Because God loves us, He reveals in the Bible that there is a heaven and hell, that there is a coming judgment, and that He will grant eternal rewards. The Lord wants the very best for us. For this reason, He wants to motivate us to invest our lives and finances in such a way that we can enjoy an intimate relationship with Him now – and receive the greatest possible rewards and responsibilities in the life to come.
Our failure to view our present lives through the lens of eternity is one of the biggest hindrances to seeing our lives and our finances in their true light. Yet Scripture states that the reality of our eternal future should determine the character of our present lives and the use of our money and possessions.
People who don’t know the Lord look at life as a brief existence that begins at birth and ends at death. Looking to the future, they see no further than their own life span. With no eternal perspective, they think, If this life is all there is, why deny myself any pleasure or possession?
Those who know Christ have an entirely different perspective. We know life is short; it’s the preface – not the book; it’s the preliminary – not the main event. And yet this brief testing period will determine much of our experience in heaven.
Financial planners try to convince people to look down the road instead of simply focusing on today. “Don’t think in terms of this year,” they will tell you. “Think and plan for 30 years from now.” The wise person does indeed think ahead, but far more than 30 years ahead. More like 30 million years ahead. Someone once said, “He who provides for this life but takes no care for eternity is wise for a moment but a fool forever.” Jesus said it this way: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
The long and short of it
The Bible frequently reminds us that life on earth is brief: “[God] is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). Our earthly bodies are called “tents” (2 Peter 1:13, NIV), temporary dwelling places of our eternal souls. David recognized this and sought to gain God’s perspective on the brevity of life. He asked of the Lord, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life…. Each man’s life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom…he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.” (Psalm 39:4-6, NIV).
When a friend discovered she had only a short time to live, she told me of her radical change in perspective. “The most striking thing that’s happened,” she said, “is that I find myself almost totally uninterested in accumulating more things. Things used to matter to me, but now I find my thoughts are centered on Christ, my friends, and other people.”
Do we have to be facing death to gain such a perspective? If that’s the case, then we ought to think often on the words of Hebrews 9:27: “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” We all have our “appointed time” to step out of this life and into eternity.
Moses realized that true wisdom flowed out of understanding that our lives are short. With that in mind, he asked the Lord to help him number the days he had on earth. “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years…for soon it is gone and we fly away…. So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:10, 12).
Eternity is long
Eternity, on the other hand, never ends. It is forever. Imagine a cable running through the room where you are now. To your right, the cable runs billions of light years all the way to the end of the universe; to your left, it runs to the other end of the universe. Now imagine that the cable to your left represents eternity past, and the cable to your right, eternity future. Place a small mark on the cable in front of you. That tiny mark represents your brief life on earth.
Because most people don’t have an eternal perspective, they live as if the mark were all there is. They make “mark” choices, live in “mark” houses, drive “mark” cars, wear “mark” clothes, and raise “mark” children. Devotional writer A. W. Tozer referred to eternity as “the long tomorrow.” This is the backdrop against which all the questions of life and the handling of our resources must be answered.
Aliens and pilgrims
Scripture tells us several things about our identity and role on earth. First, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20), not earth. Second, “We are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20), representing Him on earth. Imagine yourself as an ambassador working in a country that is generally hostile to your own. Naturally, you want to learn about this new place, see the sights, and become familiar with the people and culture. But suppose you eventually become so assimilated into this foreign country that you begin to regard it as your true home. Your allegiance wavers, and you gradually compromise your position as an ambassador, becoming increasingly ineffective in representing the best interests of your own country.
We must never become too much at home in this world, or we will become ineffective in serving the cause of the kingdom we are here to represent. We are aliens, strangers, and pilgrims on earth. Peter wrote, “Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear”(1 Peter 1:17, NIV). Later he added, “I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires” (1 Peter 2:11, NIV). Another Bible translation uses the words “strangers and pilgrims” (KJV).
Pilgrims are unattached. They are travelers—not settlers—aware that the excessive accumulation of things can distract. Material things are valuable to pilgrims, but only as they facilitate their mission. Things can entrench us in the present world, acting as chains around our legs that keep us from moving in response to God. When our eyes are too focused on the visible, they will be drawn away from the invisible. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18,NIV).
Pilgrims of faith look to the next world. They see earthly possessions for what they are: useful for kingdom purposes, but far too flimsy to bear the weight of trust. Thomas à Kempis, author of The Imitation of Christ, said it this way: “Let temporal things serve your use, but the eternal be the object of your desire.” Two principles concerning possessions help us gain a proper perspective of them.
1. We leave it all behind
After wealthy John D. Rockefeller died, his accountant was asked how much he left. The accountant responded, “He left it all.”
Job said it this way: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there” (Job 1:21).Paul wrote, “We have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1 Timothy 6:7).
The psalmist observed, “Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich…for when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not descend after him. Though while he lives he congratulates himself – and though men praise you when you do well for yourself – he shall go to the generation of his fathers” (Psalm 49:16-20).
2. Everything will be destroyed
Earthly goods won’t last forever; they are destined for annihilation. “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives” (2 Peter 3:10-11, NIV). Understanding the temporary nature of possessions should influence us as we consider spending decisions.
It’s uncomfortable to think about judgment. But because our Lord loves us so deeply, He wants us to realize what will happen in the future. For this reason, God revealed to us that we all will be judged according to our deeds: “He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31). All of us should live each day with this awareness: “They will have to give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead”(1 Peter 4:5, NIV).
God will judge us with total knowledge: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13, NIV). Because His knowledge is total, His judgment is comprehensive: “Men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken”(Matthew 12:36, NIV). His judgment extends to what is hidden from people. “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14, NIV). He will even “disclose the motives of men’s hearts” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
The Bible teaches that all those who do not know Christ will be judged and sent to an indescribably dreadful place. “I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it…and I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne…. Each person was judged according to what he had done…. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15, NIV).
Judgement of believers
After they die, those who know Christ will spend eternity with the Lord in heaven, an unimaginably wonderful place. But what we seldom consider is that the entry point to heaven is a judgment.
Scripture teaches that all believers in Christ will give an account of their lives to the Lord. “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God…. So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10, 12). The result of this will be the gain or loss of eternal rewards. In 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 (NIV) we read, “His work will be shown for what it is, because the [Judgment] Day will bring it to light…. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss.” Our works are what we have done with our time, influence, talents, and resources.
God’s Word doesn’t treat this judgment as just a meaningless formality before we get on to the real business of heaven. Rather, Scripture presents it as a monumental event in which things of eternal significance are brought to light.
Motivation and rewards
Why should I follow God’s guidance on money and possessions when it’s so much fun to do whatever I please with my resources? After all, I’m a Christian. I know I’m going to heaven anyway. Why not have the best of both worlds – this one and the next? Though few of us would be honest enough to use such language, these questions reflect a common attitude.
The prospect of eternal rewards for our obedience is a neglected key to unlocking our motivation. Paul was motivated by the prospect of eternal rewards. He wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). The Lord appeals not only to our compassion but also to our eternal self-interest. “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great” (Luke 6:35).
Our heavenly Father uses three things to motivate us to obey Him: the love of God, the fear of God, and the rewards of God. These are the same things that motivate my children to obey me. Sometimes their love for me is sufficient motivation, but other times it isn’t. In a healthy sense, they also fear me. They know I will discipline them for wrongdoing. They also know I will reward them with my words of approval and sometimes in tangible ways for doing right.
Unequal rewards in Heaven
It is not as simple as saying, “I’ll be in heaven and that’s all that matters.” On the contrary, Paul spoke about the loss of reward as a terrible loss, and the receiving of rewards from Christ as a phenomenal gain. Not all Christians will have the same rewards in heaven.
John Wesley said, “I value all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity.” God’s kingdom was the reference point for him. He lived as he did, not because he didn’t treasure things but because he treasured the right things. We often miss something in missionary martyr Jim Elliott’s famous words, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” We focus on Elliott’s willingness to sacrifice, and so we should. At the same time, however, we often overlook his motivation for gain. What separated him from many Christians was not that he didn’t want treasure, but that he wanted real treasure. Remember God loves you deeply. Because He wants the best for you throughout eternity, God has revealed that today’s financial sacrifices and service for Him will pay off forever.
Impacting eternity today
Our daily choices determine what will happen in the future. What we do in this life is of eternal importance. We only live on this earth once. “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). There is no such thing as reincarnation. Once our life on earth is over, we will never have another chance to move the hand of God through prayer, to share Christ with one who doesn’t know the Savior, to give money to further God’s kingdom, or to share with the needy.
Those who dabble in photography understand the effect of the “fixer.” In developing a photograph, the negatives are immersed in several different solutions. The developing solution parallels this life. As long as the photograph is in the developing solution, it is subject to change. But when it is dropped in the fixer or “stop bath,” it is permanently fixed, and the photograph is done. So it will be when we enter eternity: the life each of us lives on earth will be fixed as is, never to be altered or revised.
Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist who made a fortune by inventing dynamite and explosives for weapons. When Nobel’s brother died, a newspaper accidentally printed Alfred’s obituary instead. He was described as a man who became rich by enabling people to kill each other with powerful weapons. Shaken from this assessment, Nobel resolved to use his fortune to reward accomplishments that benefit humanity. We now know those rewards as the Nobel Peace Prize. Let’s us put ourselves in Nobel’s place. Let’s read our own obituary, not as written by people but as it would be written from heaven’s point of view. Then let’s use the rest of our lives to edit that obituary into what we really want it to be.
When I am face to face with Christ and look back on my life, I want to see that the things in which I invested my time, creativity, influence, and money are big things to Him. I don’t want to squander my life on things that won’t matter throughout eternity.
During Moses’ time, Pharaoh was the most powerful person on earth. Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses as an infant, giving him the opportunity to enjoy the wealth and prestige of a member of the royal family. Hebrews 11:24-26 tells us what Moses later chose and why. “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.” Because Moses was looking forward to the only rewards that would last, he chose to become a Hebrew slave and was used by God in a remarkable way.
What are the choices facing you now? How does an eternal perspective influence your decisions? Martin Luther said his calendar consisted of only two days: “today” and “that Day.” May we invest all that we are and have today in light of that day.
At the beginning of this study, we asked why the Bible says so much about money—in more than 2,350 verses. We offered four reasons:
1. How we handle money impacts our fellowship with the Lord.
2. Money is the primary competitor with Christ for the lordship of our life.
3. Money molds our character.
4. The Lord wants us to have a road map, for handling money so that we can become financially faithful in very practical ways.
Faithfulness is a journey
Applying the financial principles of the Bible is a journey that takes time. It’s easy to become discouraged when your finances aren’t completely under control by the end of this study. It takes the average person at least a year to apply most of these principles, and even longer if you have made financial mistakes. Many Compass graduates decide to facilitate this study because they know the facilitators learn more than anyone else. As they help the others in the class, the facilitators make progress on their own journey to true financial freedom.
Faithfulness in small matters is foundational
Some people become frustrated by the inability to solve their financial problems quickly. Remember, simply be faithful with what you have – be it little or much. Some abandon the goal of becoming debt free or increasing their saving or giving because the task looks impossible. And perhaps it is – without the Lord’s help. Your job is to make a genuine effort, no matter how small it may appear, and then leave the results to God. I love what the Lord said to the prophet Zechariah, “For who has despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10). Don’t be discouraged. Be persistent. Be faithful in even the smallest matters. We have repeatedly seen the Lord bless those who strive to be faithful.