The Scriptures, in many places, seem to imply varying levels of reward for the redeemed. Everyone in heaven will be supremely happy, but the capacity of some would appear to be greater – by virtue of their sacrifices and spiritual development. Let us first consider a few passages with respect to Degrees of Reward…
In speaking of the heavenly order of things, Daniel wrote that those who “are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (12:3). Note the term “many,” as compared to fewer. There clearly is implied a level of reward commensurate with one’s evangelistic labors.
Albert Barnes noted that the suggestion is that the righteous will “be honored in proportion to their toils, their sacrifices, and their success” (Notes on Daniel, 1853, p. 450). Another scholar has written that the glorious reward of the righteous “is in proportion to the works that are done” (H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Daniel, 1969, p. 532)
In one of his parables, Jesus told of a nobleman who entrusted to each of ten servants an equal quantity of money with which to do business while he was away in a distant land (see Luke 19:12ff). When he returned, they were called to account for their stewardship.
One fellow had multiplied his investment ten-fold and was granted authority over ten cities. Another had increased his trust by five; similarly, he was rewarded with five cities. Finally, one man had done nothing with his allotment, and so lost it. For our purpose, simply note that the men who had increased their investments were rewarded according to their respective results.
The Scriptures affirm that Christ, at the time of his return will “repay each person according to what he has done” (Mt. 16:27 ESV). The preposition kata (“according to”) implies a norm, standard by which “rewards or punishments are given” (F.W. Danker, et al., Greek-English Lexicon, p. 512). If this does not signify a proportionately fair dispersal, language scarcely has any meaning.
Paul was thrilled to know that, at the time of the Lord’s return, he would have both joy and glory on behalf of those whom he had helped in their journey to heaven (1 Thes. 2:19-20). By way of contrast, however, the apostle cautioned the Corinthians about the manner in which they seek “materials” for the make-up of the Lord’s spiritual house, the church (see 1 Cor. 3:10ff). He urged them to consider the quality of those on whose behalf they labored (i.e., earnest people, versus the superficial) for the time would come when that construction material would be put to the test, the quality being revealed.
Paul noted that if a man’s “work” (i.e., his converts; cf. 1 Cor. 9:1) did not abide, though he himself might be saved, he would suffer “loss.” The loss would be the joy and glory (cf. 1 Thes. 2:19-20) of knowing that his labor was fruitful eternally (cf. Gal. 4:11). The implication is plain – the more of our converts who endure, and finally arrive in heaven, the greater our joy and reward will be.