We just had the all-city garage sale here in Myrtle Point. Teckla and I sold some furniture that belonged to my brother, Stanley, who died last year. I even sold a desk and chest of drawers that Dad bought long ago and repainted bright red and yellow. They had been mine as a child, and then given to Stanley. The empty drawers are full of memories. Garage sales and estate sales are poignant reminders that our lives are not our stuff and that our real treasure needs to be heaven. We need to think more of heaven.
Often, however, the accusation has been leveled against Christians that they think too much about heaven—pie in the sky by and by. Famously, Johnny Cash sang of people who are so “heavenly minded they are of no earthly good.” However, I would argue that most Christians have the opposite problem. Many believers have only the vaguest idea of what treasure in heaven might be. They seldom think about it and are seldom moved by it. And yet Jesus talks a lot about treasure in heaven and heavenly reward. Paul also makes clear that he earnestly desires to secure his heavenly reward by living faithfully.
We sometimes think of the Sermon on the Mount as practical instruction for living out our faith, but it is here that Jesus speaks the most about heavenly reward. In the beginning of the sermon he declares (5:3) that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit. A few verses later he says that those who are persecuted and falsely accused should “rejoice and be glad” because their “reward in heaven is great”. I, like many Christians I suspect, find great reward in heaven such a foggy idea that it would have little power to help me rejoice in persecution. Nonetheless, there are solid biblical reasons why caring about heavenly reward and treasure will actually make a believer of more, not less, earthly good.
First, it should make us hypocrisy-proof. Hypocrisy has two roots: pride and fear. Either of these can make us care more about how we appear to others than to God. Both can make us live for the applause of men instead of the applause of heaven, treasure now instead of later. Jesus addressed this:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise, you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1
Jesus goes on to warn that those who do good only to be noticed by others have their reward “in full” and are getting no reward from God. In fact, much of chapter six is about the power and reward of living the hidden life that does not seek the spot-light and is not motivated by what others think—either for good or ill. We need not fake anything because we live in the eyes of God who sees us as we are. We need not fear anything because our reward, God’s approval, can never be taken away. There would be fewer hypocrites in the church if more of us cared most about God’s opinion of us.
Second, a focus on heavenly reward should make believers the moral compass for their communities and nation. The currents of peer pressure and cultural corruption can easily float believers into moral compromise. However, caring most about the approval of God can empower us to swim against the current and stay faithful to the commandment to love God and our neighbor as yourself. God’s people should be those that can’t be bought and can’t be bribed because the only treasure we care about is that which comes from the hand of God.
A book entitled “Lest the Innocent Blood Be Shed” by Philip Hallie tells of a Protestant church in the village of Le Chambon that went to extraordinary and courageous lengths to protect Jews during the Nazi occupation of France. Members of the youth group served as scouts to warn the village that the Nazis were winding their way up to their mountain village. Farmers opened their land and high mountain pastures as hiding places for the Jews so that the Nazi buses ended up going back down the mountain pass without any Jews.
It is when we become earthly minded and full of earthly wisdom, which James calls demonic, that we get caught up in the world’s corrupted morality, racism, and prejudice. God’s Word and desire to be found faithful on judgment day can anchor us.
Third, having our treasure secure in heaven should make us fearless and generous. Our treasure is untouchable by all the forces of evil and all the circumstances of our life. Everything stolen from us in this life results in riches in the next. All suffering and misery for the sake of Christ is a direct deposit of heavenly riches in our account.
This is why Jesus says if someone asks for your shirt, give them your cloak also. We are free to be wildly generous now because we know the wealth that really matters is kept safe in heaven. We can seek first the kingdom of God and trust God for everything else. This will make us of more earthly good than those who keep a tight and fearful grip on their earthly treasure.
Fourth, a focus on heavenly reward should set our hearts free from bitterness. In this life dreams are sometimes shattered. Our hopes for our children and grandchildren can dissolve into trouble or plunge into tragedy. We sometimes smash into our own limitations and discover that the platitudes spoken in graduation speeches aren’t true.
We also face the terrible unfairness of life and the ingratitude of people. But if our heart is truly set on God’s approval and His reward, we can weather being overlooked, misunderstood, and ripped off. We are filled with thanksgiving for all God has given instead of bitterness over all that has been taken.
Think about this: Of how much practical good would it be to have a church full of people who are unoffendable, free of bitterness, and immune to resentment? People who do not need to get their way or get recognition because all their treasure is in heaven, not here?
There are some who will object that being motivated by a desire for heavenly reward is less spiritual than just serving God out of love. Some say, “I will happy just to make it.” Or the more spiritual will say, “Jesus is enough of a reward.” But these misconceptions are based on two errors.
First, we need to understand that treasure in heaven and heavenly reward are relational. This point is made in the parables of Jesus. Our reward is to be found a faithful servant who Jesus can trust to reign with Him in the next age. Therefore, serving God out of love and seeking heavenly reward are not at odds with each other. Loving God should always mean us being faithful. We treasure the approval and trust of those we love most.
Second, in the parables of Jesus and the teaching of the New Testament, heaven is not some static state or perpetual worship service. If it were, why would heavenly reward matter? But again and again Jesus talks about the faithful reigning with Him in the age to come. We aren’t given many details about what “reigning” includes, but it is certainly something more than sitting on a cloud, strumming a harp. In a sense, this life is like try-outs for the next age. We can say, as some do, that we would be happy to just make the team and warm the bench. A true love of God, however, should make us want to someone Jesus can trust to play the game—to reign with Him.
At garage sales we often see the stuff people have spent a lifetime gathering sold for almost nothing. We see that no one, no matter how poor or rich, can really take it with them. Our true riches must be in heaven. The more we care about heavenly reward, the more earthly good we will be today.