Gospel-Centered Motivation

Motivation is a complicated social science. There are a myriad of theories as to what kinds of motivation are proper in various situations. We humans are as fickle as we are predictable, so one can never be quite sure what kind of motivation is appropriate and successful for a given situation. That’s not to say, however, that there are no appropriate or helpful motivational principles in the Bible for leaders and participants alike.

Early in Paul’s missionary, church-planting life, the church in Judea needed money. Paul had the responsibility of collecting it from various congregations he either started or visited, and the church in Corinth was one of those churches. Ironically, Paul did not have the best relationship with the church in Corinth, so asking them to give generously to another church was a sensitive matter. It was a big “ask” of people he was quite good at upsetting.

It’s that backstory that makes Paul’s motivational appeal in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 all the more beautiful. First, Paul testified to the grace of God working in the lives of others. Multiple churches in the nearby region of Macedonia, though they were in a severe state of persecution and economic affliction, gave joyfully and well beyond their means. Then Paul pointed out that the Corinthians, by God’s grace, had those same characteristics when it came to things like faith, preaching, and hard work. Therefore, said Paul, they should apply those same gifts to their giving.

At the end of his appeal, Paul pointed to the gospel. Jesus’ gift of salvation was immeasurably abundant and utterly undeserved, and that gift should inform their giving. Interestingly, Paul never attempted to guilt the Corinthians into giving, but he did let them know that their generosity might one day benefit them. At that moment, the Judean church was in need. But one day, the Corinthians might need the Judeans. Therefore, they should give (2 Corinthians 8:1-15).

By communicating the gospel, Paul sought to motivate and inspire the Corinthians to give. Similarly, Peter encouraged church leaders to live the gospel so as to inspire their members. In 1 Peter 5, Peter mentioned sins to which church leaders are prone, as well as the antidotes to those sins. First, some leaders are lazy. They must be compelled to serve. Whether they are lazy by choosing to do nothing and creating a set of circumstances to justify their laziness, or lazy by allowing others to dictate their agenda, all that matters is that laziness is something to which church leaders are prone and must avoid. Other times, leaders are selfish. Church leaders can accept the authority of ministry but shirk the corresponding responsibility. And we are all too familiar with the cases of church leaders who enter ministry for personal benefit, be it financially or out of a desire to have power over people’s lives (1 Peter 5:1-3).

Peter’s overarching antidote to these sins is for leaders to choose freely and willingly to serve, so that church members will follow their example. Interestingly, he unashamedly tells these elders that by doing so, they get something pretty amazing in return: “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4). By pondering the truths of the gospel and the riches of heaven, leaders are inspired to serve in such a way that motivates their followers to live for the glory of heaven.

Both Paul and Peter turned to Jesus and the gospel to inspire and motivate others. The gospel is precisely what church leaders and members alike should look to when it comes to a proper motivation for serving. Even something as mundane as giving or listening to announcements on Sunday mornings can be a powerful opportunity to preach or hear the gospel.

Excerpted from my first book, Southern Fried Faith, available exclusively at Amazon.