Sunday was the curtain call for the XXII Winter Olympics, and American athletes did very well in their pursuit of medals, especially in sports introduced to the Olympics for the first time. It is always amazing to see the degree of dedication and training it requires to be an Olympian. Apostle Paul was fond of using the Olympic Games as metaphors for spiritual truths, such as 1Corinthians 9:23:27: “
"And every man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” He could have said: “And everyone who goes for the gold…” While Christians are called to live a selfless life, doing all that we do for the glory of Christ and the advancement of His eternal kingdom, by bringing souls to Him, and sustaining the Saints to finish their course strong, it is not prohibitive for us to give great thought and effort to eternal rewards.
In fact, this is a powerful motivator for us to run our race with patience and excellence: The realization that “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of our earthly race — to receive the things done in the body, whether good or bad.” (Rom. 14:10, 2Cor. 5:10), should stir us to continually examine our actions and motives.
This is not about being saved or getting into Heaven — This is about receiving or forfeiting our rewards: “Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." (1Cor. 3:13).
Not what size – but what sort! Not quantity – but quality!
“If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet also, as by fire." (vv. 14-15). The warning is very specific and denotes individual responsibility: every man. There will be individual trial by fire for each of us, and we will either see the rewards for our life’s work of Christian service go up in smoke as “wood, hay, and stubble”, or come forth as “gold, silver, and precious gems” (v.12).
Now this gets to me! Big time! To think that after serving Christ in ministry to His Body for 50+ years, I would receive no reward because I did it for man's approval, fame, position, honor and favor, temporal gain; or worse — I murmured, griped, or mistreated others in the course of my ministry. Believe me, I have seen this many times: People who complain about every inconvenience, obstacle, and pressure that confront them. Sure, they are committed. They press their way through; they get the job done for the work of the Lord, but their sour attitudes make the task harder for themselves and everyone else. Sadly, after all that effort, they may lose their eternal rewards.
A Vision of Rewards (Related by Perry Stone, Manna-Fest)
Years ago a California pastor, Don Shepherd, was very sick in the hospital with double pneumonia and did not know if he would die. One day, he felt himself slipping out of his body into the heavenly realm. He never knew if he actually left his body or if he just had a vision.
He found himself in a long tunnel in a very long line with many people in front of him. Next he saw an angel whom he knew to be the angel assigned to him while on earth. At the end of the tunnel he saw a beautiful bright light. He complained because he had to wait so long in line. Finally he moved forward to the opening into a large circular chamber. Around the walls were tiers of rows of people ascending from the bottom upwards as far as he could see. They had books in their hands, some a few and some several large books. He knew them to be the records of the deeds done while on earth. He recognized a well-known televangelist, who at the time was winning thousands to Christ. He had many large books of the records of his deeds done on earth. Next to him was a small unknown woman who had one little book in her hand.
Suddenly, in the center of the room appeared a golden throne with Christ seated on it. The back of the throne opened and fire shot out of it over the heads of the people. The fireballs struck the books they held in their hands, and immediately the books either turned into ashes or precious gemstones. He heard wailing and crying from those whose books were turned into ashes and rejoicing with laughter from those whose books turned into precious gemstones. He looked at the TV evangelist, and his books had turned into ashes. He lamented: “All of this was in vain!”
Then he saw that the little woman’s book had become a pile of beautiful gemstones. When he looked to see what his own books had become, he was suddenly whisked away by the Holy Spirit into another large line of people holding books in their hands. This time he was close to the front of the line, and he saw Jesus standing behind a golden altar with a beautiful gold scepter in His hand. This time, as each person came forward, Jesus touched their books with the scepter. When the TV evangelist’s books were touched by the scepter, fire came out of it, and again they turned into ashes. Then Jesus said to him “Enter into your rest.”
Next was the little woman. When Jesus reached out His scepter, fire came out and touched her book, and it turned into liquid gold! As the gold poured out over the altar, Jesus bent down and began molding it with His hands into a golden crown. Then He took the gemstones from the first time and carefully fit them into the crown of gold. He placed the crown upon her head and said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joys of thy Lord.”
Again, he looked to see what would happen to his books when he heard Jesus say, “Wait.” Immediately he felt himself come back into his body in the hospital bed, and he was told by the angel, “Get ready for that day.” He recovered from his illness and even tried to get in touch with the evangelist he saw in the vision, but could not. A few years later, the evangelist was part of a moral scandal that ruined his ministry.
Finishing the Assignment Without Forfeiting the Rewards.
I have decided that I want every reward that I am qualified to receive! There are some rewards I will not be able to compete for, such as the singer-worship leader category, because I don't have a singing voice. In order to receive rewards, I must first qualify by obeying the call and giftings God has placed in my life, and then dedicate myself to fulfilling my assignment with excellence and glory to Him.
Those who compete in Olympic Games have to first qualify in their field of ability. They can compete for one medal or even 10 medals if they qualify to compete in 10 races, etc. We Marylanders are proud of local Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps, who is the most medaled athlete in Olympic history, most of which are gold. Before he could compete in gold-medal races, he had to qualify by competing in “heats” in which dozens of athletes were striving to make the top 12, 8, 6, etc. If they came in last, they failed to qualify for that event: Game over!
Phelps consistently qualified for every race he entered and then went on to medal. He was able to acquire so many medals because he was able to qualify in so many different races. Some athletes only compete in one race, and if they win the gold, they are ecstatic. They may train for four long, hard years to race or skate or ski for four minutes or less! Think of the dedication it takes to race in many events, sometimes two a day. Had Phelps fooled around, not getting proper sleep, not eating a good diet (8-10,000 calories per day when training and competing), but eating junk food, and not putting the necessary time in the pool, he would not have been up to par.
Suppose Phelps decided to try to compete in ice skating. Would he qualify? No. He would not make it past the first elimination round, because he had never trained for it. We need to know what we are called to do for the Lord, how we are called to serve, and then Strive for the mastery — Go for the gold!
In order to do this, Paul said that we must be “temperate in all things.” This means that we must keep our body under, in subjection to the higher desires and will of our spirit, “lest by any means…. we should be disqualified” and not receive the reward (v.27).
Like Paul, I intend to “finish my course with joy.” With joy because I have prepared, trained, and executed my personal race at my personal best through the abundant grace given to me (Acts 20:24). The older I get, the closer I get to the finish line. “I press toward the mark for the prize of eternal life” (Phil.3:14) and for the rewards that are mine to win or lose. Also, he said that if a man strive for the masteries, yet he is not crowned, except he strive lawfully (2 Tim. 2:5).
Everyone who receives the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ will receive a crown of life. But there are other crowns and untold rewards to be gained. The training and competition are here and now. We experience fiery trials of faith that we may come forth as pure gold (1Pet. 1:7, Job 23:10). How we respond in these and what our motives are, will determine what our eternal rewards will be. All that is done now for the devotion to or for the praise of men will be rewarded here. But there will be no eternal reward, as Jesus said, because you already got your praise of men here (Matt. 6:2, 23:5). Not me! I'm going for the gold, the silver, and the precious gems that are eternal and unperishable! “And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1Peter 5:4).