Is Seeking Rewards For Soul Winning A Legitimate Motive?

Some time ago, I was discussing heavenly rewards for soul winning with a group of EE trainers. We got to a point where an EE trainer expressed the view that one should not only think of rewards. She was of the opinion that it would be selfish to be motivated by rewards when winning souls.

This short article deals with the question, “Is seeking rewards for soul-winning a legitimate motive?”

Firstly, we must understand that reward is the tangible expression of the approval of God. One cannot deny Him the pleasure of expressing that approval or say without insult that we reject the reward for ourselves.

He who despises a throne despises Him who confers the throne.

If I am pleased with any of my children’s conduct, behaviour and diligence, I will express my pleasure. This expression of pleasure is important to encourage that child. That child might even perform well just to please me. I will express that pleasure in a tangible way, to honour that child, to declare that I am pleased with that particular child. I make this specific expression so that my other children will be motivated to do the same thing. That tangible expression is the reward. In the case of my child, I can take her for a special meal, present some monetary gift or even present an overseas holiday trip.

The child accepts this gift and works for it because it is the tangible expression of the father’s pleasure. In the same way, we should gladly accept our heavenly Father’s reward for soul-winning because it is the tangible expression of His pleasure.

At Jesus’ baptism, the Father voice declared, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:17 NIV)

Acknowledgements and affirmations like these spur us on to greater obedience and motivate us to greater acts of service and sacrifice.

Winning souls has eternal consequences and its benefits are both temporal and eternal. Down here we have peace and joy; up there a home in heaven. Therefore, “he who wins souls is wise.” (Proverbs 11:30). God’s pleasure with soul-winning is expressed in the reward He gives, i.e. “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” (Dan 12:3 NIV)

Additionally, the Pharisees’ were rebuked by Christ as follows, “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44)

Finally, reward is not only a motive in itself that is legitimate: it is a motive to which our Lord and His Apostles make frequent and direct appeal.

Christ – Matt 6:1 NIV
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Paul – 1 Cor 9:24 NIV
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”

Peter – 1 Pet 1:17 NIV
“Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”

James – Jas 1:12 NIV
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

John – 2 Jn 8 NIV
“Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.”

“I believe for my part that we suffer terribly by the comparative neglect into which this side of Christian truth has fallen. Do you not think that it would make a difference to you if you really believed, and carried away with you in your thoughts, the thrilling consciousness that every act of the present was registered, and would tell, on the far side beyond?”
Dr. Alexander Maclaren

No wise disciple can afford to neglect so great a mass of Scripture or throw away so mighty an incentive to soul-winning. Our discovery of this truth at the Judgement Seat will be too late.

Every seed we drop into the soil- every thought and word and act- is banked in God, and will one day spring up in lovely, or alarming, harvest, — as we sowed, what we sowed, as much as we sowed, and why we sowed.
8 Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.
2 John 8 NIV
(Adapted from D.M. Panton, The Judgment Seat of Christ)

Below is a comment made by Ed Beach :
Ed Beach said…
Thank you, Voon, for that very helpful clarification of Scriptures that makes abundantly clear the Lord desire to reward us. This topic goes to the heart of a wide range of underlying attitudes and feelings that people have about evangelism, so I’d like to contribute a few more thoughts to the discussion.

In addition to the truth that God desires to reward us, I would also suggest that our response needs to arise from understanding His motive for rewarding us, and the nature of the rewards He gives.

These are intrinsically intertwined with one another, and give us a fuller understanding of His perspective in a way that helps to shape how we live out our response.

Surely God’s purpose and rewards are multi-faceted, but perhaps we can sum it up this way: The rewards of evangelism are not merely for our own glory and temporal benefit, but rather are our joy in the completion of His eternal purpose that we are to be one with Him.

A few Scriptures that immediately come to mind in this regard include:
– Genesis 1-3 which enables us to understand that He created us to be in relationship with himself.
– Leviticus 26:12 and the theme that runs through all of Old Testament narratives of God’s interactions with Israel that demonstrate his longing for relationship with His people.
– John 15, Philippians 2, Rev 21:3 and the frequent use of “in Christ” throughout the New testament, all of which clearly exemplify his longing and purpose for us to be one with Him.

So then, it is only appropriate that our motivation in evangelism and discipleship be for fulfillment of this purpose of relationship with Him as it was always meant to be, and the reward of this is that our joy and satisfaction —both His and ours— will know no bounds.

Too often when we think of rewards, we are short-sighted or, worse yet, worldly. A short-sighted view is that the great reward of evangelism is more people joining our church, or (heaven forbid) that we feel good about ourselves when we can report great numbers in an OJT report session. These are short-sighted because they are not the true goal, but rather are a consequence of the process of bringing to completion the Lord’s purpose that all of his chosen ones be in relationship with himself.

A worldly view sees rewards as meant for one’s own personal and temporal benefit, and that rewards are meant to be the motivation in and of themselves. I think that most people who react negatively to the issue of rewards in regard to evangelism are instinctively focusing on this very legitimate concern.

We have seen, for example, those who self-centeredly proclaim health, wealth and prosperity as God’s intended rewards. We have also seen Christians who use evangelism to build their power, prestige and financial resources, as if this were supposed to be God’s reward for them.

Despite how unbiblical such short-sighted and worldly views are, we must not overreact by totally discounting rewards; rather, we need to have the biblical perspective of God’s purpose and His means of rewarding us.

Finally, it is important to comment about evangelistic efforts that appear to be unrewarded. For instance, how are we to regard years of earnest prayer, a clear witness that proclaims and explains the Gospel, and a life lived out as a selfless and self-sacrificing demonstration of the Gospel —but that does not result in the salvation of the people who are the objects of this ministry, or that worse yet results in suffering or tragedy, such as an apparently untimely death? The lives of some of the Old Testament prophets, as well as Revelation 6:9-10, are a powerful picture of this. In our own times, we have seen many suffer for their witness. (In one situation, Isaiah 57:1-2 was the Lord’s way of reminding me that He alone defines the mid-term opportunities and rewards.)

Common analyses of apparently unrewarded evangelism range from secret sin, to spiritual battle. Although all that might be true in a given situation, I would prefer to say that there is an inescapable mystery in the greatness of God’s purposes and ways that go so far beyond what we can understand that we must never try to box in God with our very limited understanding.

We must regard rewards in terms of what the _whole_ of Scripture has to say. Hebrews 11 is a good model for us to follow. The rewards of the Lord’s saints have covered the gamut from “success” to martyrdom, and they all received God’s approval, yet their desired reward was held in reservation for that time when we shall all be one with him.

In summary I would say that when the passion and motivation of our hearts is to know Christ —not selfishly (which is totally unacceptable), but rather so that _all_ would know Him and that together we would all be made complete in our relationship with him as has been his eternal purpose— then all the issues surrounding rewards are put into the appropriate perspective.

Ed Beach
EE People Group Services