By Pastor Glenn Pease
Among the Kamba people of East Africa there persists an ancient legend. The story goes that the people of that region long ago were very embittered by death's merciless destruction. They sent messengers to all countries of the world to seek a place where death did not reign so they could all move there. The messengers traveled over the face of the earth for years wondering from country to country. Finally they returned with the tragic report. "We must stay here and die as our fathers died, for a kingdom where death is not master does not exist in all the world."
All people have longed to find a kingdom where death is excluded, and this has led to the belief in the immortality of the soul. Men have an inherent conviction that somewhere there is a kingdom where death is no more, and since it has not been found on earth, they believe it is in a land beyond the grave. The fact that this longing for such a kingdom is universal demonstrates that man recognizes death to be an intruder into the universe. It does not belong, and life will never be fully as God intended it to be until death itself is dead.
The Bible clearly reveals that such a kingdom is the goal in God's plan when the last enemy is destroyed, which is death. Before immortality was brought to light in Jesus Christ there were many who, by means of reason, came to the same conclusion that would be given by revelation. Socrates over 300 years before Christ said, "If this be a dream, let me dream on, and awake to disappointment rather than suffer from the haunting fear that death ends all! But this is no dream, since there is no appetite without provision made for supplying it, how then, will you explain this thirst of mine, unless there be water somewhere to quench it." He was right, and water does exist in Jesus Christ, and if we drink of this water of life we shall never thirst again.
Cicero a hundred years before Christ said, "I am well convinced then, that my dear departed friends are so far from having ceased to live that the state they now enjoy can alone with propriety be called life." We cannot say if this was true for his friends, but he was right in his conviction that such an abundant life is possible beyond the grave. Until modern times men have made heaven a major concern, and they have sought to understand, by means of reason and revelation, all they can about this kingdom where death does not reign. This is not longer a pursuit of the majority of men.
Lewis Whittemore in his study of immortality says, "Modern man is, for the most part, concerned with neither the hope nor the fear of immortality." People often say little is heard about the flames of hell from the modern pulpit, but they seldom complain that the joys and rewards of heaven are not expounded. It is not only hell, but heaven also that is neglected in our day, and this is due to the powerful influence of secularism and materialism that keeps us nearsighted with our focus limited to the here and now. We are unaware that our greatest enemies are those who rob us of the vision of heaven.
The hell deniers are not bosom friends, but they are not the foes to be feared. Those who attack hell and seek to eliminate it often do so just because they believe in heaven. The universalist wants everyone in heaven, and the annihilationist wants heaven to be the only kingdom of eternal existence. We disagree with these hell opposers, but we can recognize they are friends of heaven. It is the foes of heaven that are the real danger. The attack on heaven came in full force during the French Revolution when atheism went wild, and was determined to destroy God, and topple the monarchy of heaven.
Communism picked up the challenge and labored also for the overthrow of heaven. Heaven has got to go if men are to give their all to the state on earth. Marx wrote, "The people cannot be really happy until it has been deprived of illusory happiness by the abolition of religion.....Thus it is the mission of history, after the other-worldly truth has disappeared, to establish the truth of this world." Lenin wrote, "Religion teaches those who toil in poverty all their lives to be resigned and patient in this world, and consoles them with the hope of reward in heaven. As for those who live upon the labors of others, religion teaches them to be charitable in earthly life, thus providing a cheap justification for their whole exploiting existence and selling them at a reasonable price tickets to heavenly bliss." The tragic truth is that the teaching of heaven has been perverted in the past to justify evil in the present.
If we examine Peter's appeal to Christians to consider their eternal reward, we see that the purpose of it is that our life here on earth might be more effective and fruitful. Peter does not say that we are not to worry if we are living a weak and fruitless life now, because it will all be made up to us in heaven. He does not say that we can be idle and indifferent to the needs of others on earth, because it doesn't count. On the contrary, he says just the opposite. He says we are to fight every evil with courage, and grow in all the virtues that will enable us to build on the solid rock, and bring forth a garden of much fruit. Our love is to be universal, and we are to give the world everything we've got, just as Jesus did, for as we sow so shall we reap.
The hope of eternal reward is that which is to motivate us to make the most of this life, and not a drug to make it bearable. Understood properly, those with eternities values in view will do more to enrich this earth than the heaven despisers ever will. The Christian, because of his vision and hope of eternity, introduces the higher values into society, which are the eternal values of love and fellowship with God. He does not despise the values of materialism, but enjoys them to the full. He recognized, however, that a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions, and that man cannot live by bread alone. So he does not allow the values of materialism to dominate his life, but uses them as a means to gain the higher values which Peter has listed here.
It is the reward of heaven, however, that motivates us to add these values to life, and to apply them so that we bare fruit, and become profitable servants of Christ. George Herbert said, "Service without reward is punishment." God has so made us that we demand a reward for service, and He would not deprive us of it. He appeals to that innate desire. Jesus said we would have to suffer and be persecuted to follow Him, but we are to rejoice and be exceeding glad for great is our reward in heaven. The communists knew that there had to be a reward to motivate service for the state, and so they held out their utopia. They just reduced the reward idea from heaven to earth, but they knew they could not eliminate it, for as the poet said, "Who would run, that's moderately wise, a certain danger for a doubtful prize."
The emphasis of Peter on the abundant or rich entrance into the eternal kingdom indicates degrees of reward for Christians, which will very according to the degree of their obedience in adding these virtues to their lives. In other words, not only the fruitfulness of time, the rewards of eternity, depend upon what we do with these virtues. The Speaker's Bible put it, "Every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ will get an entrance into the eternal kingdom, but every believer will not get an abundant entrance. Many a ship gets into port which does not enter under full sail, canvas filled with favoring breezes, top-most flag unfurled, and music playing. Many a vessel enters harbors dismasted and almost sinking."
Scripture makes it clear that some will be saved as by fire, but all their works will be burned up because they are made of wood, hay, and stubble. Numerous verses tell us we shall all be judged and rewarded according to our works. We are not saved, but rewarded according to what we have done in the body. The Bible does not anywhere encourage us to believe that what we do here does not matter. On the contrary, everything we do, and the quality of it, determines our eternal reward. Do a slipshod job in anything, and you just pile up rubbish for the fires of judgment. Do it well, and you add another jewel to the crown of eternal life.
Riches can be acquired by gift, by inheritance, and by the fruit of labor. Salvation is ours as a gift of God, which we receive by faith. The eternal kingdom, and many of its blessings, are ours because we are joint heirs with Christ, but the riches of which Peter speaks are the rewards of our labor in serving Christ and becoming Christlike. This abundant entrance is conditioned upon our adding these virtues to our lives. If we add for God, He will multiply to us. If we serve Him, He will serve us better. God will never be out done in grace. He is not like the king Nicephorus wrote about who was going on a barge when his crown fell in the water. A barge man leaped in after it. Taking it up he put it on his head and swam to the barge. The king gave him a talent for saving it, but then cut his head off for wearing it.
Jesus offers the fruitful servant a place on His throne and a crown. Jesus said in Rev. 2:10, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life." Paul said in II Tim. 4:7-8, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness..." In James 1:12 we read, "Blessed is the man who endureth temptation for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to them that love him." In every case we see that the best of heaven is conditioned upon our doing our best on earth. Salvation is a gift, but the abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom is a reward for a job well done.
Dennis McCartly wrote,
He who does God's work will get God's pay,
However long may seem the day,
However weary be the way.
Though powers and princes thunder, nay.
No human hand God's hand can stay;
Who does His work will get his pay.
He does not pay as others pay,
In gold or land or raiment gay,
In goods that perish and decay.
But God's high wisdom knows a way,
And that is sure, let come what may.
Who does God's work will get God's pay.
This being so, I trust that we will all be wise enough to keep rereading this passage, and seek to be adding these virtues to our lives. What we do with these virtues from now until we die will determine the degree of our eternal reward.