Is 'Reward Motivation' Parenting Biblical?

How do you motivate your children? How do you encourage good behavior?

Let me get really practical...ever have one of your kids not eating dinner very well and you might say something like… “You know Nathan (insert your own name), we were going to have some dessert after this but it looks like you're not eating your dinner.”

That feels so manipulative, doesn’t it?

Is that bribing your kid to eat?

Shouldn’t they just eat it because you told them to?

Or consider one of your kids getting angry because he stole his sister’s toy. How do you deal with that? How do you encourage him to share with his sister?

Then there’s you and me. Why do we do things we know are right?

I really started thinking about this in my own life. Do I do things because there is ‘reward’ for doing it, or just because I know it’s the right thing to do?


It’s a good question. And it gets better when you consider 1 Peter 3:9. It reads,

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”

You could condense that down to “bless...that you may obtain a blessing.”

I know, in the immediate context, Peter is talking about being persecuted, but I wonder if it still applies to behaviour in general. If we follow God’s plan (his written word) won’t we receive blessing?

I don’t necessarily mean material, earthly gain, but a reward and inheritance that is waiting for us one day in heaven.


How about the Old Testament? Does it give us similar clues? Consider the verses below

“My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.” - Proverbs 3:1
“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.” Proverbs 3:3-4
“Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.” Proverbs 3:13-15

I wonder how many of us would shy away from verses like these?

What it seems like to me is that following wisdom has some very tangible rewards:

  • length of days
  • years of life
  • peace
  • favor
  • good success
  • long life
  • riches
  • honor

So if we follow wisdom’s call in our lives then we are rewarded with these blessings. But should we then be wise because we know there is a blessing or just be wise (not for the sake of the blessing) just because we know it’s right?


Maybe the apostle Paul can help us out. Listen to how he instructed children in Ephesians 6:1-3.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” - Eph. 6:1-3

Paul seems more balanced here. He does say that just obeying your mom and dad is the right thing to do, but he acknowledges that if children do this it then it will “go well with you” and “you may live long in the land.”

What kids don’t want that reward? What kid says, “Nah, I think I’d rather have it go bad with me and I’d rather not live so long in the land..”  


And what about Jesus? Does he have anything to teach us about motivation?

Let’s go straight to the beatitudes.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Song of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” - Luke 5

So if you take this passage in reverse you see that:

  • Christians have great reward
  • Christians that are hated are blessed
  • Christians who are hungry are blessed
  • Christians who weep are blessed
  • Christians who are poor are blessed

That’s a lot of blessing. There is no denying here that Jesus taught that rewards (blessings) accompany obedience.

You could very easily think about the book of Acts and how these beatitudes became very true for all of the early disciples. Their lives were anything from easy or comfortable but they were unbelievably blessed.

Scripture never contradicts itself. It always compliments itself if we are willing to dig for the ways that it all fits together.

So how does obedience and reward work together then?


The first thing to see from Jesus is that blessings are regularly (and maybe even normally) future oriented. Delayed rewards for obedience is the normal experience of Christians. We must not look to do the right thing because we think we will be immediately rewarded for doing so.

Could we be rewarded immediately with some blessing? Yes. But I would say that is not the regular Christian experience.

Our reward is ultimately great in heaven. That begs the question: What is our reward in heaven?

  • Gold streets?
  • Big mansions?
  • Being reunited with our loved ones?
  • No more sin?

Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes.

But is that the ultimate reward of heaven? No. The ultimate reward of Heaven is God.

“For Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” - 1 Peter 3:18

We get God. Yes we get all the other benefits that come from a relationship with God, but in the end we will be eternally satisfied with God. That is a huge motivation to obey now.


But how does that affect my parenting today? At the dinner table? How are we to encourage obedience in our children?

While I don’t have all the answers, it’s at least clear to me that:

1. There is reward (blessing) for obedience.

We should acknowledge this with our children. Lately when I’ve had talks with my son I say something like, “When you make good decisions, God will bless you for that, and when you make bad decisions there are consequences for that.”

If we were to go further with that we would need to communicate that the blessing that God gives is not often immediate and normally future oriented (see previous point). But it is important for them to understand that our actions now have immediate, as well as future, blessings or consequences.

2. Obedience is about chasing joy.

I would also say that normal daily living is about joy. We make decisions because we believe it will bring us joy. And we do not make some decisions because we think it will be bring us less joy. This must be a concept we teach our children early and often.

Teach them that there is joy in obedience.

Think about the reward of dessert after dinner. Why should they eat their dinner? They should eat their dinner because there are rewards for doing so:

  • they will grow from the nutrition of the meal
  • they will not be hungry but will be full (satisfied)
  • they will have the possibility of eating sugar, I mean dessert, (our son’s personal favorite)

There are a lot of blessings (not just dessert) that should motivate our children to eat their dinner. But it can’t be wrong to lay these out before them and ask them to obey. Joy is not only a by-product of obedience, it is also a right motivation for obedience.


Let’s be hedonistic in our parenting. If the Bible teaches us there is ‘Reward-Motivation’ why shouldn’t we use it in our parenting? If Paul, Peter, The Proverbs, and Jesus encourage us towards seeking the blessings of obedience why shouldn’t we?

I do acknowledge that it feels like a very fine line to walk, and that there is possibility of huge distortion of this principle, but once we are guided by the scriptures and have clarity with what we are after, I think there is less possibility of distortion and more possibility of raising children who are passionately seeking their own joy in their obedience to the Lord.

Josh Walker (@joshdwalker) is the co-founder and owner of One Fifty Media House, a Houston, TX based Audio and Video Design Team.

He is the writer and author of music products such as Family Devo, Grammar Time and Hymns For Selena. He is married to Angela and has two beautiful children: Nathan and Charity Joy.