A couple of thousand years ago, the Roman statesman and orator Cicero wrote what has become a well-known maxim: “Virtue is its own reward.” It is an interesting statement, but it is not quite true Biblically. The Bible tells us that God will reward us for obeying Him in faith, and it also gives us some specific indicators of what that reward will be. One of the places where it does so is Genesis 15:1:
“After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying: ‘Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.’”
This verse refers to the context of the reward that God offered to Abram, as well as the certainty of that reward, and just what that reward would be. I pray that God would use this verse tonight to challenge each one of us to obey and please Him, and attain the rich reward that He has planned for us, both in this life, and in eternity.
I. The context of the reward:
:1 “After these things.”
When you are reading a section of scripture like this, and it says something like, “After these things”, then you had better go back and see what “these things” were – because that is the CONTEXT of the passage you are looking at – and we always need to keep the context in mind as we study scripture. What is the context of God’s promise of a reward for Abram? We see it in the previous chapter, Genesis 14.
In Genesis 14 we find the story of how 4 kings from the north came and invadedPalestine, and they had a battle, 4 kings against 5. Among the kings of the south were the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, who were losers in that battle. The kings of the north took all their men as captives, and also all the goods they had. Well, among the captives of the king of Sodom’s men was Lot, Abram’s nephew, who earlier had chosen to live in Sodom. When Abram heard, he gathered up all his men, chased the northern army down, and defeated them, and took back Lot and all the other captives and their possessions. After the battle, the king of Sodom went out to Abram and said, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” But Abram refused, and said he would take nothing from the King of Sodom, except what his warriors had eaten to sustain themselves on the campaign. Thus ends chapter 14.
So THAT is the context, then, in which we find the words, “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision …”. It was the context of Abram not taking material possessions from the King of Sodom. We all know about Sodom. Not long after this, God would destroy it with fire and brimstone because of its pride and immorality. Abram refused to compromise with it, and take anything from that ungodly place. He trusted that God would provide what he needed, and would reward him accordingly. He did the right thing – and God rewarded him for it.
In the same way, if we would receive the reward that God has to offer His people, we too must do the right thing, and obey Him by faith. This world, like the King of Sodom, offers us many an enticement to compromise, but God calls us, like Abram, to turn down what the world offers, and look to Him instead.
I know many of you have seen the movie “Courageous”. One of my favorite parts of that movie is when the character Javier is offered a big promotion as supervisor – but in order to receive that promotion, he is asked if he would lie about an upcoming shipping report. He is told to think about it overnight. He does and tells them that he can’t do it – thinking it will cost him his job – but it was just a test, and as a result, they end up giving him the job. It was a great reward – but that reward came as a result of his obedience.
In the same way, your faith is tested in all kinds of situations that arise, every day. God has a reward waiting for you – but that reward is not just going to come regardless. Your reward will come in the context of your obedience to God.
II. The promise of the reward
:1 “Your reward will be very great.”
If you do obey God, there IS the assurance of the reward. Because Abram pleased God, the Lord spoke to him and told him that his reward would be very great. The principle here is that the person who obeys God by faith WILL be rewarded. God will not stand by and watch His children do what is right, and not reward them for it. This truth is at the heart of the Christian faith. God is good, and He rewards those who obey Him.
Hebrews 11 speaks to that. In that great chapter of “The Hall of Faith”, the Bible says that the very essence of faith is believing that God IS, “and that He is a REWARDER of those who seek Him.” (:6) This is at the very heart of Biblical faith: the conviction that God will reward those who believe in Him, as He did all of the men and women in that great chapter of Hebrews 11. And all of them, the Bible says there, will be rewarded. There is a promise of the reward.
Sure, there are times when it does not SEEM like our faith and obedience is being rewarded, but it will be. God says in Isaiah 40 “Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’?” Your ways are not hidden from Him. Nothing due you will ever fail to be granted. He will not break His promise to reward you.
When we were kids, it was not uncommon for my dad to take in stray animals – and sometimes even “stray people.” One of them was a kind of a “hippie” back in the late 1960’s or early 70’s, named Frankie, with long blonde hair and a guitar. After he had stayed with us for some time, he said he was leaving. Later I found out there were some problems that led to his having to leave — including growing some funny, 3-leaved plants in some pots in our house! But before he left, he told me that he would be coming back. And he said that when he came back, he was going to bring me a model aircraft carrier that he had. Now, I had a whole fleet of World War II model ships back then, and I was so excited. I couldn’t wait for Frankie to come back. A few weeks later, I was talking to our neighbor, a young man by the name of Bennett, who had helped our family minister to Frankie. I asked him when Frankie was going to come back, and he said: “He isn’t.” I said, yes he is, because he told me that he was going to bring me this aircraft carrier. I could tell it was difficult for Bennett to tell me: “Shawn, there is a kind of person who makes a bunch of promises, but doesn’t do what he says he is going to do – and Frankie is that kind of person. He isn’t coming back.” And, of course, he never did. I was shocked when Bennett told me that. I grew up in a home where I could trust my parents, and where they did what they said they were going to do. It was a real shock to me, to learn that there were people in the world who did not do that.
But our Heavenly Father is not that way. The scripture says God cannot lie. What He promises, He will perform. When He says, “Your reward is very great”, then there is a very great reward waiting for you. It may not be when you think it will be; it may not be WHAT you think it will be. But you can count on it: when He says your reward WILL be very great – it WILL be!
III. The Person of the Reward
To me, this is the neatest part of this verse, and I did not really see this until I began to dig a little deeper. What will our reward consist of in heaven? Many speculate on what it could will be, but we catch a hint of it in the original reading of this passage. In Hebrew, this does not exactly read: “Your reward will be very great”, but literally, “I am a shield to you – your very great Reward.” (This is one place where the King James Version, and even the NIV, get the translation a little better than the NASB). That literal reading gives this an entirely different slant. It makes it clear: it is NOT just that there would be “some” great reward for Abram; it is that GOD HIMSELF IS THE REWARD! He is our shield – AND OUR VERY GREAT REWARD! GOD IS THE REWARD!
In the old stories of the middle ages, the brave knight who slays the dragon gets the hand of the king’s daughter in marriage – the reward is a PERSON. It is that way with the reward of faith. The reward of our faith is a PERSON: and a Person none other than the Lord Himself!
HE is our reward; He is our inheritance; HE is our treasure. In Matthew 13:44-46, Jesus told the stories of the Treasure in the Field, and The Pearl of Great Price. He said “The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” He said, “Again, theKingdomofHeavenis like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. What we need to learn is that HE HIMSELF IS THE TREASURE: HE HIMSELF IS THE PEARL!
That is what David was saying in Psalm 16, when he said “YHWH is the portion of my inheritance.” The LORD Himself is our “inheritance”; HE is our reward!
He is our reward when we get to heaven. People wonder what the “rewards” of heaven are going to be, and some refer to “streets of gold” and “mansions” and that kind of thing. But the real reward of heaven is “more precious than silver … more costly than gold … more beautiful than diamonds, and nothing (you) desire” compares with it: the real reward of Heaven is the Lord Himself. As we saw this morning, it is the Lamb who will be so glorious that there is no need for a sun or moon in heaven, for He Himself is that light. And as Rutherford said in the quote from this morning, we will “feast” on the glorious sight of God forever.
If you have any doubts that “just looking at the Lord” will reward you for all eternity, think about it this way: Mark Twain writes in Innocents Abroad, the journal of his post-Civil War trip to Europe and theHoly Land, of his astonishment at the sight of the great Cathedral of Milan:
What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight and yet it seems in the soft moonlight only a fairy delusion of frost-work that might vanish with a breath! How sharply its pinnacled angles and its wilderness of spires were cut against the sky! And how richly their shadows fell upon its snowy roof! It was a vision! A miracle! An anthem song in stone, a poem wrought in marble!
Howsoever you look at the great Cathedral, it is noble, it is beautiful! Wherever you stand in Milan, or within seven miles of Milan, it is visible – and when it is visible no other object can chain your whole attention. Leave your eyes unfettered by your will but a single instant, and they will surely turn to seek it. It is the first thing you look for when you rise in the morning, and the last thing your lingering gaze rests upon at night. Surely, it must be the princeliest creation that ever brain of man conceived. (P. 146-147)
And all this from the very jaded and cynical Mr. Mark Twain! Now think about this: if such a man-made creation can hold a person in such absolute awe – how much more will a perfect vision of the Creator Himself “chain our attention” for all eternity?! I have no doubt; it is the Lord Himself who will be our reward in heaven!
But it is not only in heaven where God Himself will be the great Reward for our faith. He is also the reward for our faith NOW! We need to assert that, because often we focus on stories of how people did the right thing, and they end up with more money, or a more successful business, or whatever. And God does often reward our obedience in those ways. When we tithe, He often does bless us financially. When we do the right thing, He often does bless our businesses. But we often tend to over-emphasize the material nature of God’s rewards – especially in our modern American culture, where the gospel has often been reduced to the “health & wealth & prosperity” preaching that is so predominant, and it has degenerated into a false gospel of material success. And it misses the real reward: money and material things and what the world calls “success” is NOT your great reward for obeying God. The greatest reward you will have for obeying God in this life is GOD HIMSELF! You will be closer to Him; you will KNOW Him. You will talk with Him as a man talks with his friend, and like Abraham, you can be called “the friend of God.”
This is the prize of obedience. This is what awaits the one who will obey Him. Many a lackadaisical, compromised church member may stand in the congregation, glibly singing, “I am a friend of God” – but very few truly know Him as friend. Because that kind of close friendship only comes to those who will purify their lives and obey Him in the most difficult decisions of life. The question for each one of us tonight is: will you do it?