October 26, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Matthew 6:1 (NIV)
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
What does reward have to do with love?
Yesterday, I reflected on what should animate our performance as leaders. Jesus’ teaching points to God’s love as the foundation of all our motivation and actions. In response, leaders are to love the people who follow them, the work they’ve been given to do, and the world in which they live.
If that’s so, it may strike some as odd that Jesus speaks of “reward” in connection with that kind of love. Should love be motivated by reward? For those of us in the Protestant tradition, the word “reward” might make us quite nervous when it is used in conjunction with our faith. In contrast, Jesus seems quite at home with that word in his (and our) relationship with God, as demonstrated by its frequent use in the Sermon on the Mount.
So, what might Jesus mean?
Jesus’ notion of reward seems to reflect what we might call “intrinsic” rather than “extrinsic” motivation. His understanding of rewards is that they are consistent with who people are and what they do. To put it another way, rewards are not meant to be “bribes” to do things we don’t want to do. Instead, they are the rightful and “organic” consequences of a person’s attitudes and actions. That’s one reason why God works from the inside out. Rewards are meant to recognize and appropriately celebrate what is true of the person and their work. And that is why a truly rewarding life begins with the formation of the inner person.
So what kind of reward should you expect from “your Father in heaven?”
I often quote the modern proverb that “the reward for good work is more work.” People who do good work tend to get more responsibility. And this is more than just a practical observation. The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) suggests this is not only how the world works but how God works. So, why might that be? Is it simply a perverse way of saddling hard-working people with ever more work? (Meet your sales quota this year, and it will be raised next year!) Not necessarily. Rather, in God’s economy, at least, good work and its consequences are their own reward.
Work and responsibility are integral to being human. From the beginning, God intended human beings to exercise responsible stewardship for the world. In other words, we are created to work. Work is meant to be a blessing, not a curse. That’s why more work is a reward and not a punishment. And that’s why, in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, the reward for faithful stewardship is this: “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” (Matthew 25:21, 23).
Finally, like work done for someone we love, God’s response of delight at our work is our ultimate reward. That’s why today’s text emphasizes the importance of knowing who the ultimate audience for our work is. Of course, as leaders, we are aware of many different audiences. In business, we have investors, we lead teams, we serve customers, and we operate in communities of which we are a part. But, for all of us, there is another audience present, one who is usually hidden from view—“your Father who is in secret.”
Jesus reminds us that God is the ultimate, if invisible, audience for our performance. Others may judge us wrongly and unfairly. But God alone knows our hearts. And God rewards our performance accordingly. In the end, no other audience—whether within or outside us—matters. God’s response of delight will be our greatest reward. So, we can pray with the Catholic writer Thomas Merton:
Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity, but for You alone. For there is only one thing that can satisfy love and reward it, and that is You alone. (New Seeds of Contemplation)
What do you find rewarding about your work?
Find someone’s work that you appreciate and express your delight at it and your appreciation for them.
God our Father,
Open the eyes of our hearts to see you in the leadership work we do. Helps us to see you among the many others who form the audience of our work.
Let us love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity, but for you alone.
We ask in your name,
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Bible and Consequences.
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During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
Click here to view Uli’s profile.