In this final post of the series on motivation for the mission, I want to touch briefly on the matter of impure motives. In former days, this was my main concern concerning motivation. Then I realized very few people had any motivation at all to speak, so I turned my attention toward increasing my own and other people’s motivation to tell the good news. That’s the part we have been emphasizing in this series.
Still, it is possible for people to speak about Christ with impure motives. My experience is that the temptation to do this will usually be associated more with teaching or preaching to Christians, not to telling non-Christians about Christ. It seems to me that our impure motives are more likely to lead us to want to be “up front” in the church than to talk to a non-Christian off in private somewhere. Still, it can happen, and Scripture has something to say about it. Part of the occasion of such words is that some people were questioning Paul’s motives.
Paul, however, denies that he has impure motives (1 Thessalonians 2:3). More specifically, he distances himself from those who were “peddling the word for profit” (2 Corinthians 2:17). While I think we can learn some things from effective business practices today, we must always remember that our calling is to telling not selling. And particularly, we do not tell others about Christ for any financial or other human benefit we may receive. Due to the power and deceptiveness of our flesh, we need to be very careful and discerning when we compare Christianity to business practices or seek to learn from them.
Nor is evangelism a way of “commending ourselves” (2 Corinthians 3:1-3; 5:12). This is similar to the equally distorted motive of “looking for praise from people,” whether it is those we are teaching or others (1 Thessalonians 2:6). We will not reach out faithfully nor authentically if we are thinking about ourselves and the benefits or affirmations we think we may receive.
We do not reach out to others because we are “competent in ourselves” either (2 Corinthians 3:5). Nor do we assert our authority (1 Thessalonians 2:6). We might express these distortions in contemporary terms by saying expert.
We do not regard people from a secular point of view (2 Corinthians 5:16). This could be done by expecting to receive something in return from those we speak to about Christ. We could fall prey to thinking they will be beholden to us. If the person happens to be wealthy or well-known or especially talented, we might get caught up in thinking that our church would really benefit from having someone like this. At a most crass level, if the person is handsome, winsome, or good looking, we might relish being with them for those reasons instead of the reason Christ has given us. Flattery and greed are specifically mentioned as wrong motives (1 Thessalonians 2:5).
Paul also said he avoided error and trickery (1 Thessalonians 2:3). Trickery sounds pretty crass to me, but it also occurs to me that we could be guilty of this in some subtle ways. For example, if we do not tell people the whole gospel, that is a form of trickery. I’m thinking especially about the tendency of telling people all about grace and forgiveness but omitting lordship and obedience. If instead of omitting lordship and obedience we delay it until after a person become a Christian, we are then guilty of another form of trickery, namely, bait and switch.
Paul also specifically stated that he was not trying to please people (1 Thessalonians 2:4). This is a perennial temptation. Similar to some of what we mentioned above, we may be tempted to “adapt” the message to people in such a way that it pleases them so that they will be more likely to accept it. If we do this, however, it is of no value whatsoever because the message they are accepting is not God’s message. Paul remained doggedly focused on pleasing God, knowing that God also tests our hearts (1 Thessalonians 2:4). He did this when he knew his hearers desired to hear a different message (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).
Paul in fact renounced all “secret and shameful ways” and refused to use deception or distort the word of God (2 Corinthians 4:2). The gospel itself is God’s power for saving people (Romans 1:16). Our commission is to tell the good news about Christ (Luke 24:46-49). If we ever use secret, shameful, deceptive, or distorted ways of “helping the person respond,” we have violated our stewardship and commission. We must remember that God “tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4) and seek to be absolutely pure in our work with others.
For too many years, I closed off my feelings because they were too painful to me and I didn’t know how to handle them. I didn’t realize I was doing so, nor did I realize what damage that does to one’s spiritual heart, including blinding us to our motives. Over the years, however, I became aware of what I was doing and sought to get my heart opened up to God. This process was more painful than feeling my emotions would have been in the first place. As I became more aware of what was going on inside of me, I was sometimes appalled at all the ugliness and sin God has shown me in my heart. Some of it was indeed some of the impure motives for reaching out to others mentioned above. We need to pray that God will reveal such things to us (Psalm 139:23-24) and cooperate with him as both we (James 4:8) and he (Psalm 51:10) do our part to purify our hearts. If our hearts are not right, we cannot please him, and we will also most likely distort the very work we are doing. For example, if our motive is to please people, we will not reach out faithfully (cf. Galatians 1:8-10).
In addition to asking God to search our hearts, another means to reducing and eliminating these unholy motives is to replace them by developing the godly motives we have described in this series. We can find positive motivation to tell others about Christ by the Lord’s instructions and example, by his great love for us, by our compassion for people, our strong belief in him and what he has done, our fear of the dire consequences people will suffer if they do not come to know him, being driven internally to tell news of such great importance, the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, and our desire to give glory to God. If you missed or want to review any of these motivations, the series begins here.
As always, I want to urge us not to allow these posts to be merely an academic exploration of the topic of motives. We need to actually find motivation to speak. This does not mean we have to have all the motivations, and we don’t have to have any of them to their full extent. But we do need to recognize that God providing motivations to reach out to others is a wonderful resource. We need to make the most of it. So, if we sense any of these powerful, positive motives welling up insides us, then by all means act on it. Be alert and make the most of every opportunity (Colossians 4:5-6). It is with the measure you use, that it will be measured to you, and more besides (Mark 4:24-25).
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