Our Motives are Important

Proverbs 22:26-27
Do not be one of those who give pledges,
who become surety for debts.
If you have nothing with which to pay,
why should your bed be taken from under you?

God is just as concerned (perhaps more so) about why we do something than about what we do. Behavior which appears righteous on the outside may be sinful if done for the wrong reasons. Paul wrote an interesting description to Timothy:

2 Tim. 3:1-5 NRSV: You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them!

Now if you read up to the last part of this passage, you would think that Paul was giving his rather “typical” description of the unsaved. But then notice that last phrase: “holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power.” The power of God isn’t about changing our circumstances (as we would like to think) nearly as much as it is about changing our character. And it’s obvious from this passage that there are those whose lives appear to be Christian, who have an outward form of godliness. These are those of us who do things for the wrong reasons.

The Lord Jesus taught us this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers'” Matthew 7:21-23 NRSV

While it’s really painful for me to see these two passages together, it is another reminder that why I do something is as important as what I do. Do I do it to truly love sacrificially or do I do it to get attention, to get affection? Do I do something to honor God or do I do it to gain the praise of others? The passage in 2 Timothy begins with “people will be lovers of themselves.” It’s interesting that our churches have come to teach that we must love ourselves. I looked in many versions and the phrase was translated either “people will be lovers of themselves” or “people will be self-centered.”

Years ago, Jim Odens of PAGE Ministries came to our church to talk about theocentric Bible studies. The term “theocentric” means God-centered, for something to be centered around God and His character. When we are self-centered, we are concerned first and foremost about ourselves, our concerns, our future, our agenda. The Greek word is philautos. Strong’s translates it as “fond of self, selfish, lover of self.” The New Testament Greek Lexicon translates it as “too intent on one’s interest.” (The problem I have with that definition is that it’s so easy for us to excuse our behavior saying that we are not “too” intent, when, in fact, if we even say that, we likely are.)

What does all this have to do with the proverb? Well, it says not to cosign for someone else. There are several reasons for this including the fact that we aren’t supposed to get into debt in the first place. And if we’re not supposed to get into debt, then we shouldn’t help someone else get into debt either. But, more than that, we often cosign for others because we want to appear important, powerful, benevolent. We do it to inflate our appearance to that person, perhaps even to have them beholding to us. The fact is, in Luke 6:34-35, the Lord Jesus tells us to lend without hope of being paid back. If someone is in need, rather than helping them become more in debt, how much better would it be if we simply gave to them out of our stores? Then we are not cosigners and they are not in debt!

Lamentations 3:40-41(NRSV) says: Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven. Lifting our hearts (what we think) and our hands (what we do) to the Lord by testing and examining our ways and returning to Him by purifying our motives. I think that would be a good thing today.