Motives . . . we all have them, and, in fact, they run our lives on a regular basis. Vocabulary.com defines a motive as “your reason for doing something” (quote source here). Google defines it as “a reason for doing something, especially one that is hidden or not obvious” (quote source here). And, of course, an ulterior motive, as defined by Dictionary.com, is a motive that is “
The Bible has a lot to say about our motives. A motive is the underlying reason for any action. Proverbs 16:2 says, “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Because the human heart is very deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), we can easily fool ourselves about our own motives. We can pretend that we are choosing certain actions for God or the benefit of others, when in reality we have selfish reasons. God is not fooled by our selfishness and is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
Human beings can operate from a variety of motivations, often negative. Pride, anger, revenge, a sense of entitlement, or the desire for approval can all be catalysts for our actions. Any motivation that originates in our sinful flesh is not pleasing to God (Romans 8:8). God even evaluates the condition of our hearts when we give offerings to Him (2 Corinthians 9:7). Selfish motives can hinder our prayers. James 4:3 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Because our hearts are so deceitful, we should constantly evaluate our own motives and be willing to be honest with ourselves about why we are choosing a certain action.
We can even preach and minister from impure motives (Philippians 1:17), but God is not impressed (Proverbs 21:27). Jesus spoke to this issue in Matthew 6:1 when He said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Those involved in ministry must stay alert to this tendency toward selfishness, because ministry begun for pure reasons can quickly devolve into selfish ambition if we do not guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23).
So what is the right motivation? First Thessalonians 2:4 says, “Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts” (NLT). God is interested in our motives even more than our actions. First Corinthians 4:5 says that, when Jesus comes again, “he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” God wants us to know that He sees what no one else sees. He knows why we do what we do and desires to reward those whose hearts are right toward Him. We can keep our motives pure by continually surrendering every part of our hearts to the control of the Holy Spirit.
Here are some specific questions to help us evaluate our own motives:
1. If no one ever knows what I am doing (giving, serving, sacrificing), would I still do it?
2. If there was no visible payoff for doing this, would I still do it?
3. Would I joyfully take a lesser position if God asked me to?
4. Am I doing this for the praise of others or how it makes me feel?
5. If I had to suffer for continuing what God has called me to do, would I continue?
6. If others misunderstand or criticize my actions, will I stop?
7. If those whom I am serving never show gratitude or repay me in any way, will I still do it?
8. Do I judge my success or failure based upon my faithfulness to what God has asked me to do, or how I compare with others?
Personal satisfactions, such as taking a vacation or winning a competition, are not wrong in themselves. Motivation becomes an issue when we are not honest with ourselves about why we are doing things. When we give the outward appearance of obeying God but our hearts are hard, God knows. We are deceiving ourselves and others, too. The only way we can operate from pure motives is when we “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16,25). When we allow Him to control every part of us, then our desire is to please Him and not ourselves. Our flesh constantly clamors to exalt itself, and only when we walk in the Spirit will we not gratify those desires of our flesh. (Quote source here.)
Motives matter. One thing that separates biblical Christianity from almost every other religion is its laser-like focus on our hearts. Our Creator cares what we do, to be sure, but most fundamentally he cares how and why we do certain things. He’s interested in those intentions that are hidden from human eyes. He’s after our hearts.
Psalm 100:2 commands us to “serve the LORD with gladness.” This means that serving God can be an exercise in disobedience. (Yes, you read that correctly.) If our service springs from a heart that isn’t glad in God, it isn’t obedience. It’s sin.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus raises the bar even higher. Struggling with hatred? You have a murder problem. Lust? It’s adultery (Matthew 5:21–22, 27–28). And when you fast or give to the poor, Jesus says, make sure no one notices (Matthew 6:1–4, 16–18). God sees your heart, and his approval is enough.
And one more item I ran across on the subject of motives is the following very short chapter in a book titled, “This World: Playground or Battleground?” by Dr. A.W. Tozer (1987-1963), compiled by Harry Verploegh and published in 1989, that speaks to the issue of our motives.
by A.W. Tozer
THE BIG QUESTION AT LAST WILL not be so much, “What did you do?” but “Why did you do it?” In moral acts, motive is everything. Of course it is important to do the right thing, but it is still more important to do the right thing for a right reason. Intention is a large part of the action, whether done by good or bad people. The man who wills his enemy dead has, in the eyes of God, killed him already. “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Not the overt act, but the will and the intention constitute the guilt.
Any act performed for an evil or selfish purpose is a bad act no matter how good it may in itself seem. Any act done out of love is a good act, even if through ignorance or failure the outcome is not found to be good for the one concerned. A Christian mother, for instance, who rises in the small hours of the morning to care for a sick child only because she loves it and wishes it well is performing a good act even if in her ignorance she may actually harm the child by failing to care for it properly. And the mother who would rise in cold anger to look after a child she hated would be performing a bad act even if her superior skill enabled her to care for it well.
We should carefully consider our motives. Some day soon they will be there to bless us or curse us. And from them there will be no appeal, for the Judge knows the thoughts and intents of the heart.
(Article taken from “This World: Playground or Battleground?”, Chapter 15 )
The Bible has much to say about our motives and here’s a link to 46 specific verses related to our motives and their consequences. Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” And in I Samuel 16:7 we learn that “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Proverbs 21:1-8 also has a lot to say about how God examines our motives. Here are those eight verses from The Message Bible:
God Examines Our Motives
Good leadership is a channel of water controlled by God;
he directs it to whatever ends he chooses.
We justify our actions by appearances;
God examines our motives.
Clean living before God and justice with our neighbors
mean far more to God than religious performance.
Arrogance and pride—distinguishing marks in the wicked—
are just plain sin.
Careful planning puts you ahead in the long run;
hurry and scurry puts you further behind.
Make it to the top by lying and cheating;
get paid with smoke and a promotion—to death!
The wicked get buried alive by their loot
because they refuse to use it to help others.
Mixed motives twist life into tangles;
pure motives take you straight down the road.
Also, Jesus Christ stated in Luke 8:17, “ For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” And Jesus said it again in Luke 12:1-3, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.”
The heart attitude–our motives–are critically important to God. We may be able to fool everybody else on the planet, but God is never fooled. Never. King Solomon, considered to be the wisest man who ever lived, understood that very real fact, too. At the end of Ecclesiastes (usually attributed to his authorship) he made the following statement:
The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by One Shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.
Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
Indeed, motives do matter to God.
For He will bring every deed into judgment . . .
Including every hidden thing . . .
Whether it is good or evil . . . .
YouTube Video: “Gotta Serve Somebody” sung by Shirley Caesar: