Why did I attend church? Why did I help that lady? Why did I refuse to lie to him? Do I sometimes do the right things for the wrong reasons, with the wrong motives?
It All Begins with Love
Jesus said the first command is to “love…” He said the second command is to “love…” The greatest commands are not “to do…” or “to not do….” (Matt. 22:37-40). Serving God begins in the heart. It’s about who we are – about why we do what we do.
God tells us, “If I give away all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don’t have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). It may well profit someone else – but it has zero value in my relationship with God! A verse earlier says, “If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don’t have love, I am nothing.” Great faith without love is nothing!
Jesus told the mega-crowd following Him, “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled” (John 6:26). They followed Jesus for materialistic reasons. Today’s “health and wealth gospel” comes to mind. Some people attend church to promote their business, or to get a girlfriend, or to seek a miracle. While following Jesus surely can bring blessings to this life, Jesus isn’t interested in crowds whose main motivation is this-worldly.
And listen to God: “I can’t stand evil assemblies. My soul hates your New Moons and your appointed feasts… when you make many prayers, I will not hear… Wash yourselves” (Isa. 1:13-16). God hates church attendance or any worship without repentance.
When you put money in the offering plate or box, what is in your heart? God tells us to give “not grudgingly or under compulsion (or “of necessity”), for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). The value of what we give is measured by what’s in our heart. For example, if we give a tithe because we “have to,” God is not pleased. But if we give willingly, cheerfully, God loves us.
“You ask, and don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives/wrongly/amiss so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). Are our prayers “Gimme, gimme”? How much of our prayers are for physical things and how much for spiritual things? Did you notice in the “model prayer” that the only physical request is “Give us today our daily bread”? “One day at a time” so the song goes.
How about the rest of the “model prayer”? “May your name be kept holy. Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven… Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Mat. 6:9-13). Is my relationship with God primarily about me serving Him, or is it about Him serving me?
We could go on and on. These few examples are just to illustrate the issue. And none of this is about judging the motives of others. We have enough trouble examining our own motives. “The heart is deceitful above all things and it is exceedingly corrupt. Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). God’s Word can help us examine our motives if we let it. “The word of God is living… and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). What are our motives in doing what we do?