Does God reward those who give to churches and other ministries?

If you have ever tuned in to television preachers you have probably heard a request for money. Most of the time the requests for donations are joined with promises of great blessing to those who give. The promises may be that God will give you ten or a hundred times your gift. The promises may be that if you plant your seed of faith with a minimum donation to the ministry, God will reward you with prosperity and freedom from financial woes. Sometimes the promises are not so dramatic, but the great majority of televised ministries that ask for financial aid promise that God will give back to you many times more than you give. Is this Biblical? Does God reward those who give to churches and religious ministries?

When it comes to understanding the promises of God to Christian’s believers must start with the New Testament. The majority of the verses used to bolster the preacher’s claims come from the Old Testament. The promises made by God to Israel are unique, particularly the promises of physical blessing. Applying them to Christian’s today is a serious error in understanding the Bible. The nation of Israel was a unique people group on the earth, set apart by God to show His power and glory to the entire world. Because of their unique position, God promised Israel that if they would obey Him, He would give them rich blessings. God promised Israel that if they disobeyed His commands He would take away their blessings and bring them under intense suffering. The promises God made to the church are very different.

The New Testament church is a special group of people set apart by God to proclaim His salvation to the entire world. Because of the unique nature of the church, the New Testament promises those who follow Him will suffer persecution, troubles and afflictions. “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” (John 16:13) “All that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12) The promise to the believer is that the world will respond to the faithful Christian with hatred, mockery and persecution. The New Testament contains no example of a believer being made rich, or even financially stable, because of his giving to the ministry.

The only passage in the New Testament that speaks directly to giving and the blessings of God is 2 Corinthians 9. Verse 6 is one of the verses used by some preachers to promise rich reward to those who give. “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” Is Paul promising that God will give rich financial rewards to those give generously? Two verses later Paul explains the blessing God gives to those who give generously. “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things may abound to every good work.” In other words, the blessing of God to those who give is grace to be more generous in good works. He does not promise a return of wealth but spiritual provision enabling the Christian to continue serving. The only promise of physical supply is found in Philippians 4:19. In Philippians 4 Paul tells Christians who gave sacrificially to his ministry that God would supply their needs. God does not promise to give rich financial rewards to Christians. He promises rich grace, many spiritual blessings and provision for daily needs.

Those who promise physical provision mistake the priorities of the Christian and the church. They misunderstand the true natures of the riches of God’s blessing. God is not working in the Christian today to make him physically healthy and prosperous. God is working to make the believer more like Jesus which will result in eternal rewards. Spiritual prosperity is worth far more than all the riches of this world. The Christian should not give to reap treasures on this earth but to lay up rich treasures in heaven. (Matthew 6:19-20)

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Will we know our loved ones in heaven?

One question that weighs on the hearts of many who have lost ones who were very close to them is whether we will recognize those loved ones in heaven. The Bible does not specifically address this question, but it does offer some hints to help us answer this question. One such clue is from when Jesus was transfigured (Mark 9). When Peter, James and John saw a glimpse of Jesus’ glory they also saw two men standing with Him. These two men were Moses and Elijah. Though the disciples had never seen either of those men they recognized them for who they were. The text seems to indicate that they just knew, by some unknown means, who the men were. Though it is possible that Jesus later told the three men who was standing with Him and that part of the conversation was just not recorded for us. Another passage that gives some help in answering this question is Luke 16. Jesus recounts the tale of the rich man and Lazarus. After death, the rich man in hell was able to look across to heaven. He recognized Abraham, whom he had never known in life, and Lazarus whom he had seen in life. This passage is a pretty clear indication that though we will have been given glorified bodies Christians will still be able to recognize one another in eternity.

I do not think we will recognize one another because of similarities to our current physical appearance. In 1 Corinthians 15 we are told that the earthly body will be replaced with a glorified body. The glorified body will be free from the corruption of sin and delivered from all the infirmities of the earthly body. The glorified body will be as unlike the earthly body as a stalk of wheat is unlike the seed. Whatever the physical appearance will be, it seems that we will be able to identify one another in heaven.

Many who ask this question do so seeking comfort that they will be reunited with loved ones. The certainty of seeing loved ones again in heaven is very comforting, but the Biblical description of interactions in heaven all revolve around our relationship with God the Father and Jesus. The relationships between believers in eternity are going to be very different from our earthly ones. The joy of a spouse or beloved child will be replaced by much greater joys. The relationships will be unlike what they were in life, but that difference does not mean they will be inferior. The relationships in heaven will be greatly superior to any and all relationships on this earth. All believers will rejoice together in perfection, harmony and eternal praise to God.

Is Hell really eternal?

One of the most difficult doctrines in Christianity is the Biblical teaching about hell. The classic teachings on hell describe a place of intense suffering, a place of fiery torment and a place of unending judgment. The hell described in the Bible is a horrific place. Any right thinking person recoils at the thought of anyone undergoing such horrible torture. For many the worst part of hell is the unending nature of it’s torments. The doctrine of an eternal hell has prompted people throughout history to search for other ways of explaining hell that won’t be so terrible. Some have taught that God will not really send anyone to hell. Many teach that God will only send the worst of the worst to hell. A number of groups teach that most of those who suffer in hell will only do so for a limited amount of time. Still others deny hell even exists. Unfortunately, for those who claim to believe the Bible, hell is described in such a way that its realities cannot be denied. Consider a few passages:

Revelation 14:9-11
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

Revelation 20:10
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

2 Thessalonians 1:9
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power

Matthew 25:41
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

Matthew 25:46
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

For those who believe in an eternal heaven the doctrine of eternal hell is a necessity. The Bible could not be more plain- Hell is eternal. The same words used to describe the length of heaven’s joy are also used to describe the length of hell’s suffering. Both are said to be “everlasting”, “eternal” and “forever”. One cannot change the meaning of these words when speaking of hell without also changing their meaning in relation to heaven. The righteous will enjoy heavenly bliss for the same eternity that the lost endure hell’s torment. Scripture offers no hint that the souls of the condemned cease to exist at some point in the future. All the Bible says about hell declares it to be a place of unending, eternal torment in which the condemned will consciously endure physical and spiritual agony.

Despite the horrors of hell, God is not cruel and pitiless. In His mercy God has provided a means of salvation. He has promised that those who trust Jesus alone for salvation from sin will be forgiven of all guilt and made righteous. Hell is a place of judgment built for Satan and the demons that follow him and into which all who refuse to obey the gospel will be cast. Those who do not believe are already condemned, but if any turn to Jesus for salvation he will escape condemnation and be given eternal life.

Do babies that die go to heaven?

Few tragedies in life tear the heart as the death of a little child. A life cut off before it has even gotten past the beginning is a tragedy that leaves all involved in deep sorrow. Though the child was not able to live a full life, she may never have learned to walk or talk, yet the tiniest infant is an eternal being with an eternal soul. The eternal state of that soul is a matter of great importance.

Most people who believe in heaven and hell are inclined to think a baby that days is given a free trip to heaven because he has not had a chance to do anything wrong. This perspective is certainly appealing, but is it Biblical? When considering the eternal destiny of any person, be he infant or adult, sentiment and superstition have to be rejected. Only God can declare the eternal destiny of a person. Only God’s Word teaches what conditions must be met for one to go to heaven. To answer this difficult question all sentiment must be set aside and Scripture be allowed to speak for itself without interruption by the heart of men.

First, every person, is under the curse of sin from the moment of conception. David declares this in Psalm 51:5, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” From the moment human life springs into existence the spirit of man is in bondage to sin and separated from God. The infant, though limited in ability to express and understand sin, is not free of sin. The infant labors under the same curse that afflicts the adult. The curse of sin is why death is found among infants.

Second, God’s grace is extended to all who will believe. Salvation is by the grace of God, through faith in Him alone. The little child is not able to respond in faith to the message of salvation. The infant is not able understand the Word of God, feel his own weight of guilt, repent or trust Christ alone for salvation. However, the infant is not without hope.

Though the Bible is not definitive on this matter, several passages give hope. These passages give confidence that the little child is not condemned in his guilt but God in His grace holds the child in innocence because of the little one’s physical inability to believe and be saved. In Psalm 106 the children of the idolatrous and disobedient Israelites are said to be innocent. The book of Jeremiah describes the children of vicious, oppressive idol worshipers as innocents. In the gospels Jesus says, “Allow the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” He seems to be saying that heaven is populated by little children. Not just those who receive Him with childlike faith, though He does say that elsewhere, but heaven is filled with children.

Though the Bible is not as clear on this matter as we would like two things are certain. God is good, always doing what is best in every situation and every life. Every child that is in heaven is in heaven because of the grace of God and the blood of Jesus. No child is free of sin and guilt. No child, however small, deserves to go to heaven. God’s goodness and grace exceed all human comprehension.

Are there different levels in heaven?

Many years ago I was given a booklet that claimed certain Christians would have positions of great benefit and joy in heaven. The rest of the saved would be in heaven, but would not have the joy of being always in the presence of God. Certain religious groups teach that only a select few will enjoy the New Jerusalem, while most will live in a new earth. Does the Bible teach that certain saints will have higher positions, better mansions, more importance or greater joy in heaven than others?

The Bible teaches of a time coming when Jesus will reign over the world from Jerusalem. Jesus’ earthly kingdom is not heaven or eternity. Jesus’ kingdom is an empire that will cover the earth and last for a thousand years. During His rule over the world, certain faithful disciples of Jesus will be given positions of leadership and responsibility in His kingdom. Some will be entrusted with greater positions of service in Jesus’ millennial kingdom. Jesus’ empire will never cease, but the thousand year kingdom will end with another rebellion from Satan and the total destruction of the universe as it currently exists. After the final destruction of the universe, God will create a new earth and new heaven. The new heaven and new earth are the places of eternal bliss most often described when one talks about heaven and eternal joys.

The Bible does not give much information about what things will be like in heaven. What it does say does not give any indication that there are different levels in heaven. Sometime after death, God’s servants are rewarded for their faithfulness in service to Him. However, the Bible indicates that these rewards are not kept but are given back to Jesus as an act of worship recognizing that He alone is worthy to be praised. (Revelation 4: 10) In the eternally perfect universe, heaven, the Bible doesn’t say anything at all about certain people having positions of special privilege or rank. The clearest teachings in the Bible about the eternal state are found in Revelation 21 and 22. Describing the saved who inhabit heaven, Revelation 21 says, ” Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” Revelation 22 says, “And his servants will serve Him, and they shall see His face.” It seems that in heaven those who are saved will have equal status as God’s servants and equal access into His presence. All will share equally in eternal bliss. None will be in greater joy and none will be closer to God than others. There will not be any low level Christians nor VIP saints in heaven.

Will those who worship Allah go to heaven?

Recent statistics show there are over 1.5 billion Muslims and approximately 1 billion Hindus in the world. Besides the two and a half billion people of the world’s second and third largest religions, there are hundreds of millions of other people who worship deities other than the God of the Bible. Many of these worshipers are devoted and serious about their religion. Many are good people who treat others with respect, contribute to their society and sincerely worship the god of their culture and heritage. Do Christians really believe these good, sincere people will be sent to hell because they don’t worship God the same as western Christians? Does the Bible teach sincere worshipers of other gods will go to hell?

These kinds of questions strike a chord deep in hearts. For good people to go to hell for not worshiping the right way or for not calling God by the right name seems patently unfair. The assumption of divine unfairness towards sincere worshipers of other religions reveals wrong ideas about salvation, heaven and hell. The question reveals a belief that one gets to heaven by worship, devotion, good behavior and sincerity.

The Biblical explanation of who goes to heaven has nothing to do with sincerity, goodness or practicing the proper religious rituals. The Bible gives specific examples of sincere, religious men who worshiped and did good but who were nonetheless condemned. Nicodemus was a good man who had great respect for Jesus and who sincerely worshiped God. Jesus told Nicodemus he was lacking something very important and could not enter heaven without it. In the book of Titus, we are told that salvation is “not by works of righteousness which we have done.” (Titus 3:5)

What Nicodemus lacked is what every man needs. Jesus said, “”Except a man be born again can, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Only those who are born again by believing Jesus is God the Son and their personal Savior will enter into heaven. Going to heaven is not a matter of sincere worship. Going to heaven is a matter of turning to Jesus for forgiveness and trusting only in Him to remove one’s guilt and its consequences. The issue is not an issue of devotion or sincerity. The issue is a matter of reliance.

Those who sincerely worship Allah have no more chance of entering heaven by their devotion than those who sincerely worship Jesus have by their faithful church attendance. Those who worship Allah cannot go to heaven until they acknowledge Jesus is God and Savior and ask Him to forgive their sin. Those who worship Vishnu cannot go to heaven until they acknowledge Jesus is the only God and Savior and trust Him alone to forgive their sin. Those who worship their ancestors cannot go to heaven until they acknowledge Jesus alone is God and is the only one able to wash away the stain of sin. Those who worship Jesus cannot go to heaven until they acknowledge He is God and Savior and rely only on Him for forgiveness of sin. Worship (in the sense of religious ritual and devotion) is never a means to salvation, no matter who is being worshiped.