by Todd Strandberg

Eternal Rewards

One of the most commonly believed myths concerning the afterlife is the notion that, in Heaven, eternal life is our only reward. Everyone's rank will be equal in God's eyes. This monolithic view of Heaven has us spending a large portion of eternity sitting on clouds, strumming our harps and preening our new wings.

The Bible could not disagree more strongly with this definition of a communal Heaven. Paul, in Corinthians, said we will receive rewards according to the deeds we perform here on earth: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).

Paul also said in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 that Jesus will test the quality of our works with fire. Our works that are unprofitable will be burnt up; our works that give glory to Him will remain. Obviously, if someone performed works during life on earth for his own glory, he will suffer heavy loss. On the other hand, the folks who work unselfishly to advance the Kingdom will suffer little loss.

Jesus made it clear, in Luke 19, that each of us will receive different rewards for our service. In the story of the ten pounds, our Lord said, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a rich nobleman who gave his ten servants each a pound to invest while he was away on a journey. One servant generated a profit that was ten times his master's money, another servant made a five-fold return on the pound that was given him. The one who gained ten was made ruler over ten cities; the one who gained five was made ruler over five cities. The rest of the servants didn't make a profit on the nobleman's money.

Paul related that man has very little understanding of the splendor that God is preparing for His faithful children: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor. 2:9).

Eternal Wealth Is Not Always Obvious

From our earthly vantagepoint, it is impossible to know exactly who is richer in the Kingdom of God. Jesus indicated from the example of the widow's two mites that what is in the giver's heart is more important than what is in the giver's hand. If one man had a million dollars to his name and he gave $1,000 to God's work, his gift would be dwarfed by a man who lived in poverty yet gave $20 to God.

Having a church which seats 10,000 people, a series of best-selling books, and a successful radio and TV outreach ministry might indicate that a pastor is building up great treasure in Heaven, but again, spiritual success can sometimes be hard to recognize.

Consider the case of Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China. He sailed into the port of Canton in 1807 and labored there 27 years until his death in 1834. During the entire span of Morrison's missionary career, he only baptized ten Chinese nationals. His pioneering work, which included a six-volume Chinese dictionary and a translation of the Bible, laid the foundation upon which other missionaries later built. The mind of man might perceive Morrison to be a complete failure, but God surely thinks otherwise.

God's Billionaires

The world has its various rankings of wealthy individuals. Right now, close to 1,000 people have achieved billionaire status. The Kingdom of God has its own roster of heavenly billionaires. The following list is just a small representation of some noteworthy people who have achieved spiritual greatness.

King David
God referred to David as a man after His own heart. David's historical legacy was his founding of the Judean dynasty. Most of David's greatest conquests were won on the battlefield. As a boy, he killed the godless giant, Goliath, with just one stone from his slingshot. David was God's greatest warrior, defeating the Philistines, Moabites, Aramaeans, Ammonites, Edomites, and Amalelekites. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Messiah is referred to as the "Son of David." David is also credited with writing 73 of the Psalms.

John the Baptist
Gauging the amount of wealth John accumulated is not an easy task. John the Baptist did not write any books of the Bible, he had a very short-lived ministry, and even his life was abbreviated. Not until we read Jesus' comments about John do we learn that he was a man of great riches: "I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Mat. 11:11).

Saint Paul
When polled, most Christians cite St. Paul as the man who has done the most to advance Christianity. This is an amazing designation for someone who initially tried to destroy the Church that is now so greatly indebted to him. If heavenly wealth were determined by deeds alone, Paul would have an overwhelming lead over his fellow heroes of the faith. Called the "apostle to the Gentiles," Paul probably holds the most patents in the field of missionary work. With the New Testament containing 13 letters bearing Paul's name as author, there can be no doubt of his mega-billionaire status in the Kingdom of Heaven.

St. Augustine
Augustine was born in Tagaste (modern Souk Ahras, Algeria) in 354 AD and died almost 76 years later in Hippo Regius (modern Annaba) on the Mediterranean coast, 60 miles away. In the years between, he lived out a career that bridged the gap between ancient, pagan Rome and the Christian Middle Ages. His writings profoundly influenced medieval religious thought, and his ideas also surfaced later in the teachings of John Calvin and Martin Luther.

Martin Luther
Martin Luther made his fortune by setting the Reformation into motion. The grand opening event was held when Luther nailed his "Ninety-Five Theses" to the door of the Wittenberg Church. The document contained an attack on papal abuses and the sale of indulgences by church officials. He basically helped revive what has always been the heart of the Gospel - the doctrine that justification comes by faith alone. Luther became the father of a huge network of denominations that bear his name.

John Bunyan
Probably the greatest Christian fiction writer of all time, Bunyan is most noted for his book Pilgrim's Progress. It has been said that his famous allegory about Pilgrim on his journey to the Celestial City is second only to the Bible itself in the number of copies sold through the ages and throughout the world. Bunyan was jailed many times for preaching the Gospel without an official license. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise; Bunyan did some of his best writing in the jailhouse.

John Wesley
Wesley was born June 17, 1703, in Epworth Rectory, England, the 15th of 19 children of Samuel and Susanna Wesley. Wesley was untiring and energetic in his efforts to advance the Gospel message. The Methodist movement was not an overnight success. Prosperity was only gained after a number of years, and amid some of the bitterest persecutions. In nearly every part of England, the proclaiming of the Gospel was first met by rock-throwing mobs. The name "Methodist" came from the business-like, organizing power that the movement displayed. After Wesley's death, the Methodist Church grew into a huge denomination. Its success was guaranteed by military perfection instilled into its leadership by its founder.

Charles Wesley
Some folks have described Charles Wesley as "the first Methodist." They point out that he first brought together a group of like-minded Christians to the "Holy Club" at Oxford. Leadership was not Charles' calling; he usually deferred executive matters to his brother John. Charles' main calling, and the source of much of his eternal wealth, was writing hundreds of hymns. You don't need to attend a Methodist service to hear them. Wesley's hymns have become standards in most Christian denominations.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Spurgeon was England's best-known preacher for most of the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1854, just four years after his conversion, Spurgeon, then only 20, became pastor of London's famed New Park Street Church. His congregation grew so large that it had to move several times before finally settling in the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Spurgeon frequently preached to audiences of more than 10,000--all in the days before electronic amplification. Greatly blessed by the Holy Spirit, his success and worldwide popularity were due, in large measure, to a genius intellect, a natural gift of oratory, and thoroughly biblical expository messages. Spurgeon's many writings and brilliant sermons are still widely published today, testifying to his timeless appeal.

William Booth
During the 1800's, there must have been something special in Britain's water because here we have yet another native of England who founded a prosperous global Christian organization. Booth was an evangelist in London, where he and his wife, Catherine Mumford Booth, established the movement that became known as the Salvation Army. It was originally founded under the name, "The Christian Mission," with the aim of addressing the evangelical and social-welfare needs of the inhabitants of the slums of London. In 1878, the Mission was reorganized along its present quasi-military lines and was renamed The Salvation Army. Today, Booth's organization has become one of the largest charitable organizations in the world.

Infamous Financial Fiascoes

The financial world has experienced a number of infamous financial fiascoes through the years, and the spiritual realm has seen several financial disasters of its own. Nothing is more tragic than someone having the opportunity to achieve eternal greatness and then losing it because of the person's own fraud or neglect.

Judas Iscariot
If anyone had the promise of great wealth, it was Judas Iscariot. The Bible says that the names of the 12 apostles would be inscribed into the 12 foundations of Heaven (Rev. 21:14). Jesus said they would also sit on 12 thrones judging the nations of Israel. Judas saw the miracles and walked with Jesus all that time, but still somehow he failed to see the eternal riches that were being placed in his name. We all know he sold everything that could have been his for a meager payment of 30 pieces of silver.

Asa Alonzo Allen
In my mind A.A. Allen stands as the saddest story of a preacher turned charlatan. He is most well known for telling his followers that he could command God to "turn dollar bills into twenties." Allen said he had "a new anointing and a new power to lay hands on the believers who gave $100 towards the support of our missionary outreach and bestow upon each of them power to get wealth." He was also known to have urged his followers to send for his "prayer cloths anointed with the Miracle Oil," and he offered "Miracle tent shavings" as points of contact for personal miracles. Allen was kicked out of the Assemblies of God denomination when he jumped bail after being arrested for drunk driving. Allen claimed that the drunk driving offense resulted from his being kidnapped and having alcohol forcefully poured down his throat by some thugs. On June 14, 1970, listeners of his program heard a recorded message in which he said, "This is Brother Allen in person. Numbers of friends of mine have been inquiring about reports they have heard concerning me that are not true. People, as well as some preachers from pulpits, are announcing that I am dead. Do I sound like a dead man? My friends, I am not even sick! Only a moment ago I made a reservation to fly into our current campaign. I'll see you there and make the devil a liar." At that moment, at the Jack Tar Hotel in San Francisco, police were removing A. A. Allen's body from a room littered with pills and empty liquor bottles. Allen died from liver failure brought about by acute alcoholism (James Randi, The Faith Healers, 1989, p.88).

Robert Tilton
From the very beginning, the sole purpose of the Robert Tilton Ministry has been to extract money from believers. Tilton got the inspiration for starting Success-N-Life from watching Dave Del Dotto's real estate infomercials. Tilton's love of earthly wealth is so prevalent that it even shows in his own personal testimony. He chose to go to a Hawaiian resort to get saved because, in his words, "If I'm going to go to the cross, I'm going to go in a pretty place. Not some dusty place like Jerusalem. Gravel is all that place is." Tilton built an empire that, at its peak, took in as much as $65 million per year. The end came when an ABC's news program found out that the prayer request letters he promised to pray over were being trashed, unread. All of Tilton's mail was sent directly to his Tulsa bank; the checks were removed and deposited, and the prayer requests were thrown in dumpsters. A reporter, while digging through the garbage, found desperate requests for things like healing of heart and eye conditions. Tilton's operation dwindled rapidly amid the revelations of the scandal. In his defense, Tilton said the prayer requests were planted, and he also said, "I laid on top of those prayer requests so much that the chemicals actually got into my bloodstream, and . . . I had two small strokes in my brain."

Mike Warnke
For years, Warnke claimed to be the former high priest of a 1,500-person satanic coven. It has been said, "Warnke did more to shape the Christian view of Satanism than any leader of his generation." The end of his multi-million-dollar-per-year empire came to a sudden halt when Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein of Cornerstone magazine spent two years checking out his claims, and to their surprise they found them to be totally fraudulent. Tales of unbiblical divorces, extramarital affairs, drinking and enormous compensation packages for himself and his cronies didn't help matters. Warnke's second wife said, "Mike is one of the greatest con artists I've ever known in my life. And coming from my background, that says quite a bit." Warnke's greatest ploy was his appeals for money to help alleged victims of Satanism; the money instead went to his personal use.

Jim Bakker and PTL
I remember where I was when the news of Jim Bakker's sexual and financial misjudgment hit the newsstands. I was in San Antonio, Texas, going through my six weeks of basic military training. It was the only time I recall of hearing one of the instructors drop his authoritative persona to say, "Hey, have you guys heard this?" Disclosure of the gross over-booking of time-shares at Bakker's Christian theme park forced it into bankruptcy. The "Praise The Lord" satellite network was eventually doomed to obscurity by the circus that enveloped the ministry. After being tried and convicted of fraud, Jim Bakker went to prison for several years. He's now out of prison and last reports indicate that he is serving a small congregation of people - his once vast media empire a distant memory.

Pat Robertson and CBN
In the early 1980's, the Christian Broadcasting Network was one of the leading venues of Christian programming in the nation and the world. Pat Robertson was the founder of CBN, and everything was going fine until he got the idea of running for president of the United States. The American people were about as ready to elect a preacher to the highest office as they would have been to place an exotic dancer in that office. After losing big-time in the fall election, Robertson started a process that slowly transformed CBN into a worldly network. Bit-by-bit, nearly all Christian programming was replaced with shows that were secular in nature. When Robertson eventually decided to change the name of the network to The Family Channel, it was a logical move because little was left of CBN's Christian heritage. All hope was lost when Pat Robertson accepted a multi-million dollar buyout from Rupert Murdoch's Fox Broadcasting Company for the sale of The Family Channel.

Money Down A Rat Hole

In America today, there is $20 trillion in equity and real estate wealth. The longest economic boom in history has helped create a vast pool of prosperity. Men work endlessly to grow their portfolios, but for what purpose? A man who has $10 billion is just as overwhelmingly rich as someone who has $20 billion. Far too many people think they're poor because someone else has more money than they.

Unless you put money to some use, it really doesn't have any value. In fact, value is mostly created by the act of hoarding money. If everyone suddenly decided to sell all the stocks they own, wealth that is based on equity prices would instantly collapse. In the end, a rich person is not someone who has money; a rich person is someone who utilizes money.

To be a truly rich person in the eternal sense, you need to be investing your money in the Kingdom of God. In this area, people of earthly wealth fail miserably. One survey of people with $5 million or more in holdings found that only 2% of their money goes to religious charities. Wealthy celebrities rank even lower. One site that reviewed the tax returns of a number of well-known Hollywood personalities could not find one celebrity who gave money to a Gospel-minded organization.

When the rich finally do decide to give away a portion of their fortune, AIDS causes, libraries, secular colleges, museums, and medical research are some of the typical recipients of their donations. It's ironic that people can be wise enough to build up large sums of money through earthly investments, and they end up pouring those sums down a rat hole when it comes to eternal investments.

Probably one of the best descriptions of what the afterlife will be like for men of great wealth can be found in Charles Dickens's classic A Christmas Carol. The torment of men like Jacob Marley, Scrooge's departed business partner, was not that he and others were weighted down with giant chains; their torment was that they could see the need in the world, but they could no longer "interfere, for good, in human matters."

Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (Mat. 19:24). Simply because so few rich people give to the cause of Christ, someone who is well off could easily overcome the burden of wealth by giving to God. There is a factor I call the rich man's mite. If someone like Bill Gates decided to give a generous portion of his holdings to something like missionary work, even though he would have plenty of money left over, I believe that person could be regarded as giving in a measure equal to the widow of Mark 12:42.

Motivation for Doing God's Will

When I started RR in the late 1980s, I never had any grand ideas of developing some great ministry. I just did it because there was a need. Someday I will have to give an account of my life, so it will helpful to have some accomplishments to point to when the Lord Jesus asks me what I've done with my time on earth.

I have found it to be very dangerous to try to speculate on how God perceives our labors. When someone looks boastfully on his own works, he runs the risk of allowing pride to creep in. Another much larger problem with reward speculation comes when people just give up after they fail to receive man's overwhelming response. The worst thing you can do is quit, because even someone who enjoys limited success is far superior to someone who does nothing.

Some people refuse to do anything for the Lord's work because they claim they have doubts about their own motivation. When you give or do something in Christ's name, nothing is wrong with a healthy expectance of some future reward. But it's true: personal gain should not be our only motivation.

Near the end of Paul's life, he knew very well he would be wonderfully compensated for his labors. He said, "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, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Tim. 4:7-9).

What keeps me going is the realization that someday Jesus is going to demand to know what good we've all done in our lives. "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men..." (2 Cor. 5:11). With me being the type of person who has a hard time defending myself, even when I'm doing the right thing, I realize I need all the extra points I can muster.

Making Financial Plans

If the Bible promised us a full week's warning before the rapture was to take place, I guess most churches would be quite full the Sunday before the great event. Because of the huge bounty of giving, the ushers would probably have to go down the aisles using wheelbarrows to gather the offering. Of course, all this money given at the last minute would be nearly worthless.

When the rapture takes place, all the assets we have in banks and brokerages will indeed be worthless. As they pass into glory, some people whom God greatly blessed in this life might have to endure a dramatic reduction in their prosperity level.

Over 60 percent of the US population has a long-term investment plan to which they regularly contribute; however, the number of people who have eternally focused investment plans is only a fraction of that number. Among faithful church members, the giving rate is said to be only about 5% of their annual income.

The giving of tithes and offerings to various ministries is often motivated by what is commonly called the "prosperity gospel," which states that if you give God $100, He'll give you back $1,000 or even $10,000. With time being so short and with the valuations of this life so temporal, I would ask the Lord to just keep the money in the heavenly realm. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:19-21 NIV).

It's not just money we're talking about here, folks. You can cut out the middleman by witnessing to people yourself. The reward for winning a new convert to Christ is priceless. If you get someone saved, you could pretty much take the rest of the month off. "He that winneth souls is wise" (Prov. 11:30).

Most faithful Christians look forward to Christ's return. I believe if it was made known to us the current balance of our eternal reward, many believers who were once so eager to see Jesus return might instead be motivated to ask Him for an extension. Oh, but ready or not, Jesus is coming soon.