Looking at the Big Picture . . . and Finding Hope

Before you preach again on the birth of Jesus, it might be best for you to lay it aside and start from scratch. The Christmas story has been so sanitized and romanticized over the centuries that even Hollywood—as jaded a culture as can be found anywhere—fails to capture the gritty pathos that surrounded Jesus’s arrival.

Nativity
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Truth be told, even some churches annually idealize the birth of our Savior. Yet it was anything but ideal.

Without question, 6 BC was a lousy time to live in Judea. Herod the Great had seized the throne of Israel through bloody intrigue and with political support from Rome.

Three Promises Regarding Our Faithfulness

In several places through the New Testament, there are statements of promise from God to faithful servants. I’m thinking of three in particular: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

More Promises
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Note: “your toil is not in vain.”

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:9–10)

Note: “we will reap.”

Biblical Facts about Rewards

Scripture not only supports the idea of eternal rewards, it spells out the specifics. In 1 Corinthians 3:10–14, we find three primary facts about rewards. We’ll look at the first two today and complete the list next week.

Bible
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Before I mention the facts, let’s review the verses:

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. (1 Corinthians 3:10–14)

First, most rewards are received in heaven, not on earth. Please don’t misunderstand. There are earthly rewards. Even the world provides certain people with special honors:

Paul Was Normal, Like Us

Funny, we seldom think that a great apostle like Paul ever suffered from insomnia, but he did. He couldn’t sleep sometimes because of acute deprivations, like hunger, cold, and exposure . . . and sometimes because of his concern for the many ministries to which he had given himself.

Just like us
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“Daily pressure,” he calls it. Read his own words:

I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:27–28)

Now that’s being under pressure. Sounds like the pastorate, huh?

Our Common Struggles: Affliction, Confusion, Persecution

In last week’s post, we were introduced to four common struggles all servants of God face. Really, they’re consequences. In 2 Corinthians 4:8–9 we read them . . .

Common Struggles
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Afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down.

The first word, translated “afflicted,” comes from a Greek term that suggests the idea of pressure. This is stress brought on by difficult circumstances or by antagonistic people.

Responding to Treatment That Is Wrong

Greathearted, loving, caring, sacrificial servants of the living God have known ill treatment down through the centuries. The consequence of serving is no new phenomenon. It goes a long way back in time.

Bible
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I’m not aware of a more moving section of Scripture than these verses out of Hebrews 11, which declare the reality of the consequences of serving:

A Realistic Appraisal of Serving Others

We Americans like things to be logical and fair. We not only like that, we operate our lives on that basis. Logic and fairness are major priorities in our society.

Ministry
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Meaning this: if I do what is right, good will come to me, and if I do what is wrong, bad things will happen to me. Right brings rewards . . . wrong brings consequences.

That’s a very logical and fair axiom of life, but there’s only one problem with it. It isn’t always true. Life doesn’t work out quite that neatly.

Ministry is part of life.

The Rewards of Serving

Serving God by serving others definitely has rewards, and they are numerous. They far outweigh the consequences. When we think about them, they motivate us to keep going.

Serving Others
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One of the great doctrines of Christianity is our firm belief in a heavenly home. Ultimately, we shall spend eternity with God in the place He has prepared for us.

And part of that exciting anticipation is His promise to reward His servants for a job well done.

I don’t know many believers in Jesus Christ who never think of being with their Lord in heaven, receiving His smile of acceptance, and hearing His “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21 NIV).

We even refer to one who died in this way: “He has gone home to his reward.”

God Takes Special Note of His Servants

God is faithful to take special note of those who serve Him. Of all the promises He has made to His servants, one stands out among my favorites . . .

God's Servants
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For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. (Hebrews 6:10)

I like the way The Living Bible renders the promise:

Three Truths from Jesus about Our Obedience

Reading the words of our Savior, we need to realize the tremendous emphasis He put on obedience. As I think about appropriating Christ’s model and commands for us in the ministry, three specifics are important enough to mention.

Obedience
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First, obedience means personal involvement. Jesus told His disciples, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).

We cannot serve our congregations in absentia or at arm’s length. It means if someone is drowning in a troubled sea, we get wet . . . we get involved. It means if someone drifts away, we don’t ignore that person or simply pray, we reach out to help and restore.

Think about this. Honestly now, are you willing to get personally involved and help at least one person in need? Willingness must precede involvement.