Rewarding Children for Good Behavior

Book Cover of Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your FamilyWe are discussing Paul Tripp’s book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family during our Sunday Adult Bible Fellowship (ABF). At the end of the ABF, the topic of rewards came up. The discussion centered on using rewards to encourage our children to obey God’s moral law.

Paul Tripp discusses rewarding our children on page 65 of his book. One of the first statements he makes in the discussion is that this strategy should not be confused with God’s righteous work of motivating our obedience by the promise of spiritual reward. We need to be careful not to confuse the benefits and blessings God promises the nation of Israel if they keep the Mosaic Covenant with our individual pursuit of holiness. Tripp further explains the dangers of rewarding children. This post supplements what he says in his book.

The Old Testament scriptures relating to receiving blessings for obedience are a pronouncement of God’s promises for blessing found in Deuteronomy chapter 28. When Proverbs or the Psalms speak of receiving plenty, the basis for this truth is found in the blessings of obedience listed in Deuteronomy 28.

While we contemplate the joys of God promising blessing for obedience, we need to bear in mind Job. God declares Job as blameless and upright. Job’s friends mistakenly link Job’s misfortunes with unconfessed sin in Job’s life. In seeing the trials of Job, we realize that righteousness and blessing are not linked as tightly as we think. We might say, “Look at the latter days of Job’s life and see how he is blessed.” However, the Bible gives us no basis to link the blessings Job receives at the end with righteousness. Our best conclusion is that Job is blessed by God because of grace.

It is important to recognize God rewards faith. Faith is not the same as exhibiting moral behavior and following the law. Faith is believing and trusting in God. God rewards those who diligently seek Him. The reward of faith is God Himself (Hebrews 11:6).

We love our children and we have good intentions. Our motivation in the use of rewards is intended for their good. We do not use rewards as bribes. Typically, when we use rewards, we ask our children to obey and reward them for their obedience. The thought process we use some of the following logic to justify the use of rewards:

  • It is biblically true that God blesses people when they walk in obedience to His covenant. Scripture speaks of the righteous having wealth and riches in their home, barns bursting with harvest, and even the blessing of offspring.
  • Generally speaking, the Bible teaches obedience brings blessing.
  • Apart from the Bible, it is true that, in this world, those who don’t act according to societal laws, moral standards, politeness, and common courtesy may find difficulty in finding success. Fines and penalties exist for those who don’t play by the rules. We may even lose friends or a job for being immoral or impolite. Therefore, it is good to help our children understand how this works, so they will be better prepared for life.

These are very good thoughts. But, we need to realize these principles are not always true. For example, in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul’s reward for following Christ and seeking righteousness often resulted in difficulties and adversity. Furthermore, there are many people receiving a lucrative reward for being very immoral. In fact, it seems the more immoral the people, the more popular and rich they become. Try explaining to our children why some of our pop culture idols are millionaires when they are behaving very badly.

Here are some questions to ask ourselves as we offer rewards to our children for good behavior:

  • Will rewards produce the change we (or God) desire in our children? We desire that our children have a new heart which worships God in spirit and in truth. Isn’t the only way a new heart is generated is by confession of sin and putting faith in Christ (grace)?
  • Does offering a reward develop an internal, heart-felt spiritual desire to do what is right or does the reward develop a desire to satisfy the flesh?
  • Will the use of the reward produce lasting change? Or, will the use of a reward more likely create an expectation requiring the continuation of providing a reward?
  • Will the child learn the economics of measuring the price of obedience against the gain of a reward? In other words, if yesterday one lollipop is the reward for one hour of obedience, will the child likely be willing to obey eight hours for one lollipop or will they bargain for more? Will we need to establish a bartering system which identifies the depth of obedience commitment relative to the value of the reward?
  • Will our reward system negate or interfere with our teaching of the biblical principle that our children need to obey us because we are their authority and we have their good in mind (chapter 8)?
  • How will we teach that society sometimes has no reward for those who seek to obey God? Will we take items away from our children when they obey God, so they learn the world sometimes takes from us when we obey God rather than men?

Parenting is difficult and challenging. Be encouraged knowing God loves our children and His only expectation of us is that we trust and rely on God to make lasting change in our children.