Our Hearts, Our Motives
In this study we have been looking at three of Solomon's proverbs:
To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:3)
All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD. (Proverbs 16:2)
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 16:25)
Last week, we focused on the lives of Saul, David, and Solomon. We saw how each of them fell prey to sin while all the time feeling their ways were right. This week, we turn the tables for a more practical look. How do these proverbs apply to us?
As a child, I faithfully attended church every Sunday. I recall being asked on more than one occasion why this was. My reply was simple: "because my parents make me." I didn't particularly want to go to church--I went because I had to. In hindsight, I'm glad my parents brought me to church as a youngster--indeed, they were "training" me in the way I should go (Proverbs 22:6). As a child, I had little choice but to obey. But now, I do have a choice. And so do you.
Every day we make choices, and every choice we make is motivated by something. Our tendency is to judge ourselves and others based on the external, in relation to our own standard (or lack thereof); God's tendency is to focus on the internal, in relation to His standard. Our judgement is based not only on what we do, but also, why we do it.
When asked for his religious affiliation, Homer Simpson, the animated character of the popular TV show The Simpsons replies, "Oh you know . . . it's that one with all the well-meaning rules that don't work out well in real life . . . Christianity!" Though humorous in his typically irreverent reply, Homer Simpson sadly reflects how many perceive Christianity. Were this mistaken view confined to the secular world, one might conclude it stems from a misconception on the part of non-believers. But the troubling fact is that this view is held by believers and non-believers alike. Many of us today still go to church because we have to, not because we want to. Of our time and money, we often give out of compulsion, not joy. We apathetically tell others that we are a "Christian" in the same way that we might convey that we are "a sports fan," or "a student," or "married with three kids." It is not hard to understand why the non-believing world sees Christianity only in terms of rules and rituals--because for many Christians, that is all it consists of.
In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote the believers about a financial gift they had planned to give.
So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given. Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:5-8)
Here Paul tells the Corinthians that they should not give out of reluctance or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. At this point, I can almost hear the voices of some saying, "Oh great! It isn't enough that I have to do good things and give away my money, now you're saying I have to be happy about it!" But this is not at all what I am saying. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that one should not waste their time or money engaged in anything that is not motivated by a heart that wants to do it. If you don't want to go to church, don't go! If you don't want to give, don't give! Do we really imagine that God is pleased when we give him our time and money reluctantly or out of a feeling of compulsion? Would any of us be pleased if we received a gift given from such motivations? Of course not!
If we cannot give cheerfully, there seems little point in giving at all, whether it's of our time, talents, efforts, energy, or money. Why be miserable on earth giving God gifts that may not survive the test of time?
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. (1 Corinthians 3:11-14)
Clearly, there is a "quality" to the "good works" we do. But more than this, there is a purpose. As part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of believers as being both "salt" and "light."
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:13-16)
Here, we see the point of doing good works--so that God's name will be praised. That is why our hearts must be right in order to engage in truly good works. We cannot expect the world to praise God when they see believers doing good works motivated by unwilling hearts. Our motives do matter--that is the message of Proverbs 16:2.
In a world prone to cynicism, it would seem the problem isn't with too few Christians doing too few good works but rather, with too many "Christians" doing too many good works out of reluctance, compulsion, or other soiled motivations. It's not that the world lacks "salt," it's that too much of the salt lacks taste! It's not that the world hasn't been exposed to Christianity--it's that the world hasn't been exposed to Christians whose lives have been radically changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ! The world sees through the half-hearted lives of Christians and rightfully asks, "Why then should I become one?" Why indeed, if one's heart is not changed? For our part, the failure of the modern-day church to convey the good news of Jesus Christ has little to do with the message--it has to do with the messengers!
Christianity is not about rules and rituals. Those who see it in such terms ignore the freedom that is in Christ and shoulder a burden akin to the Law of Moses (Galatians 5:1). If we have experienced the love of God in our lives, we will want to do good works. If we lack the desire to do good, there is little point in faking it. The world sees through love that is not authentic--but it longs for love that is real. The love that could only come from God. The love that is the motivation for truly "good" works. For believers, this is the heart of the matter.
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:5-8)
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:34-38)
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Copyright © 1998 Tim A. Krell. All rights reserved. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV), Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
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