neither dare boast, for the increase was Godís.
Paul was not likely to suggest that had he not planted, Apollos could
not collect a reward, for there would otherwise have been nothing for him to
water. Nor could Apollos retort that had he not watered, Paulís planting would
have gone to waste, for in both instances all the praise and glory must go to
the Giver of increases.
Paul amplifies further: "So then neither is he that planteth any
thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase." Here it is
reiterated; God gives the increase. How humbling this is! Whether Paul, Apollos,
or us; we are all nothing. If then, we are nothing as regards planting,
watering, or any other service, who can dare claim a reward due them for service
rendered by a nothing? This is substantially the same the Lord previously stated
in the following: "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things
which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that
which was our duty to do (Luke 17.10)." As unprofitable servants, we add nothing
to the greatness of God by our duties. There simply is no benefit derived by God
from our doing what He has commanded. We profit Him nothing.
It must be remembered, God is sufficiently satisfied by the work of
Christ in our behalf, and we cannot improve on His perfect service, or Godís
perfect satisfaction, supposing we could claim some additional benefits.
Butóthere is a reward, and Paul says it is our own. Is this double-talk? Not at
all! "Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall
receive his own reward according to his own labour (I Corinthians 3.8)." We know
of no possible way for Paul and Apollos or others to be one, except as they be
one in and with Christ; all other suggested ways would prove impossible. Paul is
called, in and with Christ, to plant. Apollos is called, in and with Christ, to
water. "Without Him we (they) can do nothing."
The use of the word, reward in this text is in perfect harmony with
its use from first to last in the Bible. Paul next told the Corinthians, "For we
are labourers together with God: ye are Godís husbandry, ye are Godís building
(I Corinthians 3.9)." The text contains two clauses of considerable importance.
The first; "we are" and the second; "ye are." Paul and Apollos were the "we are"
and the Corinthians were the "ye are." In the first instance Paul and Apollos
were labourers with God, and in the second instance the Corinthians were Godís
property with which the labor was performed. They were the husbandry and
building. Paul, as a wise masterbuilder, had planted (laid) the foundation,
which is Jesus Christ, and Apollos had watered, (built thereon) according to the
grace of God (I Corinthians 3.10,11).
To summarize; God was all; the Increaser. Paul and Apollos were
nothing; called to plant and water only. Paul and Apollos were labourers with
God; thus a union of nothing with Omnipotence. The Corinthians? They were
branches in the vine; husbandry of God. They were lively stones of "...the
building fitly framed together (that) groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord
The rewards then? Paul said nothing of rewards being tangible or
material in nature, or their being mere superficial trinkets, doled out in time
by God to those who could demand payment of Him for creature efforts. They are
of the same value as the reward Jehovah spoke of to Abram. They are the same as
that which Jesus first spoke. Conclusively, being labourers with God, and being
builded together with God was respectively their reward. Who could possibly want
more than this?
Finally, Paul spoke of every manís work being tried by fire, to
ascertain "of what sort it is." If it flowed from a heavenly calling, as gold,
silver, precious stone, it would abide. The labourer would receive a reward; the
same reward Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5. They would receive a great reward in
heaven; everlasting joy in the presence of Him who said, "I am thy exceeding
We stress again, only a heavenly calling can exhibit abiding works
and be reckoned worthy of a great reward in heaven. Andóa heavenly calling must,
by divine ordination, end in a heavenly reward, "For we are his workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we
should walk in them (Ephesians 2.10)."
"If any manís work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he
himself shall be saved: yet so as by fire (I Corinthians 3.15)." This text has
proved difficult to some. It should not, however, when examined in the light of
the context. The man whose work shall be burned is the same man mentioned in
verses 12, 13, and 14, not some entirely different man. In verse 12 the same man
was involved in building with gold, silver, precious stone, wood, hay, stubble;
all of them. In verse 13 this same manís works would be tried by fire to
determine "of what sort it is" whether perishable or lasting; whether of
heavenly origin or fleshly. In verse 14 the man was given assurance the works of
heavenís origin would abide and he would receive his reward. In verse 15 this
same man would see all his fleshly works finally burned. He would suffer loss,
not of his final reward which is his oneness with God, but loss of all his wood,
hay, and stubble efforts. We recommend strongly for the reader to give serious
consideration to Paulís expression regarding the "loss of all things that he
might be found in Christ (Philippians 3.7-14)."
This same man was told his heavenly-sponsored works would abide, and
he would receive his reward. He was then apprised of his losses. "He himself
shall be saved; yet so as by fire." If, as we have contended, this was the same
man in each of these verses, then, he, having been assured of his great reward
in verse 14, needed not to grieve himself that there was a possibility of losing
the reward God purposed for him. God would not give this man a great reward for
building wood, hay, or stubble. He would not lose a reward for labors God does
not reward. In light of Romans 8.28 and similar verses, his loss was really
gain, for he was rid of that which was worthless, and he shall finally be saved
at the last. All by pure, free grace, we add.
MATTHEW, CHAPTER 6.
What we have covered thus far regarding rewards applies only to Godís
elect family. There is another reward found in the Bibleójust the opposite of
the great reward of the saints of the most High. It is the reward of the
hypocrites. As the Lord described the hypocriteís reward He contrasted it with
the reward of His little children. "Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not
sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the
streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their
reward (Matthew 6.2)." This same admonition is given in verse 5 regarding
prayer, and again in verse 16 regarding fasting. In each case those hypocrites,
loving to do alms, to pray, and to fast, do so to be seen of men. "They have
their reward" is solemnly pronounced in each instance. Pride, vanity and
self-satisfaction were indelibly stamped upon their conduct. All that those
hypocritesóancestors of our current crop of Arminiansócould wish for was to be
looked upon as holy; not for what God was to them, but for what they perceived
themselves to be because of their works before men. Christ did not own them, He
rather condemned them. "They have their reward." Their reward is their own, spun
from their own vile bowels. They will never hear the blessed words, "I am thy
exceeding great reward," nor do they desire to. They have their reward. God is
not with them, for He is not their reward. They stand alone; naked and blind in
a delusion that they have obligated God to pay them handsomely for their doing.
They have their reward!
"The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew
them his covenant (Psalm 25.14)." At the same time the Saviour condemned the
hypocrites, He directed His disciples to practice alms, prayer and fasting in
secret. Only those that fear God, and have no love of self, can enter this
secret practice. All others will follow the damnable course of the hypocrite. To
those fearful disciples the Lord promised to reward them openly. He shall clothe
them with Himself; He shall never leave them nor forsake them. And, we add, not
a one of them will ever dream of giving alms, praying or fasting to earn a
reward. God is their exceeding great reward.
Other texts might be examined, but sufficient has been shown to
establish how reward is used in the Scriptures.
There are those who contend that blessings can be earned by Godís
children. This is substantially the same idea as earning rewards, but it is so
far removed from any Bible teaching to support it that we shall pass it by
without any dispute. Blessings are those benefits freely given us by God, as He
We offer only one text on the subject of blessings, for we are
satisfied it is so clear and free of ambiguities that others shall not be
necessary. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath
blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According
as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should
be holy and without blame before him in love; Having predestinated us unto the
adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure
of his will (Ephesians 1.3-5)."
"Who hath blessed us." This clearly establishes that God has already,
in time past, blessed us. These blessings originated in eternity past, before we
had our physical being; thus they could not be contingent on anything other that
the perfect will of God.
"With all spiritual blessings." All the blessings we shall ever
receive are enumerated in the word, all. They are all "spiritual." Absolutely
none of them are of the fleshly sort. From first to last, the blessings of God
to us flow from a spiritual fountain.
"In heavenly places in Christ." Heavenly places are where Christ and
His brethren are united as one, whether in the actual heaven above, the church
in time, or anywhere else, the Lord and His brethren are in union. In this
instance the elect were blessed with all spiritual blessings as they had union,
in and with Him, in the heavenly presence of God before the world began. They
were in Christ as His seed, thus they were blessed there; fully and completely.
God did not leave us to wonder about this. He gives a positive basis
for His blessing the elect as He did. It is found in the word, according.
"According as He hath chosen us in Him." There can be no doubt, the blessings of
God to His children are tied to their election, and nothing else. The children
were chosen, not to get in Him, but in Him. On this distinction hangs all the
difference between the Arminian plot and Godís eternal truth. And so, if we are
His, we have every blessing deemed needful by God for us in Christ, to be
manifested to us at the appointed times and places. Others may want a plan more
suited to free-will, but for us this is a joyous doctrine. Blessed in Christ by
the Father from all eternity.
There are many other points related to the subject of rewards and
blessings worthy of time and space, but we conclude with such as we have given.
May the Lord provide sufficient light as pleases Him.