I was with a group of friends who were talking about rewards. Someone said, “If a person receives any recognition or praise in this life, they can forget about receiving any kind of reward in the next life.” This seemed to me like an extreme point of view. If true, we should live lives of such mediocrity as to ensure we do not incite the praise of anyone. Heaven forbid the quality of our work be recognized by someone!
The Scriptures do warn about those whose primary driving force is the praise of men. The Apostle Paul described the true Jew as he whose “praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:29).
Jesus chided the Pharisees because they loved to be seen praying as they stood in their temples, synagogues and on the corners of the streets (Matthew 6:5). He called them hypocrites and said they had already received their reward in full.
The Apostle John described the members of this religious order as men who “loved the approval of men rather than of God” (John 12:43).
At first glance these verses appear to support the opinion expressed above: that the praise of men is our greatest enemy. To live our lives FOR THE PURPOSE OF receiving praise from men is clearly a danger.
Yet, I believe the need for recognition is a basic human need. All of us at some time have observed a child trying to gain the attention of his father or mother saying, “Look at me. Look at me!” We all feel good when someone says, “Thank you.”
A recent poll of adults who had quit their jobs voluntarily identified the lack of recognition or praise as one of the four main contributing factors in their decision. Furthermore, the Poll revealed 37 percent of all employees rated intangible rewards like praise or recognition as important.
To deny this basic human need and pretend we don’t appreciate it when another person recognizes our efforts, may be just as hypocritical as what the Pharisees were doing.
According to the Apostle Paul, we are to give “honor to whom honor” is due (Romans 13:7). He also commanded the Ephesian Christians to “consider worthy of double honor” those elders “who work hard at preaching and teaching” (I Timothy 5:17).
Paul is affirming a widely acknowledged principle: exemplary workers must be rewarded and a distinction must be made between poor work and excellent work. In their book, “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done,” Bossidy and Charan call this differentiation “the mother’s milk of building a performance culture” in your organization.
In summary, I see a tension between the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who lived for the praise of men, and the hypocrisy of the falsely humble, who gaze at the floor and refuse to accept the recognition they deserve. What is the answer? How do we resolve this tension?
Like eating, the need for affirmation is a matter of degree. We all need food to live and, when a person is hungry, the only ethical thing to do is give that person something to eat. On the other hand, the glutton lives to eat and he needs no encouragement to do so.
All of us need recognition; it is a basic human need. To deny it to others is an injustice just as serious as denying them food when they are hungry. And to deny that I need it is a denial of my humanity.
At the other extreme are those who live to be praised by men; their entire focus and point of reference is what other people think about them. This is death itself. As Jesus said, if that is your focus, you can expect no reward from God.
Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (New York: Crown Business, 2002).
Dr. Greg Waddell is passionate about helping church leaders equip their people for ministry. He believes there is wild potential in every believer that begs to be released. He can help you develop and implement practical strategies for increasing the ministry capacity of your congregation.