Should We Use Reward Motivation?


Reward-based motivational methods have been around for a long time. Whether patches and bars for children who learn verses or plaques and certificates for hard-working adults, we line people up and applaud them. But some believers are uncomfortable with these traditions. Shouldn’t we serve the Lord out of love? Doesn’t the applause of men rob God of His gods_desire.jpgglory and encourage pride?

Though the reward method of motivation is not without risks, it is not a method we should reject. Here’s why.

1. God uses reward motivation all the time.

Throughout the pages of Scripture, God appeals to our desire to enjoy reward and to avoid suffering in order to motivate us to do what He desires. Jesus used this type of motivation in the Sermon on the Mount. Urging a joyful response to persecution, He said, “Great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:12. Scripture quotations are from The New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, 1982). Later, He warned His hearers not to serve merely in order to be seen because the result would be “no reward” from the Father (Matt. 6:1). But, of humble good works, He said “your Father … will Himself reward you openly” (6:4). Jesus clearly appealed to the desire for reward as a reason to do right.

The epistles use reward motivation as well. They anticipate the crowns God will give to His faithful, obedient children (James 1:12; 1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Pet. 5:4). And they speak of reward at the judgment, where we will receive what is consistent with our works “whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). If our work endures, we “will receive a reward” (1 Cor. 3:13).

If God appeals to our desire for reward so frequently and frankly, we should hesitate to reject reward motivation in ministry.

2. Desire for reward is not hostile to our love for God.

If God appeals to rewards so regularly, the desire for rewards cannot be inherently bad. The evidence suggests this desire is simply a feature of human nature, not necessarily fallen human nature. Even before the Fall, God used reward motivation when He warned Adam and Eve that eating the forbidden fruit would result in suffering.

Apparently, we have a basic form of self-love that is neither sinful nor hostile to our love for God. Scripture never condemns this kind of concern for self but rather assumes it uncritically. “No one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes it and cherishes it” (Eph. 5:29). “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). Read more about Should We Use Reward Motivation?

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A Wholly, Holy Motivation


Extrinsic motivators are continually at work in our lives, shaping our choices and lending direction. These motivators, both those made by man and those designed by God, represent an important ingredient that adds order and structure to our lives. They serve purpose that cannot and should not be denied. Effective employers, teachers, and parents all understand how to wisely and properly use external motivation in order to move others toward established goals.
Discussions centering on the proper use of external motivators continually draw a wide range of viewpoints and opinions, for the responses these motivators draw are as diverse as the individuals represented. The same motivator that stirs one person to action has the ability to frustrate another. For example, we have all witnessed our share of energetic debates over institutional rules that generate more heat than light. These debates continually remind me of how much time we can waste seeking to find common ground when it is not possible or even necessary to be found. Apart from the mandates of God’s Word and from those whom the Lord has placed at the decision tables, is it necessary for us to find agreement with an institution’s code of student conduct before we embrace any biblical admonishment to withhold negative judgment and criticism?

I am not against hearty discussions that are driven by the Word; for although I am concerned about wasting time with fruitless debate, I am just as concerned about substantive topics of needful examination that too quickly become derailed. A discussion about the difference between a Holy Spirit-driven intrinsic motivator that yields heart transformation and a man-driven extrinsic motivator that yields outward conformity is of grave importance; however, it can be a frustrating train of thought to keep on track without it deteriorating into an irrelevant debate about the existence of rules, with one side offering a militant defense for their preservation and the other cheering on their removal. This article carries with it a probability of this kind of derailment, the same probability that was carried by a previous article I wrote calling for a measure of thoughtful examination of our system of rewards. Although there was no call for the abolishment of rewards, the subsequent discussion evolved into a defense for their existence. Read more about A Wholly, Holy Motivation

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