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God’s Word for You

Mark 9:41 Reward

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, April 8, 2020

41 Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you belong to Christ—amen I tell you that he will certainly not lose his reward.

This little verse should bring nothing but comfort and encouragement to Christians, but because the chief article of faith is so often misunderstood and even rejected, then a gospel passage like this is turned on its head and is made into a law.

The chief article is that mankind is justified, declared not guilty of our sins, by faith in Christ alone (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 5:1). This is proved by Paul in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch where he says: “My brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39). With this pillar of justification firmly in place, we can read about reward here in Mark without any danger of thinking that our salvation is a reward for what we do; that is, for the merits of our good works. For what could our works ever merit from God? The best of a man’s good works is rank with sin, with malcontent, with improper motives, and worse. Would it be the quantity of a man’s good works that would merit anything? Most importantly, how would we ever know whether we had done enough? Seemingly good works piled up to the highest heaven are still stained with sin, so that if God looks past the sin, he is accepting a man’s works on account of his, God’s own grace, and not the number of works. Would it be the quality of a man’s good works that would merit anything? The answer is the same. Everyone’s good deeds are not truly good at all unless they are done from faith in Christ, and then it is not the quality of the work, but the quality of Christ that makes all the difference. As St. Bernard says in a sermon on the first chapter of the Song of Songs, salvation is a gift of grace. He illustrates this with a baptized infant: “If one of you will object that baptized infants who die before acquiring a knowledge of the material creation are believed nevertheless to enter heaven, I shall reply briefly that this is a gift of grace, not a reward of merit.” He says in another place, “It is sufficient to know regarding the word ‘merit’ that merit does not suffice.” And Philip Melanchthon said, “It is insanity to imagine that it is possible for the regenerate to satisfy the law of God and that they are thus without sin. Therefore, in order that our hope of eternal life may remain strong, we should know that it is given to those who repent and believe for the sake of Christ” (Loci Vol. II p. 638).

What I have written here is not really sufficient to thoroughly cover the matter, but we should return to the text to see that it may be taken in at least two good and God-pleasing ways, and it should be our desire to be comforted by either or both of these.

First, Jesus sometimes speaks of additional rewards even beyond the eternal reward of heaven. Some of these are physical or spiritual rewards in this lifetime. For example, a young man who wants to find a Christian wife may find that he has become more desirable to a potential wife because he has been living a life of faith that shows itself in good works. Men (that is, males) are rarely aware of the reasons that women might or might not be attracted to them, and so a young man seeking a wife is better off focusing on his relationship with his Savior rather than focusing his attention on his wardrobe.

Also, there might be physical or spiritual rewards in eternity beyond such things. We don’t know “what joys await us there,” and we should happily leave all of the preparations for us in the hands of the one who promised: “I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).

Second, Jesus can also be seen as speaking about the reward of heaven itself. Doing anything in Jesus’ name, including giving a cup of water to a little one, done as an act of faith, shows that the doer trusts in Jesus and has a confirmed place in heaven.

Finally, whatever we do, we should do in Jesus’ name to God’s glory. The reward of being permitted to serve God in our lifetime and again in paradise is something we will do together with the angels. The service is a reward in itself, and whatever Jesus promises to give beyond that is for him to give out of his grace—which is the reason for everything he gives.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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