Of Rewards and Wages – What do we receive? (1 Cor. 3:5-8)

Will some believers have a greater reward in heaven than others? Will Apollos receive a lesser reward than Paul because he did not write thirteen New Testament epistles? (Apollos only wrote “Hebrews!”) Will Amos have a smaller crown than Elijah because Amos never called down fire from heaven? Or will Elijah have a smaller crown than Amos because Elijah never wrote an Old Testament book? Does the Bible have anything to say about this?

As I was reading through 1 Corinthians, I came to the passage in chapter 3 where Paul talks about servants (3:5) and about wages (3:8).

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to eachI planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. – 1 Corinthians 3:5-8 ESV

As I considered this passage. I began to think about rewards and crowns and whether each believer receives the same reward to their work or if those who produced more results received a greater reward. So, I decided to explore this question from the Scriptures.

  • The case for, “We will all receive the same reward.”
    • Matthew 20:1-16. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, every laborer receives a denarius as a reward. Whether they endured the sun the entire day or they came out to the vineyard during the last hour, they all received the same reward of a denarius.
    • Romans 8:32. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not with Him graciously give us all things?” The verse teaches that God will give US all things. If we all receive all things, do we not all receive the same reward?
    • 2 Timothy 4:8. We will ALL receive the crown of righteousness, not just Paul, even though Paul accomplished much more than us for the kingdom.
    • Ephesians 2:10. If God has determined beforehand the extent of my good works, would it be fair that I receive a lesser reward because God determined that I would do lesser works than another?
    • Parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Before the master went on his journey, he gave out talents to his servants, “to each according to his ability (25:15).” Then, when the master returned from his journey, he gave the servant who had gained TWO MORE TALENTS exactly the same reward that he gave the servant who had gained FIVE MORE TALENTS. “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.” EXACTLY the same reward for different faithful results.
  • The case for, “We receive greater or lesser rewards based on the fruits of our labors for the Kingdom in this life.”
    • The parable of the minas in Luke 19:12-27. While this parable is similar to the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 (above), the rewards given to the servants for their labors are different. The servant whose mina made ten minas more was given authority over ten cities, while the one whose mina had made five minas was given authority over five cities. This indicates that rewards are commensurate with accomplishment and that all do not receive the same reward.
    • 1 Corinthians 3:13-15. These verses reveal different rewards for those who are involved in the building of the church (pastors, church-planters, elders, possibly evangelists).

13 Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

The one who built the church foolishly will “suffer loss,” but will himself be saved, but the “wise master builder (3:10)” will receive a reward (3:14). Thus, there are different rewards for different achievements.


But I think that there is a third option that is better than either of the two already proposed. I think that, while we are here on this earth, our focus is not on increasing our personal heavenly reward but is on encouraging one another to faithfully carry out the works God has given us to do. Thus, we are increasing the glory that God receives as a result of our proclamation of the gospel and declaration of His glory to the nations.

  • Hebrews 10:24-25. “And let consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Clearly, the goal is not to compare future rewards, but is to encourage each other as we walk toward heaven.
  • Ephesians 4:16. “The whole body is joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow.” Again, we see that each part is important to the functioning of the whole body. So, “every joint” is important, and it is important for each part to “work properly.” So, each part of the body is to encourage every other part to function “properly.”
  • Romans 12:3-8. While spiritual gifts are distributed differently, each believer is to be a faithful steward of their gifts for the glory of God.

In heaven, there may indeed be different rewards based on the results of our kingdom labors on this earth, but, if that is the case, each saint in heaven will be perfectly content with their own reward and will rejoice with other saints over the rewards the Lord has given them.

SDG                 rmb                 9/21/2020

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