Some of us will get fewer rewards in heaven. Others will get more rewards in heaven. So why this discrepancy? And won’t this disparity cause eternal remorse and some level of strain among us? Today’s question comes from a listener named Alex, who lives in Germany.
“Hello, Pastor John. You have talked about rewards in heaven in one of your answers to a listener’s question — “Is God More Happy with Other Christians Than Me?” — episode 417. There you mentioned that God rewards faithfulness, not fruitfulness. Does this mean that we may not be rewarded to a degree we could have been, depending on our faith on earth? This question has been plaguing me since I listened to that episode. Would that not mean that God shows bias towards those with greater faith? I’m grieved because I’m unlikely to live up to the reward God may have planned for me, and forever be called a ‘lesser’ to those with greater faith. Those thoughts feel poisonous to me. Is it only my envy and pride speaking or is this something to be concerned about?”
Community of Joy
About ten years ago, I recorded a section from Jonathan Edwards’s sermon on Romans 2:10, which I think is one of the most beautiful, mind-expanding, heaven-displaying, Scripture-opening, hope-awakening passages I’ve ever read anywhere outside the Bible. So, I want to do that again here and give it fresh exposure.
“There shall be no such thing as envy in heaven, but perfect love shall reign throughout the whole society.”
The reason I think this may be a helpful response to Alex is because he says (and I think this is the key sentence), “I feel grieved that I am unlikely to live up to the reward God may have planned for me and forever be called a ‘lesser’ compared to those with greater faith. Those thoughts feel poisonous to me.”
Okay, that’s what I want to change. And I want to remedy it because I think there really are distinctions of reward in heaven. They’re not poisonous, and we’re not going to feel envious or resentful. What this quotation from Edwards does is describe heaven with real differences among the saints because of real difference in holiness here. Yet it describes a community of love in which those differences not only do not produce envy and regret but actually function to produce the greatest happiness for the community as a whole.
Before this text I’m going to read, Edwards had just made a lengthy argument that the New Testament teaches (and I think he’s right here) that there will be different rewards for different Christians. If that sounds questionable, I encourage you to read the whole sermon. It’s free online.
Now, here’s the passage. I’ll read it to you. Get ready. This sounds really different than anything you’ve ever heard, I predict.
Edwards on Heavenly Rewards
Christ tells us that he who gives a cup of cold water to a disciple in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise lose his reward. But this could not be true, if a person should have no greater reward for doing many good works than if he did but few. It will be no dampening to the happiness of those who have lower degrees of happiness and glory, that there are others advanced in glory above them: for all shall be perfectly happy, every one shall be perfectly satisfied. Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others, and there shall be no such thing as envy in heaven, but perfect love shall reign throughout the whole society.
“We will rejoice that those who’ve been most eminent in works of righteousness should be most highly exalted in glory.”
Those who are not so high in glory as others, will not envy those that are higher, but they will have so great, and strong, and pure love to them that they will rejoice in their superior happiness. Their love to them will be such that they will rejoice that they are happier than themselves; so that instead of having a damp to their own happiness, it will add to it. They will see it to be fitting that they that have been most eminent in works of righteousness should be most highly exalted in glory; and they will rejoice in having that done, that is fittest to be done.
There will be a perfect harmony in that society; those that are most happy will also be most holy, and all will be perfectly holy and perfectly happy. But yet there will be different degrees of both holiness and happiness according to the measure of each one’s capacity, and therefore those that are lowest in glory will have the greatest love to those that are highest in happiness because they will see most of the image of God in them. And having the greatest love to them, they will rejoice to see them the most happy and the highest in glory.
And so, on the other hand, those that are highest in glory, as they will be the most lovely, so they will be fullest of love: as they will excel in happiness, they will proportionally excel in divine benevolence and love to others, and will have more love to God and to the saints than those that are lower in holiness and happiness. And besides, those that will excel in glory will also excel in humility.
“Those that are most happy will also be most holy, and all will be perfectly holy and perfectly happy.”
Here in this world, those that are above others are the objects of envy because that others conceive of them as being lifted up with it. But in heaven it will not be so, but those saints in heaven who excel in happiness will also in holiness, and consequently in humility. The saints in heaven are more humble than the saints on earth and still the higher we go among them, the greater humility there is. The highest orders of saints, who know most of God, see most of the distinction between God and themselves, and consequently are comparatively least in their own eyes, and so are most humble.
The exaltation of some in heaven above the rest will be so far from diminishing the perfect happiness and joy of the rest who are inferior, that they will be the happier for it. Such will be the union in their society that they will be partakers of each other’s happiness. Then will be fulfilled in its perfection that which is declared in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one of the members be honoured all the members rejoice with it.”
So, my encouragement to Alex is that you read the whole sermon. Meditate on God’s infinitely wise and loving ability to make you perfectly happy and perfectly holy in an age to come even though some saints will be more and some less rewarded than you. It will be a perfectly happy world.