In the last article we approached the idea of variations of reward and position in heaven. Maybe we’re a little suspicious of this heavenly-hierarchy idea. We get wary of the potential for people to use their positions to oppress those below them. Indeed, as someone once said, “if you want to test a man, give him power”. And we know we shouldn’t be jealous of each other so maybe the answer is all to just be the same… But in the New Creation things are very different.
Rather than living in a community of selfish suspicion and envious greed, God’s kingdom is, and will be a kingdom of humility and love and enjoyment in each other’s glory. Just as it should be in the church:
‘if one of the members be honoured all the members rejoice with it’ (1 Cor 12:26).
This is the radical atmosphere of heaven where enjoyment is not all about me, but my pleasure is experienced in seeing others who deserve honour receive it. And I will enjoy God more as I see him give that honour in various degrees. This is most true as we celebrate and bask in the honour that God the Father has given to Jesus, sitting Him on the throne as the Lord of heaven.
One of the places that many have turned to on this subject, is a famous sermon preached by Jonathan Edwards on Romans 2:10: ‘but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.’
In that sermon Edwards speaks about the relationship between people who are given greater honour and those with less. Here is a short excerpt, which you’ll find quoted all over the internet. Try and stick with it, it’s worth reading.
There will be different degrees of both holiness and happiness according to the measure of each one’s capacity, and therefore those lowest in glory will have the greatest love to those that are highest in happiness because they will see most of the image of God in them. And having the greatest love to them, they will rejoice to see them most happy and in the highest glory.
But on the other hand, those that are highest in glory, as they will be the most lovely, will be fullest of love: as they excel in happiness, they will proportionally excel in divine benevolence and love to others, and will have more love to God and to the saints than those that are lower in holiness and happiness.
In other words he says, differences in rewards won’t make things more awkward or miserable in heaven, but will be part of our enjoyment of God and one another. In a mutual expression of love towards, and in each other.
Those lower down will look up to the greater in heaven and be glad to see them and rejoice in their gifts. Whilst, the greatest in heaven will be all the more lovely and so all the more humble, and are will be lowest in their own eyes and will love those beneath them all the more.
That is what church life should be like now actually. Where those with greater faith or honour are the most humble and most loving and those with lesser faith enjoy the gifts and honour of those with greater faith. We should enjoy having our Christian heroes and admiring them and following them as they themselves also receive grace and mercy as sinners.
Do you remember that verse in Romans? We are to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15). Now both those things are hard to do. But isn’t it true that there are times when the rejoicing part is much harder? We often think on the sorrow side, but which is harder to do? At times, it’s being genuinely happy for someone else when they’ve been blessed in ways that you haven’t. Of being able to say “I am genuinely pleased that you have a bigger house than me”, or “you have more effective gifts than me”… as a proud person that’s quite hard.
But not in heaven.
We will all enjoy fullness of joy and there will be degrees of that fullness for each of us… and I think Jonathan Edwards helpfully blends the two sides of that coin. He thinks of it in terms of the word capacity. He says elsewhere, ‘every vessel that is cast into the ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels larger than others; and there shall be no such thing as envy in heaven, but perfect love shall reign throughout…’
It’s as if each of us will be a different sized vessel enjoying different depths of God’s love… Some will be cups and some will be buckets and some will be bottles and all of us will be full, to overflowing with the happiness of the Lord’s presents, but there will be a variety of capacities… some will be swimming pools… and we won’t mind that. We will love that. We will love the way that God distributes honour to our persecuted brothers and sisters, to the faithful and quiet… to the meek.
So it will be amazing to see this. To see that good things done and sufferings experiences in this life for Christ will be rewarded, even the smallest things. And there will still be role models, and heroes of the faith, and people to look up to, thrilling wise words from brothers and sister we admire… it’s the same today in church life, there are people in church and we love to follow their examples without feeling the need to be their equals.
What an encouragement in our unseen work. In our prayers, in the quiet faithfulness of the saints. We look forward to what God will give each of us in this inheritance in the eternal state, but perhaps more so to what he will give to others.