You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? Galatians 5:7 NASB
The Bible is filled with intriguing little passages that act as hooks to pull us in and get us thinking more deeply. I came across one the other day in the book of Colossians:
Take care that no one keeps defrauding you of your prize by delighting in humility and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind- Colossians 2:18 NASB
The words that got my attention were “defrauding” and “prize”. The apostle Paul seems to be presupposing two realities every serious Christian ought to consider.
First—is the whole notion of “a prize”. The Apostle obviously believed there is a prize Christians can earn. He also believed we should actively and even aggressively go after and protect those prizes (1st Corinthians 9:24, Philippians 3:14). Second—there seems to be a way Christians can be cheated, deceived or swindled (defrauded) out of their prizes.
What is the prize?
What does it mean to be “defrauded” of the prize?
How exactly does this defrauding take place?
The prize itself is not much of a mystery. The prize discussed in Colossians 2:18, 1st Corinthians 9:24 and Philippians 3:14 are clearly the eternal reward believers in Jesus receive for a living a faithful life. Jesus and the Apostle Paul both spoke at length about the whole notion of believers obtaining rewards (prizes). According to Jesus Christians will be rewarded for all manner of things. Including, but not limited to: loving their enemies, faith, goodness, kindness, authenticity, personal sacrifice, financial sacrifice and personal faithfulness to and confidence in God. Apparently, these eternal rewards are multiplied any time we continue to keep the faith, behave righteously and point others to Jesus in the face of personal suffering, hardship and persecution (Matthew 6:1-8, Matthew 10:42, Matthew 16:27, Luke 6:22-23, Luke 6:35, 1st Corinthians 3:8-9, Ephesians 6:7-8, Colossians 3:23-25, Hebrews 10:35, 2nd John 1:8).
Because there is a prize at the end of the Christian life that we can earn or lose out on. It only makes sense for us to figure out what things are most likely to cause us to lose out on the prize. No one in their right mind wants to lose out on a prize. Seriously.
For the record:
God is not a tyrant looking for an excuse to rip blessing and eternal reward out of the hands of those who have worked hard for Him (Hebrews 6:9-11). God is good and He wants to give His children good gifts (Luke 11:13, Ephesians 4:8, Romans 11:29).
That being said,
When we allow sin, hardship or disappointment in God to cause us to become disobedient or to send us off on a spiritual tangent we stop earning the reward we had been earning. Furthermore, there are those who become so disillusioned with God for the above-mentioned reasons they literally stop serving Him. When we stop serving God out of anger, hurt or anything else we have automatically been defrauded of our prize. We will go to heaven but that’s it. There won’t be any “well done good and faithful servant” stuff to look forward to when we get there (Matthew 25:14-21, 1st Corinthians 3:14-15). Knowing this is not a cause for despair or fear but rather a reminder to act wisely in all areas of life and faith.
The three most common reasons for being defrauded of our prize are:
Hurt and anger-
Getting hurt or becoming angry (even if the anger is directed at God) does not automatically cause us to be defrauded of anything. God does not penalize people for suffering personal hurt or pain. He’s not a jerk. However, hurt and anger that develops into bitterness or unforgiveness can lead us into all sorts of spiritual trouble (Hebrews 12:15, Acts 8:22-23, Matthew 6:14-15). Bitterness is a poison that literally defiles us as people and makes us spiritually unfit for good works (Hebrews 12:15, Ephesians 2:8-10, Philippians 2:13). Once we are unfit for doing good we are spiritually done in (Matthew 5:13, 1st Corinthians 3:14-15).
Theology matters, but not because God punishes us for holding the wrong views. It matters because wrong beliefs or wrong thinking about God and life always lead to wrong behavior (Matthew 15:18-20). This is what Paul was warning the Colossians about in Colossians Chapter two. The Colossian Christians were in danger of buying into wrong beliefs that would inevitably lead them into sin and away from God (Colossians 2:4-19, Galatians 5:7).
Disappointment in God-
In a fallen world it’s easy to become disappointed in God when we feel He hasn’t given us what we wanted most, or He didn’t stop someone from mistreating us in some way (Matthew 13:40-42, John 5:28-29). If those feelings are not worked through the bitterness that develops will rob us of our belief in God’s goodness (Hebrews 11:6). When we lose faith in the goodness of God, we are not far off from being defrauded of the reward we would have had.
Sometimes Christians feel skeezy for looking forward to eternal reward.
They shouldn’t. God clearly wants to reward His children for their faithfulness. He promises the rewards we earn will be worth all the effort it takes to keep from being defrauded out of them (Revelation 22:12).