The whole family of God, most high and most true, has therefore a consolation of its own—a consolation which cannot deceive, and which has in it a surer hope than the tottering and falling affairs of earth can afford. They will not refuse the discipline of this temporal life, in which they are schooled for life eternal; nor will they lament their experience of it, for the good things of earth they use as pilgrims who are not detained by them, and its ills either prove or improve them. As for those who insult over them in their trials, and when ills befall them say, “Where is thy God?” we may ask them where their gods are when they suffer the very calamities for the sake of avoiding which they worship their gods, or maintain they ought to be worshipped ; for the family of Christ is furnished with its reply: our God is everywhere present, wholly everywhere; not confined to any place. He can be present unperceived, and be absent without moving; when He exposes us to adversities, it is either to prove our perfections or correct our imperfections; and in return for our patient endureance of the sufferings of time, He reserves for us an everlasting reward. —Augustine, The City of God
“They who were making such a use of their property have been consoled for light losses by great gains, and have had more pleasure in those possessions which they have securely laid past, by freely giving them away, than grief in those which they entirely lost by an anxious and selfish hoarding of them. For nothing could perish on earth save what they would be ashamed to carry away from earth.” —Augustine, The City of God
If you are honest with yourself you cry out with the first hour laborers, “Hey, not fair!” Jesus, as Nathan did David, causes us to indict ourselves. This is what this parable reveals about every fallen son of Adam—we hate grace! Adam wanted to be like God, and he wanted to be like God because he did something.
Douglas Wilson uses the following illustration. Say it is family movie night. Your wife is getting the movie ready, the children are getting situated just right, and you go to the kitchen. You make one of your children a big bowl, the biggest bowl of ice cream they have ever had. What do your other children say? “Hey!” The first child looks at their siblings with a insincerely confused look that asks, “What’s the big deal? The universe is as it should be. Shalom has come.” So you go back into the kitchen to make each of the protestors even bigger bowls. What then does the first child say? “Hey!” The issue isn’t the amount of ice cream in his bowl, but the amount in everyone else’s. The issue is the same as that of the “man” in Matthew 19:16-22, namely, covetousness, which is idolatry (Ephesians 5:5).
The point of this parable isn’t that heaven is a communist regime where everyone gets one scoop. The first hour-ers complain that they have been made equal but really they haven’t. The point here isn’t equality. It’s more radical than that. The point is that the last are first and the first are last. One group gets paid a Benjamin per hour, while another gets seven and a quarter. Things are not equal. But things are just. The first hour-ers think they are demanding justice, but really they are grumbling against grace. They howl, “We deserve grace too, No! we deserve more grace!” But that is as nonsensical as a child throwing a temper tantrum saying, “But I wanted a square circle!” Deserved grace isn’t even on the level of a mythical creature. God could create a unicorn should He desire to do so. Deserved grace however is a logical impossibility. As soon as grace becomes deserved it un-defines itself.
What is the point? Those who receive the most grace, receive the most grace. No one can bark against that. If it is justice you desire, you may have it, hot and eternal. So, next time you worship with God’s little ones, look around. Is there anyone there that it would bother you if they got a bigger bowl of ice cream from the Father?
If you are properly seeking the reward, this means you are seeking the biggest possible thing God could give you—Himself. This means when God glorifies Himself in being gracious to the least, you get exactly what you want—God glorified. It does not matter where the grace is dumped. God is glorified, and thus, you are satisfied. There is no grumble in your stomach. There is no grumble in your mouth. Grace anywhere, is grace everywhere to little ones.
When Adam said, “Hey, you gave her to me,” that wasn’t a good thing. We cannot blame our sin on the Giver or His gifts. Every gift God gives is good. It’s our grimy little hands that mess things up in the reception. Sin mutates. Contra DC Comics and MARVEL, mutations aren’t cool. Sin takes life and makes it death. It perverts good things into bad things.
Awareness of this causes some to be hyper-hesitant to speak of rewards. They feel two tensions; one between God’s glory and idolatry, the other between grace and merit. But does a gift, or a reward given necessarily cause you to love the gift more than the giver? If you have a wedding ring I hope you answer in the negative. Likewise, have you ever received a “reward,” that you thought was so disproportionate to any service rendered that it spoke more to the giver’s generosity than to your greatness?
Any reward we receive will come to us as grace upon grace. Let me show you with a barrage of texts.
[Y]ou yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
[W]ork out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
You are being built by God to offer sacrifices, sacrifices that are then acceptable to God through Jesus, you are given a new heart, a heart that loves God and His law, God prepares opportunities for obedience and sets them before you, He equips you with everything you need to do that work, He works in us that which is pleasing in His sight, and makes His grace abound to us, and then, following and flowing from all of that, when we obey, He rewards it! That smells of merit as much as a Pepé Le Pew smells like an expensive cologne.
Say you get this lavish grace—overwhelmed with God’s generosity you are becoming generous. One way you are generous is that you want your son to be generous. You seek to graciously teach him about grace. You want your little tike to share to the glory of God. By God’s grace, your son shares his favorite Hot Wheel. But the friend destroys the borrowed wheels by eating them or something. Your son responds with grace. In joy you take him to buy a new favorite. Your son might mistake this for merit.
Your son grows in years and grace, and when a visiting missionary comes to town in need of a vehicle, your son offers up his ’96 Ford Tarus. The car gets totaled, and again your son responds with grace. This time you go and buy him one of three Lamborghini Venenos, with a 3.5 million dollar price tag. When this happens there is no chance that your son mistakes this reward for merit. He just thinks that his dad is nuts, but in a way that is really good for him.
When you get to heaven and hear, “Well done, now what shall I give you? Hmmm… here is a new earth, every inch radiating with the greatest of glory, the only glory there really is, Mine. And here are new eyes so that you don’t miss any of it. Also, that new heart that I gave you before; now you won’t have to worry about sin marring any of its affections. No, your joy will be able to soar without limits and without fear of heights. And here is a new brain to think and meditate on this new creation,”—when you see that your reward isn’t just earth size, that is to say a 6 followed by 21 zeros tons size, but a new earth dense with the glory of God size, which is to say infinite, then you will reply, “We are unworthy servants (Luke 17:10),” and “Worthy are you (Revelation 4:11).”
We render molecular size service and receive cosmic size rewards. The point isn’t our greatness but His. Why does God reward us so? Jesus.
Sin mutates, but God creates, and He recreates, and He always pronounces over His work, “Good!” In the new earth when He rewards, we won’t have to worry about that reward becoming an idol. This is because our hands, and everything attached to them won’t be grimy any more. We will enjoy things fully, and this means enjoying them unto Jesus’ glory.
God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their Life, their dwelling- place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honour and glory. They have none in heaven but God; he is the great good which the redeemed are received to at death, and which they are to rise to at the end of the world. The Lord God is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the ‘river of the water of life’ that runs, and ‘the tree of life that grows, in the midst of the paradise of God.’ The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will for ever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another; but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in any thing else whatsoever that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what shall be seen of God in them. —Jonathan Edwards