Sep 24, 2013
Last week I spoke with someone who wondered if we should need rewards for motivation.
He agreed that Jesus said our obedience would bring rewards. But he was not sure Jesus’ point was to motivate us with rewards. He was not sure it was right to be motivated by rewards.
He felt that obeying for the sake of rewards made our obedience less pure, less holy, less God-centered.
Love His Concerns
I love his concerns. He is right — we should avoid anything that would make obedience less pure, holy, or God-centered. But is he right that rewards would do this?
To answer that, let’s remember that Jesus does teach that obedience will result in rewards —
… love your enemies … and your reward will be great. Luke 6:35
When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what the right hand is doing … And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:4
When you pray … pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:6
When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face … And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:17-18
So Jesus teaches that loving, giving, praying, and fasting will result in rewards.
But Should We Be Motivated By Rewards?
That’s the question. I remember reading a New Testament scholar who said something like this —
The promise of reward for obedience is given by Jesus as a fact. But he does not want us to obey for the sake of the reward. If we obey for the sake of the reward, then we are being selfish.
Is this scholar right? I don’t think so, because there are many passages which teach that we should be motivated by rewards.
For example, Hebrews 11 says Moses left Egypt’s riches and suffered with God’s people. So what motivated his obedience?
He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:26)
Moses’ obedience was motivated by looking to the reward. He did not just know about the reward, he was motivated by the reward.
Another example is 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 —
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it [the prize!]. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we [do it to receive] an imperishable.
Notice v.24 — So run that you may obtain the prize. The prize is not just the result of our running; it’s the aim of our running.
And v.25 — We exercise self-control in order to receive an imperishable wreath. The imperishable wreath is what motivates our self-control.
So God wants our obedience to be motivated by the reward. But then why are many of us uncomfortable with this motivation?
Why Are We Uncomfortable?
One reason might be because you think rewards involve health and wealth. You think God should be enough, and we should not need to be rewarded with anything other than him.
But the reward God offers is not health and wealth. It is God himself — more joy in beholding his all-satisfying glory now and forever. And God promises that the more we obey him, the more joy we will have in him now and forever.
Here are Scriptures showing that God himself is our reward — Matthew 5:8; John 14:21, 23; Romans 5:2; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 1:21; Philippians 3:8; Hebrews 12:14; and Revelation 22:4.
So God should be enough, God is enough, and that’s why God offers himself as our all-satisfying reward.
Are Rewards Earned?
Another reason you might feel uncomfortable with rewards, is because rewards sounds like something we try to earn from God. But you know that because of our sin, we can’t earn anything good from God. And so the thought of trying to earn or deserve rewards from God feels wrong.
But God’s Word does not say that our obedience earns or deserves rewards from God. Because of our sin, the only thing we will ever deserve from God is eternal punishment.
But — in great mercy Jesus came to earth, lived a perfectly righteous life, and died on the Cross to pay for our sin. And the moment we trust him, by God’s grace alone through faith alone, we are forgiven and clothed with Jesus’ perfect righteousness.
And — because of what Christ earned for us, and not because of anything we earn, God then promises to mercifully reward our undeserving efforts with more joy in him now and forever.
So when we pursue rewards we are not seeking to earn something from God. We are seeking an undeserved mercy from God.
God wants our obedience to be pure, holy, and God-centered — and a biblical understanding of rewards will help with this.
Here’s why: the more we understand that God is the reward, and the more we obey to receive more of God, the more God-centered and holy and pure our obedience will be.
Think about recent ways you obeyed God. Maybe you worked in the children’s ministry Sunday, or you shared the Gospel on Saturday, or you fought off lust yesterday.
What motivated your obedience? As you obeyed, was your heart set on God? Or was it set on fulfilling your duty, avoiding guilt, not wanting to be seen as a slacker, or on impressing others?
But now think of what would have happened if you had obeyed to receive more joy in God. Then your heart would have been set on God. Your joy would have been in God. Your motivation would have been pure, holy, and God-centered.
See how that works? Rewards don’t lessen pure, holy, God-centered obedience. Rewards increase pure, holy, God-centered obedience.
So pursue the reward.
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And here are some related posts you might find helpful –
- What It Means To Do Something FOR God (You Might Be Surprised)
- Why Are We Blind To Biblical Motivations? Here’s One Reason
- How To Obey God When It’s Costly
- Is Biblical Obedience Motivated By Gratitude?
(Picture is from Microsoft Publisher Clipart.)