Most people are familiar with the imagery of the carrot and stick when it comes to behavioral motivation. Imagine someone trying to get a stubborn mule moving down the road. One may dangle a carrot in front of the animal, as an incentive to get going. Or, one may smack its backside to produce forward motion.
In the workplace, both the carrot and the stick may be utilized. Managers may dangle the carrot of incentive for good work, or they may pick up the stick of consequences if things don't improve. Parents use a similar system of incentive and consequences with our children.
So, how does the Bible approach giving? Does it use the carrot or the stick? Well, both. We find an example of this in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:2, Jesus tells His disciples to avoid hypocrisy in giving, (i.e., giving to attract attention for themselves). If this is their approach, the applause of men is the only reward they get.
Who hasn't heard that and felt the sting of the stick of conviction? Oh sure, we didn't blow a trumpet or go looking for recognition, but we gladly accept it when it's offered. To paraphrase a country song, "We like it; we love it; we want some more of it." In fact, if nobody else offers applause, we quietly applaud ourselves. In these times, we need the stick.
One breath later, in Matthew 6:3-4, Jesus pulls out the carrot. He tells His disciples there's reward in secret giving. It's a giving so secret that one hand doesn't know what the other is doing. It's so secret that only an omniscient God will see it. However, this secret giving gains the sweetness of heavenly reward...a 'carrot' with no equal.
That's the reward to go after as we give. Don't settle for man's puny, temporary, fading carrot! Give with your eyes on the unfading glory of the Father's reward! Give knowing that you're laying up treasure in heaven!
Sometimes we need the stick. Sometimes we need the carrot. Which one depends on the condition of our hearts. Here's a diagnostic test to see where you're at. As you read Bible passages on giving, do you default to seeing them as sticks or carrots? When you put your check in the offering plate - or when you log in to do your online giving - are you thinking carrot or stick?
If it's the carrot, then stay steady. If it's the stick, repent. Ask the Lord to change your heart. Ask the Lord for grace to see giving as active, meaningful participation in His mission on earth. And keep giving!
To think more about giving, listen to Sunday's sermon from Gray Road Baptist Church (Soundcloud, iTunes).