Friday, July 29, 2011

Underlying Motivation

We are coming to the final instruction which Jesus gave to the Twelve Apostles before sending them out on a mission to convert the Jews. Just before this, we saw how Jesus had told everyone that if they did not forsake everything in the world, even their own families and lives, then they were not worthy of Him. This final teaching is a little less controversial, but significant all the same.

Underlying Motivation
From many of Jesus' teachings, particularly some of the ones given in the Sermon on the Mount, some Christian theologians suggest that one of the biggest issues Jesus was combating was mechanical religion, or religion by the letter. That is, doing what God requires of you because God said to do it as opposed to obeying and worshiping in the spirit. What exactly doing something in “spirit” means is somewhat nebulous, but I have heard it said that it is associated with a love of good and a love of God. It is like the difference between following the rules to avoid being punished versus obeying them because you want to be good. The motivation is key, and we will take a closer look at a motivation in this study.

In Matthew 10:40-41, Jesus gives us the concept of a vicarious reception and reward; a kind of receive-a-messenger-of-Jesus,-get-Jesus-for-free program. What exactly is meant by “receive” is up for debate, but I am sure that I would rather receive a messenger of Jesus than have to give up everything I have. ;-)

Tacked on the end of this vicarious business is a rather curious verse in Matthew 10:42:
“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is My disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” NIV
Let us skip the larger implication of this statement for a moment in favor of examining motivation. Motivation; as in why would you be giving cold water to one of these children? Because they are hot? Because they are thirsty? Because of courtesy? Because of kindness? Because of general love you feel for them? No. None of the above. Because you are a disciple of Jesus. Implicitly, because that is what Jesus would do. And if you do so, you will not lose your reward.

There we are. Right back where we started. We are doing things because God/Jesus wants you to in order to be rewarded. Just like in the Old Testament, blessings and curses are doled out based on obedience, except that you will have to wait until after you die to reap this reward.

Ordinarily, this would be a laudable sign of consistency, if it were not for the fact that a large part, if not the overwhelming majority, of modern Christianity adheres to a doctrine of grace (Ephesians 2:4-5). God's grace, as the story goes, means that your eternal reward does not hinge on your individual actions because God is granting you something which you do not deserve. There is nothing you can do to earn this reward (Romans 11:6, Ephesians 2:8-9)... unless you happen to actually pay attention to Jesus' words.

The moment you are Saved, you have an eternal reward waiting for you, but, as we see in this verse, once promised a reward is not forever promised reward, and once Saved is not forever Saved. It seems that God's grace has its limits; that, at a certain point, the works you do or do not do will assure or deny your access to the promised reward.

On a final note, you may remember from a couple of earlier studies of the mission instructions that the author of Matthew appeared to be an aggregator; someone collecting different snippets of sayings and anecdotes associated with Jesus who then pastes them together into one (hopefully) coherent story. We saw how Matthew mistakenly records Jesus telling the Twelve Apostles not to worry about what to say when they confront Gentile leaders on this Jew-only mission and how Jesus told them that He would return (as in the Second Coming) before they got done traveling throughout Israel.

Well, in Matthew 10:42 is possibly another aggregation gaff. Back at the start of this speech, Jesus had called the Twelve Apostles together to privately give them these mission instructions (Matthew 10:1). Yet in Matthew 10:42, we see Jesus say “one of these little ones,” as if they were in the presence of children, like what we see in Matthew 18:1-6. This is only a possible gaff, because it could be that there were children in the general vicinity, and Jesus just pointed or otherwise gestured to them in the distance as He made this comment. Yet with no mention of the gesture, and with two prior, and more serious, mistakes already made, odds are that this is a cut-and-paste error too.


  1. Pretend for a moment that I have just said to you the following: "Fool, my brother got a flat tire right near your house. If you'll help him out, I'll be your friend forever." You might make this assumption about that statement: If you *don't* help my brother, I won't be your friend anymore. But this assumption isn't a correct one. I might choose to remain your friend whether you help my brother or not. It would be a nice expression of friendship for you to help my brother, but that doesn't mean that I won't be your friend anymore if you don't help him.

    This false assumption is very important for us both to pay attention to, because this fallacy--"the fallacy of the inverse"--is particularly dangerous when interpreting the Bible. It has caused people to believe (among other things) that baptism is necessary for salvation, because verses such as Acts 2:38 instruct us to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Does that mean that the direct inverse is true? No.

    To be technical, the fallacy of the inverse states that if a first event (you give them water) implies a second event (you won't lose your reward), then the opposite of the first event (you don't give them water) will cause the opposite of the second event from occurring (you'll lose your reward).

    I suspect you'll agree with that. But your main objection, I think, is the phrase, "because he is My disciple." Obviously it would be better if Christians would help the poor just because it's the right thing to do. How wonderful it would be if all Christians were pure of heart. But... that's definitely not the case. So if a Christian helps the poor just because he feels he should because he's a disciple of Jesus, I say that's a good thing. At least the end result is the same--the poor get helped.

  2. You make a great point about "the fallacy of the inverse." This is a very slippery verse because of the way it is worded. I actually went through an iteration or two before getting it right (in my opinion), but in looking over the post, it seems that there are some angles I did not make a clear.

    There are two principle objections:
    -With Jesus saying "he will certainly not lose his reward," it implies that there are things you can do (or not do) which will cause you to lose the reward of Salvation after you had already earned it. (By "earned," I just mean doing what you have to do to be saved, like believing in Jesus.) As you rightfully point out, the inverse of this verse is not necessarily true. But if I potentially could lose my reward somehow, then I am going to start hedging my bets by finding some thirsty children. ;-)

    -As you note, the "because he is my disciple." Yes, in your example, the same net result is achieved, but the motivation is different. With motivation being an often harped on string in the Christian world as a blast against dry, mechanical religion, I thought that was significant.

  3. We *both* overlooked the strong possibility that the "reward" in question here is not eternal life but one of the other Heavenly rewards. The more I read the passage, the more I'm convinced of this. Salvation has nothing to do with giving water to people. Unless you want to argue that "faith without works is dead," and giving water to those in need is evidence of one's faith. But I think that other Heavenly rewards are what's being referred to here. A few examples of such rewards:

    The crown of righteousness (II Tim. 4:7-8)

    The incorruptible crown (1 Cor. 9:25)

    The crown of glory (1 Peter 5:2-4)

    Assorted treasures (Matt 6:20)

  4. That is a good point, and one which is not often discussed. There are some verses suggesting that, while all of the Elect will have eternal Salvation, not everyone of the Elect will be given the same accolades and rewards in the afterlife. (And yet somehow we are to believe that greed, envy, pride, etc. will not persist into the afterlife.)

    It is possible that the reward spoken of in Matthew 10:42 is something beyond Salvation. I could be wrong about what I have said about the reward above. It is difficult to know for sure without a much deeper study, and still may not be clear after that. Yet that does not change the real focus of this particular post, which is motivation.

    Here are my thoughts on your referenced verses:
    2 Timothy 4:7-8 seems to be referring to a reward going to "all who have longed for [Jesus'] appearing." So that seems a little more in line with the happy afterlife thing, part of which includes becoming righteous through Christ.

    1 Corinthians 9:25 is similar, but possible that some will not earn the prize.

    1 Peter 5:2-4 is pretty close to what you are saying, but it stops short of explicitly saying that this crown will only be awarded to some.

    Matthew 6:20 is certainly within the realm of possibility of supporting the rewards theory.

    Here are a few well-fitting describing specific earned rewards in NIV:
    Matthew 10:41
    Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.

    Matthew 16:27
    For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

    1 Corinthians 3:8
    The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.