John’s second letter is written to a local congregation (‘the elect lady and her children’ – the bride of Christ). The apostle has been encouraged to have come across some of the congregation who are ‘walking in truth’ as God wants of us (2 John 4).
The Christian life is often depicted as a journey – a path that is to be walked out. Although salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, this does not result in inactivity. Movement, even intentional effort is implied by the word picture John and other writers of Scripture used for the Christian life.
John uses ‘walk’ three times in this short section each time, indicating that progress and intentional effort in a certain direction are expected of believers.
It is a great encouragement to know that all believers in Jesus are on the same road/journey. We might be at different points along the way, but we share the same road!
Roads have borders that define the road’s edge; in this instance, it is the commandments of God define the roadway that God has laid out for us to journey along. We are to be those who ‘walk according to His commandments’ (2 John 6), commandments which have not changed since the beginning but commandments which we ‘should walk in’ (2 John 6).
It is safe to summarise the two borders of the Christian road as love for God (1 John 5:2-3 & Matthew 22:37) and love for people (2 John 5 & 1 John 3:11).
In 2 John 8, the apostle shares wisdom for the journey with these believers and with ourselves;
“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (2 John 8)
This one verse is richly dense with meaning! In it, we find assurance and warning and encouragement.
1. Warning! ‘We are to watch ourselves.’
Don’t go off the path; don’t get distracted or diverted by the schemes of the enemy. Obeying God’s commandments & listening to the Holy Spirit will keep you on the road. We have a responsibility to do this ourselves, but we are helped greatly if we have others around us who can spot if we are veering towards the edge of the path. It’s your responsibility to watch yourself, but it is wise to enlist the help of some brothers or sisters who will love you enough to keep watch too.
2. Warning! ‘So that we do not lose what we have worked for.’
There are serious consequences if one does not adhere to the first warning. You can lose something; you can have regret even as a believer. But what can you lose?
The apostle says that we can loose ‘what we have worked for’. And what have we worked for? Well, we know that we haven’t worked for our salvation! Jesus did the heavy lifting, not us; Jesus did what could not do. So what is in focus here is not us losing salvation which was given to us not by works but by grace alone so that no person can boast (Ephesians 2:4-8)!
In what way have we ‘worked’? Well, we have worked out the impact of our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13), we have worked harder than anyone in response to the grace of God in us (2 Corinthians 15:10). We worked in that we have responded to God’s free gift in giving us salvation. We have worked in that we should ‘work for’ our reward…
3. Encouragement: ‘But may win a full reward.’
This is what God’s desire for us, to give us our full reward that He always intended to give us. God is so good; He saves us not on the basis or our work/merit but purely by grace. Then God inspires us, works in us by the Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13) changing us at the level of our desires so that we now want to do His will and obey His commandments. And then God plans to reward us for walking the road He has laid out for us – incredible!
If you have believed in Jesus, your salvation is secure, guaranteed! But whether or not you will ‘walk God’s road’ obeying the Holy Spirit’s promptings and God’s commands is not guaranteed. And so, the possibility exists that some of your reward that God wanted to give you may be lost, that we by our lack of response, our lack of working and walking God’s ways may lose some of what He had always intended to give to us – rewards.
John doesn’t want this for the believers he is writing to, and God doesn’t want it for you either. So take heed of the warning, watch yourselves and ask others to watch you too. Invite people into your life who can speak with a loving honesty and who in turn will be blessed if you do the same for them.
There were many instances in the Old Testament when the prophet of God spoke in harsh words of God’s righteous judgement against a foreign nation or king for their rejection of God or injustices.
Many times, the subject of the prophecy wasn’t in fact in earshot of the words of God, but God’s people were. And because of the way God’s word works and always accomplishes that which God intended it to (Isaiah 55:8-11), it didn’t even matter if King Cyrus or Nebuchadnezzar or Pharoah could hear God’s word of judgement. Nothing could stop what God had proclaimed against them (Isaiah 43:13).
When God spoke through the prophet against the wickedness of a foreign king, within the earshot of God’s people, they had the opportunity to hear who God is, what God is like & what He will not leave unpunished. And so when they overheard God’s judgements of foreigners, they had an opportunity to reform their ways, adjust their lives & thinking to God’s revealed will.
But what does that have to do with James 5:1-6 though I hear you ask?
Well James is a little like an Old Testament prophet at times, he speaks the truth in agitated and urgent ways, his words cut to the heart, not to hurt but expose our hearts to reform them.
And just like the Old Testament prophets sometimes spoke in terms of judgement towards those, not in the room. Similarly, James here is writing to Christians speaking in judgement to unsaved people who will face the wrath of God for their wicked ways.
I say this because we who are Christ Followers will not face the wrath of God for our sin because Jesus paid for our sin. The believer has no fear of punishment to come – we will regret that we did not respond more wholeheartedly in this life to God’s gift to us but ought not to have any fear of condemnation – Romans 8:1.
But as we listen in to James scathing pronouncement of the judgement of God on those who have not put their faith in Jesus – we can learn about God, we can be sensitised to the things that please and displease our Father in Heaven (Ephesians 5:10). And because we listened in, we can repent if any of these things are still resident in us so that we can change to be more pleasing to God our Father.
So what can we listen in on, to find out what pleases & displeases our Father in James 5:1-6?
1. Humility (vs1) – wealth tends to pride (1 Timothy 6:17). Trust in self. Here James calls for humble contrition & reflection. May we be humble, contrite & thinking about today in light of eternity!
2. Temporary vs eternal, hoarding vs investing (vs2-3) – the things of this life are passing away, are not eternal. Thinking short and not long is foolishness in the extreme. Jesus advised us to store up for ourselves riches in heaven where moth and rust can’t destroy them (Matthew 6:19-24). We are not to hoard wealth for ourselves here on earth; we are not to functionally be putting our trust in our wealth, which is so uncertain but to be ‘rich in good works’, ‘generous & ready to share’ thus investing for ourselves treasure for eternity! (see 1 Timothy 6:17-19).
3. Injustice (vs4&6) – God hates injustice. God always sides with; God will defend the marginalised, the abused & the downtrodden. Wealth = power in this present life and the rich use their power to control people, use their power to use people to enrich themselves further. Here James warns us strongly about such injustices as not paying proper wages to those who work for us – the Lord of hosts hears the cries of injustice from the poor and the righteous (vs6), and He will act on their behalf. So, how are you treating anyone who works for you? The Lord of hosts is watching, sees everything. Does anything need to change?
4. Self-indulgent Comfort (vs5) – the god of this age is comfort. So much of our technology serves our god of comfort and convenience. We live in an age where food is no longer primarily about nutrition but has been turned into art & recreation & entertainment we watch! Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:19-31 warns us about living self-indulgently while ignoring the plight of those around us.
In South Africa, these verses are even more relevant than in some other contexts. We have a dark, sad history of injustice and oppression of disempowered people and the lingering legacy of that corrupt system of Apartheid. And we have a continuing story of injustice and corruption with the widespread abuse of power for personal gain at the expense of the poor, that we have witnessed since 1995.
If you are a believer, have you truly repented of the sins of our nation and have you acknowledged how you might have benefitted from that injustice and still benefit today? Do not the cries of the poor in our nation with its excessive levels of inequality come before the Lord of hosts?
Are you using whatever wealth or possessions you might have in such a way that results in much good to others, are you rich in good works, are you generous and ready to share? (1 Timothy 6:18)
If you are, you are godly & you are thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Timothy 6:19).
May I urge you to listen in, to James’ scathing rebuke of rich ungodly wicked people, and in so doing may you and I know more about what matters to our Father who is in heaven, and may we live to please Him in these things.
‘People-pleasing’ is a terrible insatiable noose that breeds nothing but insecurity and robs one of joy and confidence. And yet its such a common ‘life-operating-system’ that people function from.
Double checking everything you do or say through the grid of; ‘what will they think of me if…?’ Such a life-operating-system results in inconsistency as one always feels you need to adapt your words or actions to what will please those you’re with. And so this life-operating-system sets oneself up for compromise and the inability to hold strong convictions.
Here in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-4, Paul is looking back at his time sharing the Gospel with the Thessalonians (see Acts 17) and makes some arguments for why they can stand on, trust in the Good News He shared with them;
- He reminds them that he and his team had just escaped Philippi where they were beaten up and then imprisoned for the Gospel. People don’t tend to risk their lives for something they are not convinced of… (vs1-2)
- He reminds them that again in Thessalonica they had preached despite being ‘in the midst of much conflict’. They were again risking their lives to share this Gospel news…
- Therefore the Thessalonians can know that there message is authentic, is not some made up story or con-man’s scheme to trick them
- They know that God approved them and entrusted the Gospel message to them and this is why they keep going, keep speaking the Gospel despite opposition and threat – they are living to please God and not people.
There it is, an alternative life-operating-system at work deep in the apostle Paul;
‘God-pleasing’ not ‘people-pleasing’.
What’s your current default ‘life-operating-system’?
God-pleasing or people-pleasing?
Living the God-pleasing life results in;
- Conviction: because you’re living out of eternal truth & unshakeable relationship
- Consistency: because what you believe is founded on solid rock not quicksand.
- Courage: because you know the ONE you’re serving, & He promised to Help you.
- Commitment: because you’re living to please the ONE that matters forevermore.
- Celebration: because you will be rewarded one day into eternity for living this way.
- Calm: because you know the ONE who loves you, the ONE you’re living for!
Surely not. That’s not possible. And yet Jesus unashamedly motivated His hearers, motivates us to act in this life, with the prospect of future gain, future reward into eternity when He said;
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:19-21 in NLT)
Jesus doesn’t tell people what we might think He’d say. Jesus doesn’t discourage storing up for oneself at all. What Jesus does do is changes the address! Jesus changes the destination of our saving up, from this life to the next. Jesus is motivating us by the prospect of future gain, future reward for us as a result of how we chose to live in this life.
“Scripture simply does not teach what most of us seem to assume – that heaven will transform each of us into equal beings with equal possessions and equal responsibilities and equal capacities. It does not say that our previous lives will be of no eternal significance. It says exactly the opposite.” Randy Alcorn
But that’s not a “pure” motivation I hear you say; ‘because then I am only doing this thing because of what I will gain in the end!’ Admittedly, there are many motivations for godliness for living sacrificially serving others with all that God entrusts to us. The greatest of which is surely the spontaneous response of love we have towards God that flows out of a heart that has seen the wonder, depth and majesty of God’s incredible love, grace and mercy.
But let’s not throw out what Jesus proposes as a motivation for how we should live in this life. Let’s not try to be more holy than Jesus! Or than Paul, or Moses for that matter.
Jesus is recorded mentioning rewards 15 times in the gospel’s as a motivation for living life now on this earth! (Matthew 5:12; 5:46; 6:1; 6:2; 6:4; 6:5; 6:6; 6:16; 6:18; 10:41; 10:42; 16:27; Mark 9:41; Luke 6:23; 6:35)
And Moses’ clearly was clearly motivated by reward:
“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Hebrews 11:24-26)
Paul’s was clearly motivated by the prospect of a reward in heaven…
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
If Jesus encouraged you to and godly men like Moses and Paul were motivated by rewards do you not think that you should be too?
Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-21 mean nothing if they are not meant to motivate us by causing us to consider the eternal reality of life after death and causing us to consider how this life impacts that life forever. Jesus was urging His hearers to consider how their use of their money, time, relationships, possessions so as to have an eternal impact by opening their eyes to the possibility of rewards in heaven.
I live my life as a love response to God, who loved me first, I live my life to love and serve God’s people knowing that as I do God feels my love for Him (Hebrews 6:10), but I also live my life here on earth to hear the words “Well done” from my Father at the end of this age for the way I lived, for the choices I made and according to Scripture what awaits me after those two words are eternal rewards in heaven with Him.
What a motivation for godliness, for serving without grumbling, for living my life and your life for Him who died for us and who is coming back for us!
By Gareth Bowley