February 18, 2008

Heb 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

A primary responsibility of church leadership is to prepare God’s people for works of service. (Eph 4:11-12) I’ve written before about the need for Christians to be active in doing good works. This is the purpose for which we were created in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:8-10) By doing good works we bring glory to God (Matt 5:14-16, 1 Pet 2:12). It is therefore essential for church leadership to be effective at promoting good works in the life of every Christian.

We are instructed to consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good works. So let’s consider that question. What motivates people to do good works?

An interesting study published in 1973 illustrates some fascinating and valuable insights into motivation. Quoting from an article citing that study:

The 1973 paper “Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic rewards: A test of the overjustification hypothesis” by M Lepper, D Green & R Nisbett, reported an interesting experimental observation. During children’s free-play time, a fun drawing activity was introduced. They observed the children playing and selected those children who appeared to find intrinsic satisfaction in drawing. These children were placed under three different conditions.

Condition 1: “Good Player” certificate was shown to some of the children, and asked if they would like to draw to win the certificate.

Condition 2: Some children were given the opportunity to simply engage in drawing and the children were given the “Good Player” certificate unexpectedly.

Condition 3: Some children simply drew without expecting or receiving any reward.

Two weeks later, all these children were again allowed to engage in the drawing activity. The result was interesting. It was found that the children who chose to draw for the reward showed less interest in drawing, and also when the reward was withdrawn, these children simply stopped drawing. Children in the other two conditions showed no significant change in their interest in drawing. The result seems to suggest that the external reward of a “Good Player” certificate destroyed the original intrinsic motivation for drawing.

The above study suggests that intrinsic motivation (that which is based on satisfaction inherent in the activity itself) can be displaced by extrinsic motivation (that which is based on rewards and punishments.) Once intrinsic motivation has been displaced, it can be hard to get back. In the end, people often lose all motivation to do what they once were highly motivated to do.

How does this apply to Christians doing good works?

Clearly, God uses rewards and punishments to get us to do the right things. But we are also called to do things out of a higher motivation. The greatest command is to love God. The love of God should compel us to do the right things (2 Cor 5:14-15). God created this motivation by sending his son to die on the cross for us. We love because God first loved us. And therefore we serve in joyful, grateful response. That is an intrinsic motivation.

The second greatest command is to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are called to serve one another in love (Gal 5:13). When our serving is prompted by love for the person we serve, we are acting on intrinsic motivation. If our service is not prompted by love, we accomplish nothing. (1 Cor 13:1-3).

The reward and punishment God uses as motivation are heaven and hell. From the parable of the sheep and the goats:

Matt 25:34″Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’ “

Matt 25:41″Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ “

We should use all the motivations that God uses to spur one another on toward love and good works. But if we add our own rewards and punishments to the mix, we are taking a dangerous path. Many of us have seen man-made motivations (supervision and management of performance with rewards and punishments) kill the healthy intrinsic motivation to do good, over a period of years.

The church should not manage performance with rewards and punishments like the corporate world does. Instead we should nurture people’s intrinsic motivation. Like the apostle Paul, we should focus on traits like compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Col 3:12) We should cultivate the field so that the good fruit will thrive. Let’s cultivate love as the fundamental motivation for the Christian life. Love never fails.

One comment

  1. Alan,Excellent post brother.I totally agree. I preach this way. Again, I really enjoyed this post a lot.

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