1 Corinthians 3:11-13
“Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest….” (1 Corinthians 3:11-13)
On what will our eternal rewards be based? For years I had the Pauline role — missionary church planter among an unreached people. To me, that’s the top vocation. From there I stepped down to head an educational institution in a country where there are hundreds of seminaries and Bible colleges. Still, we were sending out hundreds of missionaries as well as pastors and teachers. So finally, from there I stepped down again, to the role of homemaker — cooking, cleaning house, changing diapers. Which work of mine do you feel will receive the greater reward at the final assize.
You’re correct— reward will not be based on gift or calling. After all, the people to whom Paul wrote the assurance of reward were menial, household slaves! So don’t be arrogant about your gifts and calling, nor envious of others. Rewards are for those whose work is steadfast, unmovable, always abounding and for Jesus’ sake. That spells “faithful” and reward is based on faithfulness, not giftedness nor prominence.
I met with missionaries gathered from across Tanzania on the shore of Lake Victoria for their annual conference. On the last night there was a presentation for Doris Shafer who had finished her missionary career— 35 years delivering thousands of babies in the hot, dusty, lonely backside of the desert. There was a brief speech of appreciation, and they presented her with a notebook of letters from her colleagues. I was angry. Is this it? All of it? 35 years of heroic effort to save a forgotten people and she quietly slips away?
I sat there reflecting on my own country where a 250-pound hunk of muscle grabs a pig skin, smashes down the field and headlines scream his glory across the land. I remembered the year before when an entertainer noted for blaspheming God and man got $50,000,000 for his efforts. I was angry. But then I remembered—I’ve been reading the wrong newspapers. In the Celestial Times Doris is the one in the headlines, not the football star. I’ve been tracking the wrong Emmy Awards. Doris is the one who will receive the reward.
On that glad day when you offer him the gift of a lifetime of hard work, he will be pleased. You worked to fulfill him, not you, and that will be the joy! I stayed close to home base when evangelizing in Japan, but occasionally I’d take a trip to speak to some missionaries’ conference. When I returned home it was always to a jubilant celebration. On one such occasion when I entered the front gate, 3-year-old Kent was the first to spot me. He had flooded the back yard and made an immense black mud pie. He shouted the alarum and dashed to greet me. Here I am in my one preacher-suit and there he is, a little glob of gooey mud. What do I do? Why, I lift him up and embrace him, of course.
By then there was a flurry of activity as each of his five brothers and sisters prepared their own welcome—one brought a chair to put on the veranda, another plugged in the electric fan, a third brought hand-fans and began to churn the turgid air to provide for my comfort. Kent just stood there, dripping mud, watching his older brothers and sisters. Suddenly he disappeared. He had thought of something for my comfort they had not. In the kitchen, he pushed a chair over to the cabinet where the powdered drink mix was stored, then over to the sink to get a glass of water. He knew about a delicious drink made from powder and water, he just didn’t know about stirring it. Powder and water now combined he dismounted his chair and reached up chubby muddy fingers to get the gift for his Daddy. He might spill it, so better anchor the glass with a couple of fingers over the rim.
As I sat there on the veranda, treated like royalty, suddenly Kent reappeared and proudly offered me his gift, a tall glass of brownish water. “Did you make this yourself, Kenbo?” I asked. Standing there with his muddy midriff protruding between shirt and pants, he jerked his dirty little head in affirmation. What to do? Distract his attention and pitch it into the garden? He watched me like a hawk. So I took a swallow. Immediately Kent said, “Did you like it?”
You think I lied, don’t you? But I didn’t. I told the solemn truth: “Kenbo, I love it!” Oh, I didn’t care for the gritty brown drink, of course, but I loved his love. And so it is with you. On that last Day, the most godly and gifted among us will offer a gift with a muddy finger or two in it. But he’ll love it! Your offering of love, of a lifetime of steadfast, immovable, abounding hard work will bring him great joy.