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From the Summer 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:

Augustine on Heaven and Rewards

by Kevin Offner
Senior Campus Staff Member for Intervarsity Collegiate Ministries, Mid-Atlantic Area Graduate and Faculty Ministries

 

 
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Seeking God’s Promised Future Rewards

 Holy Scripture is filled with God’s promise of future rewards. Here are a few examples. In his sermons Augustine discusses them all, especially 2 Timothy 4:7–8.

When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matt. 6:6) 14

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matt 6:19–20) 14

Whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matt. 10:42)

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property … And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, “Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt. 25:14, 20–21)

When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:12–14)

By faith Moses … considered reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Heb. 11:23, 26)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:7–8)

 Many Christians struggle with robustly exulting in the notion of God giving His children rewards, thinking that this necessarily or inevitably contradicts a theology of grace. Doesn’t any mention of rewards automatically infer human pride? Augustine’s answer always is the same: no, not if one is convinced that the abilities one has for obeying the Lord are all God’s gifts from Him in the first place. In his debate with Pelagius, Augustine’s oft-quoted refrain was “God, command what You will, and then give what You command.” Augustine understands “crowns” as God’s “crowning His gifts.” He says,

You he crowns with compassion and mercy; and even if your merits have preceded you, God says to you, “Have a good look at your merits, sort them out carefully, and you will see that they are my gifts” … When you depart from here you will receive according to what you deserve, and you will rise again to receive what you have achieved. Then God will set the crown, not so much on your merits as on his gifts. Whatever he has given you, if you have kept and preserved it, he will recognize. 15

 

 

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