The Rewards of Generosity

The Treasure Principle

Until his death in 1976, Maxey Jarman was the longtime president of the Genesco Shoe Company in Nashville. Over his lifetime, he gave away millions. Near the end of his life, our country experienced political upheaval and a financial crisis which led to a drastic reduction in his net worth.

In an interview, he was asked, “Do you regret giving so much away?”

Maxey’s reply is instructive for us. He said, “Absolutely not. All that I gave away is all that I have left.”


John D. Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest men who ever lived. Upon his death, someone asked his accountant how much he had left behind. The reply: “All of it.”


Maxey Jarman understood what author Randy Alcorn calls The Treasure Principle, which goes like this: “You can’t take your wealth with you but you can send it on ahead.”

The Treasure Principle is trying to communicate that what we give away on earth accumulates in heaven.

If this principle is new to you, the information you are about to receive is going to be incredibly exciting. Challenging? Yes. Rewarding? Moreso than you ever imagined.

In the previous post in this series, we learned that if your annual income is $32,400 or more, you are in the global 1% of wage earners. While we tend to think of someone with more than I have as rich, the reality is that, especially on a global scale, many of us are wealthy.

In 1 Timothy 6, after warning Timothy about the potential dangers associated with wealth and admonishing Timothy to command those with financial resources to give generously and to be willing to share, in verse 19, the apostle Paul provides motivation for generosity, saying,

“In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

Echoes into Eternity

According to this passage, the statement made by the Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius in the opening battle of the movie, Gladiator, is true. Played by Russel Crow, Maximus rides with his men into battle against an invading barbarian force, commanding and motivating them with these words: “Hold the line! Stay with me! If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium [Heaven], and you’re already dead!”

Now, the line you recall: “Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity.”

Theologically, we need to qualify that statement just a bit because there is something that will not echo into eternity, which is our sin — at least for those who look to Jesus as the one who absorbs — like a soundboard absorbs sound in an auditorium to keep soundwaves from echoing — Jesus absorbs all of our unrighteousness into himself through the judgment he suffered on a Roman cross outside of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

For those who look to Jesus as their justifier, your sin no longer echos. It is forgiven… absorbed.

But there are things we do in this life that will carry over to the next life and echo into eternity. One of these carry-over issues relates to how we use the money and possessions entrusted to us by God.

Maxey Jarman knew that what he invested for the sake of Jesus in this life would result in heavenly dividends in the next. The Bible calls these dividends rewards.

Rewards

There actually are many passages that speak of the rewards believers will receive in the next life. But don’t misunderstand. Salvation is not a reward. It is a gift. Rewards are heavenly dividends that accumulate as a disciple of Jesus lives by faith in conscious obedience to the will of God revealed in the Scriptures. This is especially true as it relates to how we use the material resources God provides.

Again, let’s be very clear. Salvation is a gift that we receive by God’s grace. We do not deserve it and we can do nothing to earn it.

Rewards are determined according to our works, which for definition sake I define as “sacrificial deeds of love and generosity.”I know that using the word works may be confusing. But listen to what the Scriptures say.

Speaking of those who suffer persecution, Jesus says in Matthew 5:12,

“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

According to Jesus, being the object of persecution leads to great reward in heaven. God is aware of our suffering and has a reward, some special gift, for those who endure such hardship, especially those who die in martyrdom.

In Matthew 5:46, Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”

Loving like Jesus is not meritorious unto salvation, but when we love the unlovable or even our enemies (like Jesus has loved us), the sacrifice of such sacrificial love is worthy of heavenly reward.

Matthew 6:2, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

The assumption in this text is that giving done in private will be rewarded later — not in the now of this life as much as the then of the next. The reward of the hypocrites is present honor. Maybe part of our future reward is the honor that the generous will receive by having the words of the Father spoken over us, “Well done!”

Matthew 10:42 reads, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Here Jesus tells us that even small acts of kindness pay rewards forward to heaven.

Matthew 16:27, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

A more extensive passage that teaches on the subject of rewards is by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:10–15:

“10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work [motives?]. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved — even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

The foundation of our salvation is the finished work of Jesus. We cannot add to or subtract from the certainty of our positional status as justified saints. But what we do upon that foundation will have eternal consequences. If our lives are fruitless, we may still be saved. But if our lives are fruitful, that fruit will be rewarded.

In Matthew 25:14–30, Jesus tells a parable about investing the differing amounts of financial resources that we have received and are entrusted to steward. We discover in the parable that how we invest now determines future dividends.

Simply put, salvation is bestowed according to God’s grace. Rewards are distributed according to our works. They are heaven’s bonuses for the life we live now.

However, the more we know about the message of the gospel and the dynamics of change, we find that the goal of God’s motivational grace that is at the root of his plan to reward his children with treasure in heaven is to leverage our hearts to abide in the greatest Treasure. With our eyes on our Great Reward — our justifier and sanctifier, Jesus — the Holy Spirit fills the disciple of Jesus with new motives that compel and enable him to live a life of sacrificial love and generosity. In this way, the Father gives grace upon grace, both in this life and the life to come.

Motivation for Obedience

I have been asked, and have asked the question myself, “If I am saved by grace, what motivation is there for obedience? If nothing I do saves me or jeopardizes my justification, why live any differently?”

Let me give you four reasons:

  1. Following the wisdom of God revealed in his word is just good for us. Sin is not just wrong, it is harmful. God has established a physical universe with physical laws and a moral universe with moral laws. Living within the boundaries of those laws promotes human flourishing. Defying those laws leads not to human flourishing but to human suffering. Obedience is just good for us.
  2. A genuine desire to follow the revealed will of God is a sign of spiritual regeneration. It is evidence of true conversion. For example, the lack of fruit upon a fruit tree reveals a lack of life. If an apple tree refuses to grow apples, the rational conclusion is that it is lifeless. The same is true spiritually when there is an absence of fruit — or an absence of any desire to practically follow the clear leading of Jesus.
  3. Obedience to God is an expression of love for God. As Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” And what is that command? To live in view of the cross by giving ourselves away with sacrificial love and generosity. If I have no desire to follow Jesus as Lord, I probably have no idea what he has done for me as a Savior. Paul says that it is the love and grace of God for him in the tangible act of the cross that compelled him into hardship, trial, and persecution as an ambassador of Jesus. The same love and grace of God toward us should be a powerful motivation for our responsive expressions of love toward him.
  4. If I am saved by grace, what motivation is there for living a life of sacrificial love and generosity? While the previous three reasons alone should suffice, what we now know about eternal rewards makes that a ridiculous question. What we do in life echos in eternity!

Heaven’s Incentive Plan

While our sins will not echo into the age to come, our sacrificial deeds of love and generosity will. This means that the promise of reward is like a heavenly incentive plan that causes us to think about what we are doing with our lives now… and with our money.

If we thought about our present choices as opportunities to lay up treasure in heaven, I think we’d often make different choices. At least we’d want to. And that desire is more than half the battle.

Remember, what we do does not save us or contribute to our salvation in any way. We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ’s work alone. Period. It is all of grace — a gift.

But now that we are his, we have choices to make. Our decisions do not affect our legal status before heaven but they do make a difference in heaven and are intended by God to motivate us to sacrificial love and generosity.

Imagine it is 1984 and you are offered the opportunity to invest in a new company called Apple Computer. Knowing then what you know now, how much do you think you’d invest?

As much as possible!

Giving to the Kingdom now is like investing in Apple back in 1984.

When we are generous with God’s resources, our temporal net worth on earth may go down but our eternal net worth goes up. As Randy Alcorn says, financial generosity is a momentary sacrifice that yields an eternal gain.

Missionary and martyr Jim Elliot put it like this,

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

In verse 19, Paul says that the result of our generosity will enable us to “take hold of the life that is truly life.”

Certainly, there is a future aspect to this life. Elsewhere, it is called eternal life to describe not only the quantity of life but the quality.

But I can’t help but think that Paul had a now application in mind as well. Much like Jesus’ description of the abundant life that his followers may know in this present life.

The word abundant is sometimes translated “full” or even, “rich.”

Like a chocolate cake with thick icing is rich, made with real butter, eggs, flour, heavy cream, and sugar, someone who lives a life characterized by peace, hope, and joy —genuine contentment and deep relationships — we say that they lived a rich life full of purpose and meaning.

That is the kind of wealth we get in this life through generosity. This is what it looks like to be truly rich, as we “take hold of the life that is truly life” rather than grasp for the mirage of happiness through ever-increasing material wealth.

Not a Surprising Doctrine

The doctrine of rewards states that what we give on earth accumulates in heaven. In other words, when we give, we don’t lose what we give, we invest what we give — paying it forward with an investment that will pay eternal dividends.

While this teaching might make us uncomfortable at first, the principle of reward as motivation should not surprise us. After all, the same incentive plan God holds out for us in what we do with our lives now as the redeemed of the Lord is the same motivation that compelled the Redeemer to give himself for us with the most staggering act of sacrificial love and generosity when he allowed himself to be crucified, the innocent in the place of the guilty.

By his act of radical generosity, Jesus was storing up for himself treasure in heaven. Not gold and silver, but brothers and sisters, the beloved sons and daughters of the Father.

If someone were to ask Jesus now, “Do you regret giving so much,” his response would be an unequivocal, “Absolutely not!”

Just like our friend, Maxey Jarman, the wealthy shoe company owner who gave away millions but had no regrets, knowing that all he gave away was all he really had left.

What if you and I really believed that and gave in view of our confidence in God’s promise to reward us in the age to come?

If I knew in 1984 what I know about Apple now, how much would I invest?

If I’d invest as much as possible in that investment opportunity, how much should I be I willing to invest in an investment opportunity that pays eternal dividends?

Because Jesus was able to see beyond his present horizon to future glory, he was willing to give it all — enduring the cross–joyfully knowing that not a drop blood he shed would be wasted or lost.

It was a momentary sacrifice that yielded an eternal gain.

And we are that eternal gain — a fully forgiven people who now follow his lead of making eternal investments, knowing, that like the blood of Jesus, nothing we give and no sacrifice we make is ever wasted. It is invested — for God’s eternal glory and our eternal joy.

Discussion Guide

  1. Why does the doctrine of rewards not conflict with salvation by grace alone?
  2. Discuss this statement: “What we give on earth accumulates in heaven.” How does the concept of giving as investing impact your view of generosity?
  3. How did the study of eternal rewards challenge you? Inspire you? Motivate you?
  4. Why do you think God offers rewards for sacrificial deeds of love and generosity?
  5. What does it mean for you that Jesus himself practiced the treasure principle by storing up for himself a treasure in heaven?
  6. Discuss this statement: ” the more we know about the message of the gospel and the dynamics of change, we find that the goal of God’s motivational grace that is at the root of his plan to reward his children with treasure in heaven is to leverage our hearts to abide in the greatest Treasure. “

Listen to this post here.