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 Christians are uncomfortable with these traditions. Shouldn’t we serve the Lord out of love? Doesn’t the applause of men rob God of His glory 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 frequently.
Throughout the pages of Scripture, God appeals to our desire to enjoy reward and to avoid suffering. It’s often clear that He is doing so 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” (NKJV, Matt. 5:12). 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). They also 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.