He had been a Christian for less than a year. But the conversion was real. He was a new person. And it showed in the way he did business.

First of all he began to see his employees differently. He began to treat his employees and their families as de facto stockholders in his company. He began to make all strategic decisions bearing in mind their impact on the welfare of his employees and their families, not just with eyes on the bottom line and the welfare of his investors. And he refused to pay bribes. He is a businessman in Malaysia.

As a result of his no bribes policy, many key deals stalled. His would be the best tender, and awarded the contract in principle. But there was always one more detail that needed to be settled before the award could be finalized. And that detail always needed some kind of “creative payment.” This is a tough time for this new Christian.

You may call him naive. And we all know that the whole issue of bribery and corruption is a complex one. I am among those who acknowledge a difference between people in power abusing their power to demand bribes. And people who are the victims of such people abusers. Still my new Christian friend is learning early. Obeying God does not guarantee instant rewards.

Joseph learned this the hard way (Genesis 39:1 – 20). He refused to play footsie with a desperate housewife. Apart from sleeping with the bosses wife, who knows what other rewards was there for the taking if he played along. But Joseph refused to give in to sin.

It was wrong and a betrayal of the highest order against a master who had given him so much. And he was rewarded for his purity and integrity by being framed by the spurned seducer, and thrown into jail. No, no instant rewards for obeying God.

The book of Hebrews makes this clear. Hebrews Chapter 11, verses 17 – 35a list various heroes of the faith who received tangible rewards for their acts of faithful obedience. But verses 35b -39 gives another list, a list of believers who received no tangible rewards for their faith. The book of Hebrews also makes it clear that these were no losers. In fact they were people “of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38) and that their rewards awaited them in a promised land yet to come, which we now know is the new heavens and the new earth.

Although this is not often preached on, Jesus had already warned His disciples that:

“Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29 – 31 NRSV)

Here is clear teaching for followers and would be followers of Jesus. To follow Christ may entail the sacrifice of what is most important to us, our closest relationships, and economic prosperity. (In the agricultural era of Jesus’ time, fields represent wealth and financial security.)

But Jesus also promised (can He be trusted?) that there would be compensations in this life, the access to the agape love of His family and access to the resources of that family. (This begs the question — as God’s people are we standing by and helping those who have suffered for the privilege of following Christ?) But Jesus is also clear that we can expect continuing persecution for following Him in this age.

Then there is the other promise. In the age to come we will have eternal life. And if we find this promise somewhat vague it probably shows that we have been given much in this age, so much so that the age to come seems unreal. The reality however, is that this world is passing away and our sojourn here is short. But there awaits us an eternity with the Lord, and eternity described in some degree in Revelation 21 and 22. Now that’s real.

“Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” A time will come when it will utterly clear who are the real winners and who are the real losers. But that time is not now. Now is a time of testing (James 1:2 – 8) and spiritual warfare (1Peter 5:6 – 11). This world is boot camp and battlefield. And no one expects instant rewards in either.

What is going to happen to this new brother, struggling to be a Christian businessman in Malaysia? God knows. Many claim that the term “Christian businessman” is an oxymoron. Especially in places like Malaysia. I disagree. I happen to know a number of Christian businessmen in Malaysia who have been able to make it and remain “clean”. But they had it tough.

That’s the point. We have been told that following Christ in this world will be tough. If we have held back this truth to believers or to would be believers, then we have not been preaching the full gospel. Following Jesus will be tough but He promises us His own presence to see us through. And in the life to come, He promises life eternal and complete.

Lent is a good time to remember this. The Christian life is a life of victory and blessings. But first the Cross

Your Brother, Soo-Inn Tan.