01 Mar Mixed Motives and the Unchanging Gospel
My story is like many others I know—I was raised in the church. However, growing up outside the “Bible Belt” did allow me more wiggle room than many others I have come to know since moving to the South.
My life as a child revolved around the things that I did at church. It was the same for every friend that I was remotely close to, so I didn’t think anything of it. We all went to church, were involved in small groups once in high school, went on mission trips over the summer, served in different ways, and were baptized after sharing our stories with the entire church.
This created a motivation in me that I realized later was somewhat the opposite of what some Christians experienced. In my world, good was cool. Well-behaved was idolized. Spiritually deep was “in.” So the things I would do to get the approval of man ended up looking a lot like what I was actually called to do as a believer.
This has created an issue that I still struggle with today. If my worship, service, or ministry is done sometimes for myself, is it still good? I can watch fruit come, but if my motivation is sinful, is the service itself wrong? And worst of all: am I incapable of serving the Lord for the right reasons?
“If my worship, service, or ministry is done sometimes for myself, is it still good?”
Thankfully, as usual, I can find my answer in Scripture. In Philippians 1, Paul is writing from jail, and discussing the actions of the new believers that he is hearing about outside of his cell.
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment” (vs. 15-17, ESV).
We see conflict here. Christians obeying the call given to all to preach and spread the good news of what Christ had done, yet for different reasons: some motivated by a love for their God and some by a love and promotion of self.
However, this should come as no surprise. We know as believers that we are all broken and fallen. We strive to be more like our Savior, but we will fail. Though we love, we don’t always love well. Though we forgive, we can still hold grudges. Though we lift others up, sometimes we lift ourselves even higher.
Yet, Paul finishes this passage with one sentence that disregards all of this. One sentence that offers one of the biggest comforts that we can know in this life.
“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Vs. 18, ESV).
Whether in pretense or truth. Whether in selfish ambition or in selfless kindness. Whether in pride or in humbleness.
Our motivations cannot change the truth of the gospel. Our own brokenness cannot break what He has already done. Our shortcomings cannot and will not allow His love to come up short.
How much peace we can find in this truth!
It is so good to know and rest in the idea that the advancement of the kingdom and the spreading of His love that we are called to cannot be stopped by our sin.
“Our motivations cannot change the truth of the gospel. Our own brokenness cannot break what He has already done.”
God would not have called us to a mission that we were incapable of completing through His power. He loves us, and loves to use us despite how we fail. We may use our gifts for ourselves sometimes, and we may even mask that as using them for Him. However, as long as we are serving Him, advancing His kingdom, and pointing others to Him, we are still following His call.
Now, this is not our catch-all excuse for being selfish and self-promoting. I don’t think that Paul would encourage us to continue in these mixed motives. He is simply reminding us of the end goal: the gospel reaching the nations.
We shouldn’t be self-promoting. We shouldn’t be selfish. We shouldn’t seek our own fulfillment over the greater mission.
However, that will happen. We will mess up, and Paul is simply encouraging us to know that at the end of the day, Christ is being preached, and that message is more powerful than our selfish motivations.
In an odd way, I find great comfort in knowing that God is fully aware of my inability. He is more aware of my brokenness and sinfulness than I am. And even more, He knew all of that when He chose to sacrifice Himself for me.
But now that I know this, what now?
I think, for me, the place I’ve decided to start is simple recognition. Acknowledging that I do the right thing for the wrong reasons is helpful because it allows me to watch myself and be more aware of my own intentions.
“He is more aware of my brokenness and sinfulness than I am. And even more, He knew all of that when He chose to sacrifice Himself for me.”
Once I notice times when I serve Him to serve myself, I can then correct those thoughts, or pray through the situation, asking for help in realigning my motives.
The greatest comfort of all is that He is ready and willing to meet us in these moments, giving grace upon grace, pointing us towards Him, so that we may become even more effective in our service.
Our motives will never be pure; His forever will be. Praise Him who draws our eyes to His, redirects our hearts, and shows us where our affections should lie: On Him, the one who loves greatest of all.
Zack is a recent graduate of Clemson University and is employed as an Emergency Nurse in Greenville. If you want to get him talking, feel free to bring up any and all of the following topics: avocados, woodworking, C.S. Lewis, handwriting, healthcare, or mountains. He attends our Downtown campus and serves in student ministry there.