Participation in the kingdom of God is the reward of the righteous person. It is not wholly extrinsic like the gold stars and the round of applause. The righteousness Jesus is talking about in Matthew carries with it an intrinsic reward, one that is an integral part of the action of welcome and kindness. Such righteous acts participate in and point us toward God. (Gingles, conversation about religious ethics)

I became intrigued with this notion of intrinsic reward for kind and positive deeds and began collecting a number of affirmations from a variety of historical and current figures.

"The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward."—Amelia Earhart (American aviation pioneer and author and the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, for which she received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross, 1897-1937)

"If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed."—Albert Einstein (German-born theoretical physicist who developed the general theory of relativity, and one of the two pillars of modern physics, best known for his mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc², 1879-1955)

"The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more."—Jonas Salk (American medical researcher and virologist who discovered and developed the first successful inactivated polio vaccine, 1914-1995)

"Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward."—Thomas Merton (American Catholic writer and mystic, Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion, 1915-1968)

"The highest reward for a person's toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it."—John Ruskin (British art critic, artist, social thinker, and philanthropist, 1819-1900)

"Happiness is a virtue, not its reward."—Baruch Spinoza (Dutch philosopher, 1632-1677)

"There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward."—Khalil Gibran (Lebanese artist, poet, and writer, 1883-1931)

"To give without any reward, or any notice, has a special quality of its own."—Anne Morrow Lindbergh (American author, aviator, and the wife of fellow aviator Charles Lindbergh, 1906-2001)

"Love is love's reward."—John Dryden (English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright, made Poet Laureate in 1668, 1631-1700)

"A kind and compassionate act is often its own reward."—William Bennett (American conservative pundit, politician, and political theorist who served from 1985-1988 as Secretary of Education, 1943-)

"To live for results would be to sentence myself to continuous frustration. My only sure reward is in my actions and not from them."—Hugh Prather (Writer, minister, and counselor, most famous for his first book, Notes to Myself, first published in 1970, 1939-2010)

"An act of goodness is of itself an act of happiness. No reward coming after the event can compare with the sweet reward that went with it."—Maurice Maeterlinck (Belgian playwright, poet, and essayist, awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911, 1862-1949)

Reading these quotes, I get the feeling that these people are not doing good things for others solely for the resulting pleasure of feeling good about what they've done and about themselves. They are talking about giving one's life away for some purpose beyond oneself that, paradoxically, results in a gain. As Christians we would call that the reward of the righteous.

Sources Consulted

W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, The Anchor Bible Commentary on Matthew

W. Argyle, The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew

Dallas J. Gingles, "Extrinsic and Intrinsic Rewards in Christian Ethical Traditions," Conversation held on June 18, 2014)

Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew, The Interpretation Series Commentary

Daniel Patte, The Gospel According to Matthew: A Structural Commentary on Matthew's Faith