Rewards

Matthew 10:24-42

Verses 24-39 of this passage have been recognized as Jesus’ clarification of what it means to be a disciple. At first glance, it is difficult to reconcile Jesus’ purpose of reconciliation with this explanation of division. This claim seems to be in contrast to his name, Prince of Peace. The purpose of this study is not to systematically work through that issue of Scripture. I will simply offer synopsis and summary and move on to the application found in verses 40-42. When Jesus was speaking of coming as one who divides even families, he was speaking in the context of the life of a disciple. He was well cognizant of the fact that when one person of a family makes a sold-out commitment to Christ, there is no guarantee that anyone else in the family will do the same. In reality, he was making certain his disciples were understanding their call to serve Him was over and above every other responsibility of their lives. Living as a disciple of Jesus often creates division within a family. Verse 37 makes it clear that the one who truly follows Jesus loves Him more than he loves his own family and even himself. This servant literally dies to his own will and seeks to live with a surrendered will. That is a will surrendered fully to the will of the Lord Jesus. After clearly teaching of the demands of discipleship, Jesus then turned to explain the reward given to the one who meets the demands of discipleship.

The Bible often speaks of rewards. Many in the modern church seem to be uncomfortable in dealing with those passages. After all, the prevailing thought is the human is not worthy of reward and is so full of sin that even to think about the reward is prideful. That could not be further from the truth. Paul continually reminded the people in the churches where they served that their state of depravity was before salvation. There is now a Spirit that works within a saved man to produce good fruit. How dare we call evil what God has called good. Jesus ends this discourse on discipleship with a mention of the reward. It strikes me rather odd that many who do not want to think about a reward as anything but prideful often take great pleasure in reading the King James translation of John 14 and sing the song mentioning the Mansion over the Hilltop. Jesus taught of rewards to be given to the faithful servant.

There are several life principles exposed in verses 40-42 regarding the reward. The first principle relates to the value of the reward and the position of the one who receives it. First, he mentions the prophets and the one considered to be righteous. Most everyone in his audience would have agreed that the prophet and the one who masters righteousness would receive a great reward. But Jesus emphasizes the reward given to the one who simply gives a cup of cold water. The prophet was thought to speak with God and the righteous man is one who had overcome sin. But the one who simply gave a cup of cold water would not have found a place of honor among the religious establishment. Yet, Jesus wanted to highlight the reward given to the one who serves others.

There is a premium in God’s economy paid to the one who gives himself in service to others. You might say the disciple in verses 24-40 is justified as a disciple when he serves others. Jesus did not assign value to positions in His Kingdom. His value system is based on obedience to use the resources he has given faithfully. Rewards will not be given according to position or earthly honor but directly in correlation to faithfulness.

These are encouraging thoughts. There are more servants of God in the church who never stand before others and speak than those who do. Even so, rewards are not given according to position but according to faithfulness and those rewards are secure. Jesus said this one giving cold water will not lose the reward. The one who serves pridefully in a position as a prophet or a righteous man may be in danger of losing a reward, but the one who simply serves in lowly position has fewer opportunities to act in pride. The reward is secure because man does not determine the reward, God does. In our economy, rewards are given according to the ability to perform. In God’s economy, rewards are given based on a man’s willingness to serve others.

As you reflect on the study for today, revisit the inventory of resources you completed earlier in the week. Think of each of those as a cup of cold water. Considering each resource, pray through how you might use those resources to serve others. You shall not lose your reward. While I may not be aware of everything that reward entails, I do expect it will include those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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Rewards — Words of Affirmation

Matthew 25:14-30

Words of Affirmation

Having read this parable told by Jesus, which words of Jesus most captured your attention? Was it the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” or, was it “you wicked lazy slave”? I do not like to think about the words, “you wicked, lazy slave.” I am much more motivated by the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” This truth was brought home to me recently by one of my supervisors in an annual evaluation. In his report to his own superiors, he bragged about my work and recommended me with the highest affirmation. The words of affirmation were encouraging because I believe in the ministry of the organization where I am involved. I believe strongly in the mission and purpose. Positively contributing to that ministry helps me know that I am being faithful.

The looming question of this story is, how do you gain the affirmation of the Master when he returns? How can you come to the place that your ears will hear those desired words of our Lord when he returns? The answer is found in the parable and it relates to faithfulness in using whatever resources God has entrusted into your hands. The affirmation of the Lord was given to the servant who used the resources entrusted to him resulting in gain. Here are a few key observations about the passage:

  1. The resources were given provided by the Master.
  2. The servant understood the resources belonged to Jesus and were only entrusted to him.
  3. The servant had an expectation or belief that the Master intended for the talents to be used for gain.

Having identified the principles of the parable, the task for the believer reading this word is to draw parallels between the story given and the relationship between Jesus and his servants. The obvious comparison here is between the master of the story and Jesus as well as that between the servant and a believer in Christ. Jesus is the good Master who has given resources to his followers. His expectation is for his servants to use the resources entrusted to them to produce an increase in the Kingdom. According to Matthew 28, the increase in the Kingdom has to do with making disciples. There is not space or time in this portion of the study to detail what all it means to be involved in making disciples. However, it does mean more than evangelism and teaching a class. It takes a church to complete that disciple-making process. For the purposes of this study, the focus is on the resources given and the actions of the servant to exercise faith in the Master by using every resource provided for an increase in the Kingdom. The servant in the story is to be compared to the one who believes in Christ.

In order to be found faithful, the servant must realize that every asset in his life is entrusted to him by Jesus. Whatever talents one has, whatever monetary assets, positions in vocations, standing in a community, and relationships with others are all resources belonging to Jesus that have been entrusted to his servants.

Take a little time and perform and inventory of assets that God has entrusted to you.

Talents _____________________________________________________________________________

Spiritual Gifts ________________________________________________________________________

Developed abilities____________________________________________________________________

Vocational Abilities ____________________________________________________________________

Vocational Position ____________________________________________________________________

Relationships (include parent child relationships, etc.)__________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Positions in your church_________________________________________________________________

Other _______________________________________________________________________________

 

The second principle leading to words of affirmation by the Master is to realize all these resources actually belong to him and are merely entrusted to you. This may be somewhat of a new concept or one that you may not have applied to all areas of your life. Review the inventory above and put a check mark by those you have viewed as a resource entrusted to you by the Lord. Put an asterisk by those you have not really considered to be possessions of the Lord. As an act of worship, make a fist with your right hand. Imagine that you have the resources you listed in your inventory contained within your fist to indicate personal ownership. Now open your hand as a sign of releasing these resources to the Lord while you make a commitment to view them as resources entrusted to you by the Lord.

The third principle leading to words of affirmation by the Master is an expectation that the resources  have been entrusted to the servant in for the purposes of producing gain in the Kingdom of God. That means the servant may use some of the resources to meet their own needs. Financial resources can certainly be used to provide food, housing and other essential needs. You see, the greatest resource given is God’s work within an individual to shape him into a servant who influences others. On this point, there are so many ways to influence with the Gospel. They all must flow out of a heart that loves Jesus and loves others. If you are a gifted teacher it might be teaching. But what if God has given you an ability to sew and a spiritual gift of helping? Is there some way God might use the talent of sewing and the spiritual gift of helping to produce gain for the Kingdom?

Applying this final principle has everything to do with focus and direction. The servant must be aware that the focus of using resources is to produce gain in the Kingdom. This focus of direction helps the servant to see opportunity. It changes his view of others. Instead of seeing people as a bother as with the unrighteous judge, the servant of Jesus will begin to see every individual as one in need of a touch from Jesus and see themselves as one entrusted with the resources of heaven to be a participant in that touch.

As you think about the inventory above and you think about Jesus returning to offer words, how do you see him responding to your use of those resources? Go back and circle those that Jesus could say, “well done good and faithful.” Go back and underline those that he would say, “you lazy wicked slave.”  Now, enter a time of prayer with the Lord. You might want to begin with thanksgiving for the resources He has placed in your life. Rejoice with him for those areas where you would hear the words of affirmation and repent in those areas where the words might be a rebuke.

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Rewards — A Question of Faith

Luke 18:1-8 The Question of Faith

In the 17th chapter of the book authored by Luke, he recorded Jesus’ foretelling of the second coming of Christ. The parable found in the opening verses of chapter 18 deal more specifically with Jesus looking for an opportunity to reward his servants. Many view the coming of Christ as a terrible day in which the judgment of God will fall. Even so, if you examine this story and the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25, I think you will see that the Lord’s return is as much about fellowship with his bride as anything else. As believers in Christ, one of our concerns surely must be, what is he expecting from us. This work is not about judging the lost world around us, it is all about seeking to please the one who died for the remission of our sins. This parable offers a clear expectation of Jesus toward his church and each member of it.

Jesus, who is sometimes called a master teacher, uses the art of contrast to make a very clear point. The heart of the contrast is between the actions of an unrighteous judge and the righteous judge Jesus. The unrighteous judge grants a favor to a widow who was continually seeking his help. His motive for granting her request was nothing but selfishness on his part. He simply wanted to get her out of his hair. This judge did not grant the widows request because he loved her or had any compassion toward her. It was simply to get her away from his court

When Jesus, the righteous judge, hears the requests of his elect for favor, what is his reaction? The implied answer to Jesus’ question is that he will respond with both the fear of God and his love for his church. The contrast makes it very obvious that God hears his children and responds to their prayers. In response to the contrast, Jesus then asks the startling question that puts everything into perspective, “…when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” How will he know faith and what will lead to a discovery of faith? Faith will be recognized by the faithfulness of his people. Yes, Jesus will hear and respond to the prayers of those who exercise faith. In fact, Jesus connected the faith of the one praying to the one who receives a positive answer.

What evidence can you give that if Jesus were to come today, He would say to you, “In you I see faith?” Do you find it rather striking that Jesus introduced this question regarding faith to an example of prayer? There is a connection between the pray and the exercise of faith.

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Good and Faithful

As I write these words, the temperature outside has dipped below 25 degrees. While that is not particularly cold in the Texas Panhandle, it is a rare occurrence in Northeast Texas. It is a strong reminder that we are in the season of winter. Recently, I had the privilege of visiting the North Eastern section of the United States during the annual display of God’s majesty known as a time of remarkable changing colors. The season is that of fall. The faithfulness of seasons reminds me that life is full of seasons. There are the seasons of adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and that of senior adulthood. The life of a minister also takes on the characteristics of seasons. My trip to the New England states was one of a sabbatical. During this fall adventure, I spent time with the Lord evaluating the current season of my life and looking forward to serving the Lord in the coming season. During this evaluation, I was drawn to the parable of the talents and the Lord gently reminded me, regardless of what season of life you are experiencing, be faithful. It is that Word from the Lord that is directing this season of my life as a husband, father, grandfather, and pastor. The theme of faithfulness will be guiding my leadership in each of these areas for several months in the year 2018. I will be exploring various aspects of life and correlating the teachings of Scripture regarding faithfulness to each one.  You are invited to take this journey with me through the writings of this blog. Please feel free to make comments in the comment section as we travel. I will be posting daily readings corresponding to a 2018 calendar and making reflective comments regarding the passages under consideration. The passages for January 8-12 are as follows:

Bible Reading Challenge — 2018

Week 1 Well Done Good and Faithful

God Rewards Faithfulness

January 8, 2018 — Luke 8:1-8

January 9, 2018 – Matt. 25:14-30

January 10, 2018 — James 2:14-26

January 11, 2018 — Matt. 10:24-42

January 12, 2018 — Matt. 13:44-46

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Habakkuk 3

Habakkuk 3  August 24, 2017

The burden of the prophet is overwhelming. To have a revelation of impending doom may seem as though it is a great privilege while in reality, it is a tremendous burden. In reading the 3rd chapter of Habakkuk, the reader easily picks up on a vacillation of the use of past tense, present tense, and future tense. While that may seem a bit strange, considering the place of the prophet brings an understanding. The prophet is not writing in a passive voice speaking of the past as those it is present, he is speaking of the future as if it is present because through the revelation of God he sees the future as if it is present.

Habakkuk records a three-fold response to the chastening hand of God he visualizes as the Lord reveals the impending doom. He responds with humility, with a plea for mercy, and with praise. Verse 2 says he heard the report about the Lord and he was filled with fear. Fear is an emotion that is accompanied by humility. It usually occurs when a human being encounters a situation full of danger yet one they cannot control. There is a force or power greater than they who is in charge. Consequently, they are simply brought into humility under that power. Hence, Habakkuk was full of fear. He first responded with humility.

His humility led to a plea for mercy. The plea for mercy is a plea for a reprieve while knowing full well relief is undeserved. Habakkuk is not asking the Lord to overlook the sin. He is asking the Lord to grant a lesser sentence than is deserved. Notice that he does not enter a plea of not guilty.  He is actually offering a plea of guilt and calling on the Lord to not impart the fully deserved sentence due the Israelites because of their breaking of the covenant.

The final response to the Lord is one of praise. Habakkuk sees the hand of the Lord using many elements of the creation to execute his hand of chastisement. He reports his vision of God using pestilence, plagues, earth quakes, rivers, and seas. His use of imagery is strong. But then he mentions chastisement and his own salvation. Here is a strong reminder, the work of the Lord here is not wrath against the people but rather correction. God is using the rod of correction. God is exercising mercy and grace in delivering the people from what would be the consequence of their own sin if left to their own devices. When he realizes the purpose of the calamity, Habakkuk offers praise to God. He closes the book  by saying, “I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.”

The one who walks close to Jesus sees more clearly the future than the person who lives in sin. When one fully understands the future for the person who walks in sin, his heart is broken. But when he sees the wisdom of God in chastisement, and when he sees the salvation of God work to redeem one who is lost in sin, his response turns to humility, a plea for mercy, and one of praise. The one who walks with Jesus is full of compassion for the one who rejects Christ, a plea for mercy for the one who knows Christ but walks away, and song of praise when he stops long enough to realize, but the by the grace of God, we would all be lost.

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Habakkuk 2

Habakkuk 2 August 23, 2017

The Lord’s response to Habakkuk reads like a piece of wisdom literature mixed with prophecy. The first issues addressed are those of folly. The Lord then used the issues of folly symbolically to bring a strong indictment against the Israelites. It was the height of their arrogance that brought on this strong action from the hand of the Lord.

In verses 4 and 5, the Lord makes a case against Israel for her pride and drunkenness. In verse 6 his accusations turn to the misuse of credit. The misuse of credit is followed by the charge of taking from other nations by way of abuse of power, they looted many nations. This charge is followed by the declaration of a great woe or warning of judgment to come. The one who uses evil to gain for his house will one-day face judgment and Israel’s day of the Lord had come. The charges of wrong doing are followed by one of two very strong statements regarding the sovereignty of God. The earth will be filled with the knowledge and glory of the Lord. Israel may have failed her God given task, but God will get his glory even if he has to severely chastise his people in order to show himself to the nations.

In verse 13, the result of Israel’s failure is connected to the symbolism of her relationship to the nations. Her sin against God has served as a means of seduction to draw the nations of the world into her own web of sin and rebellion. The nations have become drunk with the wine of Israel. The wine here is symbolic rather than literal. It was the method of holding tpower that had seduced the nations. The folly of Israel had spread among her neighbors and God was now holding them accountable. The verses between 13 and 19 spell out the ruin that is soon to come upon the Israelites due to their vain influence.

The second occurrence of a reminder of God’s sovereignty appears in verse 20. The Lord is in His Holy Temple. That line brings back memories of an old hymn we used to sing. The verse serves as a great contrast to the previous verses. It shows a picture of a God who is holy and separated from these evil acts. It also shows the Lord to be ready to act upon their wickedness. The phrase, “Let all the earth be silent before him” speaks to his righteous judgment that is soon to come.

There are two strong lessons to be drawn from this chapter. First, a person’s actions have a greater effect on others than is sometimes understood. By her ungodly actions, she was causing other nations to sin. What is true on the national level is also true on the level of family and even the individual. Let us not be found as wielding ungodly influence in the lives of others. The second lesson is equally, if not more frightening. God’s glory will not be thwarted by a person or a nation’s rebelliousness. He will deal with that unrighteousness at the proper time and the earth will be filled with His glory. His judgment is righteous and his judgment is certain.

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Haggai 2

Haggai 2 August 21, 2017

If a man does not want to succeed, there are many barriers at his disposal. Two of the most common barriers to succeeding or simply moving forward to accomplish great things are found in the words of God to the prophet Haggai. While casting a vision for the rebuilding of the temple, the Lord shows Haggai a way to deal with the negative attitudes that will certainly surface. The first of those was the success of the past. This negative surfaces  in many forms. You hear it consistently, “Things will never be the same.” “We have never done it  that way before.” “The good ole days.” So the question is raised, “Does it seem like nothing in comparison?” In other words, the new temple will never reach the same level of glory as the former, why even try. The success of the past sometimes prevents the attempt of something big.

Not only do successes from the past prevent attempts to accomplish great things, so do the failures of the past. The famous phrase, “We tried that once and it did not work” comes to mind. Scientific research often uses the phrase, “all things being equal” when it seeks to explain an experiment. But the bottom line is, rarely are all things equal. The last time it was tried, some of the variables were different.  And then there is a significant mitigating factor, God. It is the factor of the presence of God that makes all the difference. The presence of God turned a hopeless situation into one where the leaders were to, “take courage.”

The phrase “take courage” indicates that courage is available and is simply there for the taking by the audience within Haggai’s reach. Courage was available to them. The basis for the taking of courage is explicit in the text, “because God is with you.” And if God be for you, who can be against you?  Consequently, the leaders God has called out to lead the building of the temple should take courage, God is in the effort. There is no need to be stifled by the success or failures from the past. There is every reason to move forward with courage rather than to retreat in cowardice.

The one who is walking with Jesus can also take courage. The promises of abundant life to the one who seeks the Lord daily heavily populate the New Testament. The successes or failures have little bearing on the present. The greatest effect of those events is merely, psychological. God is the factor that changes the circumstance. Feeling defeated today? Remember, courage is available for the taking to the one who seeks the Lord. Are you doubting the future? God takes care of the Lily of the field. He is adequate to take care of you.

 

 

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