Can Believers Lose Rewards?
Are you concerned that you can lose rewards?
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A Guide To Receiving Indestructible Rewards
As Jesus sent His disciples to various places, Jesus instructed them to spread the word that the Kingdom of God had come. He specifically told them that if anyone gives them a cup of water, then the givers will not lose their reward (Mark 9:41). This statement prompts the question: “Can rewards be lost?” The answer rests in the context, as usual.
The Name of Jesus
Receiving Messengers. As the disciples went out preaching the Kingdom of God, some people received the disciples and gave them water in the Name of Jesus. Many people receive guests, but these people received the messengers in the Name of Jesus. Therefore, because they loved Jesus, they received the messengers who came in His Name (Matthew 10:40). The messengers were proclaiming Jesus as Savior and His kingdom. This type of reception means those people received eternal rewards. They received the messengers in the same way they received Jesus (Luke 9:48). Therefore, Jesus rewarded them for receiving the messengers like they received Him as Savior.
Jesus described two categories of rewards: destructible and indestructible. God bestows indestructible rewards upon saints (believers) who do good works in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and for His glory. They act with good motives. The destructible rewards are temporary and earthly. They do not glorify God, but tend to exalt men in the eyes of the world. All other rewards are destructible and will pass away.
Indestructible Rewards. God gives indestructible rewards. They last forever. Saints are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). God rewards saints for walking in the works which He prepared for us.
What Makes Some Rewards Indestructible? Jesus described indestructible rewards. By offering water in the Name of Jesus to the messengers proclaiming the kingdom of God, some people earned a reward which be cannot destroyed. This phrase for destruction of reward carries great meaning. 1Mark wrote: “οὐ μὴ ἀπολέσῃ τὸν μισθὸν αὐτοῦ”. By using the word “οὐ”, Mark described actual reality. In actual reality, the rewards cannot be lost. By using the words “μὴ ἀπολέσῃ” in the subjunctive mood, Mark meant that not in any reality can the rewards be lost; not now, not ever, no possibility of losing rewards once earned. The term has special meaning concerning the afterlife and destruction of the wicked. See Afterlife. Notice that saints cannot now or later lose that reward for the work done in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Once earned, a reward for work done in the Name of the Lord Jesus cannot be lost. Jesus encouraged saints to lay up for themselves treasures in heaven which neither moth nor rust destroys, and thieves do not break in or steal (Matthew 6:20).
Full Reward. Some people point to 2 John 1:8 to argue that some saints may lose rewards. Let us review the passage to evaluate the claim that saints may lose indestructible rewards. John praised the children of the chosen lady walking in the truth. John warned that many deceivers have gone out into the world to disrupt saints from walking in the truth. John wrote to command the saints to watch themselves, so that they do not lose what we have worked for together, namely, walking in truth in obedience to God. 2John used the phrase ” ἵνα μὴ ἀπολέσητε ” typical ” ἵνα ” clause describing a possible future result. The things we worked for may be destroyed. The issue turns upon destroy what? John used the phrase: might not destroy “ἃ (accusative neuter relative plural pronoun) εἰργασάμεθα” (aorist active middle first person plural). The force of the construction means that saints would destroy the things for which we have worked together. Consider a building. By the power of God, John and the saints have built their lives into a beautiful building. People will come to attack that building. If the saints do not watch against the attackers who use deception, then the building may be damaged or destroyed. The rewards earned will remain indestructible for past work in building the building. Do not confuse the past work with the reward for that work. If the building has been destroyed, then no more building of the building will continue and possible future rewards will be lost. John spoke about the saints walking in the truth. If they do not stay alert, then the attackers will cause them not to walk in the truth. The attackers will destroy the present building of walking in the truth. In that sense, the saints may lose future rewards. If the saints no longer walk in the truth, then they lose the potential rewards they may have earned by continuing to walk in the truth, but the rewards already earned are not at issue. Nothing in the passage suggests that the earned rewards for the work they have accomplished may be lost, but rather what they worked together to achieve may be destroyed. No more works means no more rewards, but the rewards already earned remain indestructible. John wanted the saints to continue walking in the truth and receive a full reward. 3As a side note, the parable of the talents concerns investments and staying busy for the Master until He returns. The only rewards in view, if at all, concern the one talent given to the slave investing ten talents well. Nothing in the parable of the talents concerns losing rewards. The one-talent slave only lost the talent delivered for investment. That talent was not a reward for service (Matthew 25:14-30).
Examples of Indestructible Rewards. God provided examples of indestructible rewards that help us understand what works God rewards and why He rewards the saints who do them. God gives only indestructible rewards. 4The verses below contain the root word “reward” (“μισθὸν”). Jesus used the word “reward” (“μισθὸν”) to describe both destructible and indestructible rewards.
♦ Prophet’s Reward. Everyone receiving a prophet in the name of a prophet receives a prophet’s reward (Matthew 10:41).
♦ Righteous Man’s Reward. Everyone receiving a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward (Matthew 10:41)
♦ Cup of Water Reward. Everyone giving a cup of water to one of the little ones in the name of a disciple shall not lose his reward (Matthew 10:42). Likewise, whoever gives a disciple a cup of water to drink because of the Name of Christ, he will not lose his reward (Mark 9:41). 5Jesus used the phrase: he will not lose his reward (“οὐ μὴ ἀπολέσῃ τὸν μισθὸν αὐτοῦ”–notice the double negative (“οὐ μὴ”), indicating no actual or potential loss of reward) (Mark 9:41)
♦ Reaping Eternal Life Reward. Looking upon the people from the city of Sychar in Samaria coming out to meet Him, Jesus explained to the disciples that the fields were white for harvest. The one reaping that harvest receives rewards and gathers fruit to eternal life (John 4:36). 6Jesus said the reapers received a “μισθὸν”–accusative singular. Translating the term “μισθὸν” as “wages” frequently misses the close connection between action and spiritual rewards. God rewards saints who share the Gospel and so reap souls for the kingdom of God.
♦ Planting and Watering to Eternal Life Reward. The one planting and the one reaping will each receive a reward according to their own labor (1 Corinthians 3:8).
♦ Willing Fulfillment of Stewardship Reward. Paul said if he fulfilled his stewardship, then he has a reward (1 Corinthians 9:17).
♦ Fearing the Name of the Lord Jesus Reward. People fearing the Name of the Lord Jesus receive a reward (Revelation 11:18).
♦ Insults and Suffering Reward. People experiencing suffering, insults, and persecutions because of Jesus receive great rewards in heaven (Matthew 5:12; Luke 6:23).
♦ Love Enemies, Do Good, Expect Nothing in Return Reward. Both people who love their enemies and people who do good and expect nothing in return receive great reward and will be sons of the Most High (Luke 6:35).
♦ Preaching the Gospel Reward. Paul had a reward for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ without cost (1 Corinthians 9:18).
♦ Elders Reward. Like oxen treading out the grain, so workmen (elders serving well) are worthy of their reward (1 Timothy 5:18)
♦ Return of Jesus Reward. Jesus described the time for rewards when He said He is coming quickly and His reward is with Him. He will render His reward to every man according to what that man has done (Revelation 22:12).
The Judgment Seat of Christ
and Rewards for Saints
Every believer will appear before the judgment seat (bematos) of Christ, so that each saint may be recompensed (2 Corinthians 5:10). 7Paul used the term “κομίσηται” to describe the recompense for deeds done in the body, whether good or bad. The deeds saints performed in their bodies on earth will be the basis for rewards. Saints will be rewarded for good works, but not rewarded for bad works. Only rewards are at issue for all saints appearing before the judgment seat of Christ. Saints never come into judgment for salvation, because each saint passed out of judgment upon belief at the moment of spiritual birth in God (John 5:24). As each believer stands before Jesus sitting on His judgment seat, Jesus will reward believers for their works on earth. Their indestructible rewards will be given to them. Therefore, each saint must be careful how they build their lives to be sure they will receive many rewards at the judgment seat of Christ. Each saint will receive praise from God (1 Corinthians 4:5). As a wise master builder, Paul was very careful about how he built up the church and the materials he used in ministry. He distinguished different kinds of building materials.
Gold, Silver, Precious Stones Works. Paul commanded the Corinthians to be like a wise master builder. Paul laid the foundation, and others were building upon it. Each man must be careful to build upon that foundation with gold, silver, and precious stones (1 Corinthians 3:11-12). At the judgment seat of Christ, the quality of each man’s work will be tested with fire. The gold, silver and precious stones will be unaffected by the fire. The saints who built upon the foundation with gold, silver and precious stones shall be rewarded, because his work remains (1 Corinthians 3:13-14).
Wood, Hay, Straw Works. In contrast, saints who build upon the foundation with wood, hay and straw will see their works go up in flames when the fire tests the quality of their work. They will not be rewarded for their labors using bad materials and their work will not remain. Notice the saint did not lose rewards, but they lost their work because they built with wood, hay and straw. The good works produced indestructible rewards which did not perish when tested with fire at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Therefore, God distinguished good works from bad works. Good works consist of building upon the foundation with gold, silver and precious stones. Bad works consist of building with wood, hay and straw. Fire will test the quality of the works. God will reward the good works, but the bad works will not be rewarded. Those works have nothing to do with salvation. God said that even if all the works of a saint are consumed by fire, the saint will suffer loss. Even so the saint will be saved, as if through fire (1 Corinthians 3:15). So the bad works are destroyed by fire and the saint suffers loss of the bad works, but still spends eternity in heaven with Christ. Salvation never depends upon doing good works.
Testing Your Works
Saints should always be testing their works. Before you do something, test your proposed work to see if your actions will produce indestructible rewards.
Testing Your Works. Works in the Name of Jesus produce indestructible rewards. Therefore, we can test our works to see if they were done in the Name of Jesus. Remember, people may say one thing, but do another. People may say they are doing something in the Name of Jesus, but merely claiming that the work was done in the Name of Jesus does not produce indestructible rewards. Therefore, the global test for rewards becomes very simple: Was the action taken in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ or not? Many people may offer a cup of water, but only those who give a cup of water and do so in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ will have an indestructible reward. So a saint may offer others a cup of water in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice that Judas Iscariot, an unbeliever, must have been offered a cup of water in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the person offering the cup of water in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ still received the indestructible reward. Giving a cup of water to an unbeliever in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ will earn an indestructible reward. Once a you earn an indestructible reward, it cannot be destroyed at any time by anything.
Glorify God Test. First, some people do evil works, but claim that Jesus told them to do it. Jesus never tempts anyone and never tells anyone to do something evil or promotes evil in any way. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). So the first test centers upon the work itself. Did the work glorify God? If so, then the work passes the first test for an indestructible reward.
Motives Test. Second, was the work performed with good motives? People can do good things with bad motives. Think of Jonah doing a good thing (preaching to Nineveh), but with bad motives because Jonah hated the people of Nineveh and wanted them to perish in hell for eternity. Likewise, some people pray (a good thing in itself), but they pray with evil motives to obtain something for their own pleasures (James 4:3). So, if you have good motives, then the work passes the second test for an indestructible reward.
Some rewards are earthly and temporary. They are not eternal rewards. Only God gives eternal rewards that are indestructible. So what is the difference between eternal rewards and temporary rewards?
No Rewards at All. Jesus also described somethings that may seem like good works, but they do not produce eternal rewards. In fact, some works receive no reward at all. Jesus taught that some people love people who love them. Jesus said that if you love people who love you, then you have no reward at all (Matthew 5:46).
Examples of Destructible Rewards. Destructible rewards come from men and not from God. Those rewards are temporal and earthly. They are often selfish and self-glorifying. Destructible rewards do not endure forever. When people earn destructible rewards, they receive the full reward during their lifetimes on earth. 8Some translators use the word “wages” to describe money earned by a day laborer. For example, in Matthew 20:8, the “workmen” (“ἐργάτας”) were paid their wages (“μισθόν”) for their labor. Such translations do not preserve the connection to the concept of reward. I prefer to translate the term “μισθόν” in its various forms consistently through the Bible so that it affords the English reader the opportunity to see how rewards related to daily labor for God and other concepts related to rewards. God provided examples of destructible rewards.
♦Practicing Righteousness before Men. Jesus also taught that His disciple must not practice their righteousness before men (Matthew 6:1). People on earth earn these rewards and receive temporal rewards, but they do not receive eternal rewards from God. Again, notice the emphasis upon the type of reward rests upon the type of work done at the moment and the motive underlying the work.
♦ Trumpet Rewards. Jesus taught His disciples that blowing a trumpet when giving alms earned earthly, destructible rewards, paid in full almost immediately. (Matthew 6:2).
♦ Public Attention Rewards. Jesus also taught that praying in public for the attention of men earned earthly, destructible rewards, often paid in full almost immediately (Matthew 6:5).
♦ Fasting Rewards. Likewise, Jesus also taught that fasting to be noticed by men earned earthly, destructible rewards, often paid in full almost immediately (Matthew 6:16).
♦ Workman’s Reward. Earning a reward for a day’s work means you are paid in full at that the end of the earthly day (Matthew 20:8; Romans 4:4 earned reward for labor, not grace; James 5:4–rich holding back earned rewards).Therefore, the rewards earned for day’s work in the normal course of human business produced earthly, destructible rewards and they are usually paid in full immediately.
♦ Doing Wrong Rewards. Doing wrong brings the reward of unrighteous pleasure (2 Peter 2:13). Doing wrong brings an earthly, destructible reward, often paid in full almost immediately.
♦ Balaam Rewards. Balaam loved the reward of unrighteousness (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11). Balaam received an earthly, destructible reward, paid in full almost immediately.
♦ Reward of Unrighteousness. Judas Iscariot received the reward of unrighteousness and buying a field with those funds (Acts 1:18). Judas Iscariot received an earthly, destructible reward, paid in full almost immediately.
The Great White Throne Judgment
and Punishment for Unbelievers
God does judgment upon people throughout the the Bible (Genesis 15:14; Judges 3:10; 1 Samuel 3:13; Ezekiel 7:3; Revelation 11:18). God does judgment in measured and precise ways upon the world throughout the Book of Revelation. Yet, a final judgment awaits all unbelievers when the Lord Jesus Christ sits upon the Great White Throne for judgment. Please be careful to distinguish the Judgment Seat of Christ (only believers appear) and the Great White Throne Judgment (only unbelievers appear). After the Millennial Reign of the Lord Jesus Christ upon earth, earth and heaven will flee away from the presence of Jesus sitting on the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11). All the unbelievers will be gathered together before Him for judgment and resurrection (John 5:27-29). No saints will appear at the Great White Throne Judgment because all believers pass out of judgment into life at the moment of salvation on earth (John 5:24). At the Great White Throne Judgment, the books will be opened and the Lord Jesus Christ will render individual judgment upon each unbeliever according to their deeds (Revelation 20:12). The only issue to be determined at the Great White Throne Judgment concerns the severity of punishment. Those people who have sinned greatly will receive many lashes, while those who have sinned less will receive less punishment (Luke 12:47) . Each person will be punished according to their works. The sea, death and Hades will give up the dead in them and all people will be judged by the Lord Jesus Christ according to their deeds (Revelation 20:13). Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11). Then death and Hades will be thrown in the Lake of Fire. If anyone’s name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:15). Then each person will be sent to the Lake of Fire to spend eternity in punishment for their unbelief and sinful behavior (Matthew 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Saints do the works which God prepared beforehand for them to walk in. Doing so produces eternal, indestructible rewards laid up in heaven which cannot be destroyed. God safeguards earned rewards and they cannot be destroyed. Future conduct on earth may cause saints to lose further rewards as they no longer walk in the works God prepared for them. Can saints lose indestructible rewards? No, because God keeps every earned reward safe in heaven.
|↑1||Mark wrote: “οὐ μὴ ἀπολέσῃ τὸν μισθὸν αὐτοῦ”. By using the word “οὐ”, Mark described actual reality. In actual reality, the rewards cannot be lost. By using the words “μὴ ἀπολέσῃ” in the subjunctive mood, Mark meant that not in any reality can the rewards be lost; not now, not ever, no possibility of losing rewards once earned. The term has special meaning concerning the afterlife and destruction of the wicked. See Afterlife.|
|↑2||John used the phrase ” ἵνα μὴ ἀπολέσητε ” typical ” ἵνα ” clause describing a possible future result. The things we worked for may be destroyed. The issue turns upon destroy what? John used the phrase: might not destroy “ἃ (accusative neuter relative plural pronoun) εἰργασάμεθα” (aorist active middle first person plural). The force of the construction means that saints would destroy the things for which we have worked together.|
|↑3||As a side note, the parable of the talents concerns investments and staying busy for the Master until He returns. The only rewards in view, if at all, concern the one talent given to the slave investing ten talents well. Nothing in the parable of the talents concerns losing rewards. The one-talent slave only lost the talent delivered for investment. That talent was not a reward for service (Matthew 25:14-30).|
|↑4||The verses below contain the root word “reward” (“μισθὸν”). Jesus used the word “reward” (“μισθὸν”) to describe both destructible and indestructible rewards.|
|↑5||Jesus used the phrase: he will not lose his reward (“οὐ μὴ ἀπολέσῃ τὸν μισθὸν αὐτοῦ”–notice the double negative (“οὐ μὴ”), indicating no actual or potential loss of reward) (Mark 9:41)|
|↑6||Jesus said the reapers received a “μισθὸν”–accusative singular. Translating the term “μισθὸν” as “wages” frequently misses the close connection between action and spiritual rewards.|
|↑7||Paul used the term “κομίσηται” to describe the recompense for deeds done in the body, whether good or bad.|
|↑8||Some translators use the word “wages” to describe money earned by a day laborer. For example, in Matthew 20:8, the “workmen” (“ἐργάτας”) were paid their wages (“μισθόν”) for their labor. Such translations do not preserve the connection to the concept of reward. I prefer to translate the term “μισθόν” in its various forms consistently through the Bible so that it affords the English reader the opportunity to see how rewards related to daily labor for God and other concepts related to rewards.|