Heavenly Rewards

// January 27th, 2019 // Sermons

This entry is part 6 of 15 in the series Last Days Christianity

A pastor received a letter…  You can listen online or download it and listen later…Heavenly Rewards…from a young lady who had been living a very troubled life and after hitting bottom, had an encounter with the living Christ.

When God is involved, even the worst situations of life can be turned around.  In a tremendous display of honesty she wrote – “I asked God to take me back tonight and have not stopped crying since.”  “If I put Christ first He will be all I need.”  There is truth in those sentences that we all should seek after.

When God is involved, even the worst situations of life can be turned around.  It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, only where you are, and who you place your trust in from here on.  With God all things are possible.

The letter also speaks of the power of relationships for good or evil.  Many Christians never fully understand that relationships don’t remains static.  We all have relationships that either pull us closer to God or drag us away from Him.

Paul understood this truth – in 1 Cor. 15:33 he wrote that “bad company corrupts good character.”  After sufficient time together, we all become like the people we spend most of our time with.  For better or worse, our friends rub off on us, and we, on them.

In our 1 Thess. 2:17-20 Paul points to the power of a good relationship that is able to lead people from earth to heaven.  He allows us to catch a glimpse of the difference it makes when we invest ourselves in the lives of others.  Let’s begin by looking at…

  1. What This Passage is Saying

We are only looking at 4 verses, but each verse says something quite important.  Remember, the Apostle Paul had stayed in Thessalonica for a period of 3-6 weeks and in that time had founded the first Christian church in the area.

And, because of intense Jewish opposition, he was forced to leave town for his own safety.  But, he always planned to return to finish the job he had started.  And, because he had been delayed in returning, those who had opposed him were busy slandering his character.

This had caused some of the new believers to become confused, and some even doubted Paul’s motives.  “If he loved us why did he leave us?  And why doesn’t he come back to see us again?”

These four verses are a window into Paul’s heart.  If you thought Paul was a cold, distant, unfeeling man, you need reread these verses.  In this passage that great apostle shows his heart to his readers.

First, he explains…

  1. The Temporary Separation – v. 17 “But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face.”

When Paul says, “We were torn away,” he is using a colorful word that literally means “When we were made orphans.”  He had been so deeply connected to the Thessalonians that to him it felt like part of his own flesh and blood had been taken from him.

Clearly he planned to come back and visit them again.  He left under pressure from Jewish opposition, but he fully intended to return and preach again.  In fact, he says that he had already made many attempts to return but had been stymied by the opposition.  And, he had not returned because…

  1. Satan Hindered Him v. 18 – “For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did again and again—but Satan stopped us.”

The phrase, “Satan stopped us,” is a military metaphor for an army that sets up a roadblock in order to stop the approach of their enemy.  That’s exactly how Paul felt, because every time he tried to return to Thessalonica he ran straight into a roadblock.

How did Satan stop him?  He must be referring to some kind of ongoing difficulty that kept him from returning to Thessalonica.  We can’t be absolutely sure what this was, but we know that Jewish opposition followed him from city to city openly opposing him and spreading lies about his ministry.

In Paul’s mind preaching the gospel was the most important thing for a child of God to be busy doing.  Therefore, anyone who hindered him in preaching was actually doing the work of Satan.

I don’t think we need to conjure up an image of demons in this story except as they worked through the minds of unbelievers to stir them up to oppose the gospel.

So that explains why Paul had returned to Thessalonica:  He had wanted to go back many times, but Satan (working through hostile unbelievers) had stopped him again and again.

This raises an important question.  How does Paul feel about these new converts?  Does he love them as much as the Christians in other cities?  This brings us to the third point…

  1. A Heavenly Crowning – v. 19 – “After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you!”

What a wonderful glimpse into Paul’s heart!  How did he feel about his followers?  They were his hope—he couldn’t stop thinking about what God was going to do through them.  They were his joy—at present, and in heaven.  They were his crown – referring to a wreath of leaves given to the winner of a race in the Isthmian Games.  His reward in heaven would be the pleasure of seeing all those new Christians standing with him.  Then, the verse of our passage and this chapter…

  1. The Earthly Celebration – v. 20 – I like the way Eugene Petersen put it in the Message – “You’re are our pride and joy!”

It’s like Paul is saying, “Not just in heaven, but right now you are the most important thing in the world to us.  We think about you night and day; we pray for you, we never stop telling others how proud we are of you.”

Every person who has had the privilege of being a mom, dad, Nana or Papa, understand this.  When a baby is born, you can’t wait to tell the good news to everyone who will listen.  You have pictures, all the memorized details and stories about everything the little one does.  And, regardless of what the doctor says, you know that baby smiled at you.  Your baby is the smartest, best-looking, cutest baby ever born.  And you’ve got pictures to prove it!

That’s exactly how Paul felt about the Thessalonians believers.  Even though he was separated and even though he couldn’t return right now, they were always on his heart, always in his thoughts – you can bet he prayed many a prayer for them.

  1. What The Passage is Teaching – first,
  2. About the will of God

Let me start by saying that God’s will often involves times of delay and disappointment.  Even Paul realized that not all of his prayers were answered in the way he had asked or hoped.  That should encourage us as we face our own delays and disappointments.

Paul was God’s man, in God’s place, doing God’s work, in the power of God’s Spirit.  He was the right man, in the right place, at the right time, with the right message, and yet, he was not able to go back to Thessalonica when he wanted to.  In spite of his own efforts, the door remained closed.

It was because of his sin, nor that he was not walking in the will of God.  God was not punishing him.  Paul was exactly where God wanted him to be, and yet, he felt orphaned and alone.  That happens in our lives, as well.  God hears and answers prayer, just not on our schedule!

  1. Secondly, About the strategy of Satan

Paul reminds us that Satan is alive and well on planet earth.  In 1 Peter 5:8 Peter calls him a “roaring lion” who prowls the earth seeking those he may devour.  Satan not only hates God, he also hates those who do God’s work.  He makes trouble for anyone who will stick his neck out and stand up for Jesus.

You need to be mindful of this fact – if you don’t have enemies, it’s probably because you aren’t doing much for the Lord.  Jesus warned that we should “Beware when all men speak well of you.”

Opposition can come from many sources – at work, a critical colleague, a classmate, a friend, a teacher, a neighbor, a relative, or even from your children or your spouse.  Satan’s primary strategy against the church is to discourage us by stirring up opposition so that we will stop spreading the gospel.  He tried it with Paul and will use it against us, as well.

Some time ago, Josh McDowell preached a sobering message called,

“Tolerating the Intolerable.”  He taught how toleration has replaced justice as the primary Western Culture virtue – Canadians are the torchbearers of this thinking.  Tolerance today means that every view of truth and morality is equal to every other view.  And if you dare to tell someone else that what they are doing is wrong, you are going to branded as an intolerant bigot.

In this New World Order, everything is right and nothing is wrong.  Josh quotes one educator as saying, “Public schools must educate their students to be intolerant of intolerance.”  And then, he pointed out that Christians are perceived to be the most intolerant people in the eyes of the world.  Why?  Because we believe in a Creator who established absolute standards of right and wrong!  Josh predicted that the major cultural shift will continue – anyone who dares to speak out for God or against evil will risk being ostracized and publicly humiliated.

If that is true – and I think it is happening today – we will face some tough decisions in the days ahead.  This is Satan’s strategy – to stir up opposition to the church so we will be intimidated into silence and compromise.  It was true in Paul’s day and it is still true today.  Third,

  1. About the Rewards in Heaven

Most Christians don’t know very much about heavenly rewards even though the NT has much to say on this subject.  What we do know is, if you live for Christ you will not feel cheated when you get to heaven.

Salvation is always by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and heaven is a free gift that cannot be earned or deserved.  However, when we get to heaven, we will be judged on the basis of the life we live after coming to Christ.

In that day, some people will see all that they have lived for go up in smoke.  Others will receive great rewards, which are called “crowns” in the NT.  I believe there will be many crowns – some for faithfulness, others for humble service, still others for those who were martyred for Christ.

I’m don’t know all the details about our rewards but this much is clear to me – No one who lives for Christ will ever feel cheated when they finally get to heaven.  No one will ever say, “I should have spent more time working, building bigger bank accounts, on earth.” Finally, this passage is…

  1. About What Matters Most

Some years ago I heard about a preacher start his sermon with the question: “Do you know why God put you where you are right now?”

That’s a tough question for some of us to answer.  Have you wondered about that?  Why has God put you right where you are right now?  When you take your stand in front of Jesus – what will you hold up as your greatest achievement?

  • Your job/career?
  • An education?
  • Money in the bank?
  • Lots of friends?
  • A superb reputation?
  • The praise of people?

If that’s all we’ve got to show for our lives, then we really don’t have much going for us.  No matter your age – time passes so quickly – sooner than think, you’ll be placed in a box six feet underground.  At that point, all the things of this life won’t matter at all.  Someone else will have your money and your job.  Your reputation will be soon forgotten and everything you owned will belong to others.

Howard Hendricks, of Dallas Theological Seminary, once said:  “Only two things in this world are eternal—the Word of God and people.  It only makes sense to build your life around those things that will last forever.”

The Word of God will last forever.  People/souls, last forever.  Everything else disappears.

A man was asked about his goal in life…he responded:  “My goal in life is to go to heaven and to take as many people with me as possible.”  I can almost hear the Apostle Paul agree with a hearty “Amen.”

Dr. Vernon Grounds once said that whenever we are faced with a major decision, we ought to ask ourselves, “What difference will this make in 10,000 years?”  Most of the things we worry so much about won’t matter in 3 weeks, let alone 3 months or 3 years.  We focus on the trivial and forget to pursue the eternal.  But throughout eternity, you will be forever grateful that you invested your life for Jesus Christ.

The fact that God promises rewards to us is another evidence of His grace.  God could demand our service simply on the basis of all He has done for us.  Our motive for serving Him always ought to be love.  In His grace, He gives us rewards so that we may have something to give back to our Lord and Savior, in return.

When the Christians in Thessalonica read this letter, it must have encouraged them tremendously.  They were going through intense persecution and suffering, and I’m guessing some were tempted to give up.

Paul says, “Don’t give up!  Lay hold of the spiritual resources you have in Jesus Christ.  You have the Word of God within you, the people of God around you, and the glory of God before you.  There is no need to feel like giving up!”

The only investments that last forever are the investments we make for Jesus Christ.  What kind of investments are we making now that will pay dividends in eternity?

No one here will ever regret…having given their heart to Jesus.  No one will be sorry they give Jesus the best that they have.  I regret the moments, days and years that I did not serve the Lord with my whole heart, and I know with every confidence that no one will ever regret giving Jesus our all.  And, there is nothing sweeter in this life than sharing the gospel with someone and seeing it make a change in their life.

One final thought:  The only thing we can take from earth to heaven with us is, the ones we have brought to Jesus.  Everything else will be left behind.

Some years ago the company that makes Mercedes Benz cars put out some commercials advertising a brand-new brake technology they had developed and patented.  Although they owned the rights to the technology, they freely shared it with other car companies in the interest of promoting safety.  The tag line of the ad said this:  Some things in life are too important not to share!

As Christians, we have been given the best news in all the world.  This news is too important not to share.

The hymn-writer wrote, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness…”  What is your hope built on?  O, may God help us to invest our lives in the things that are eternal.

Let’s pray…

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