Our motives are what define us.
So often, we think “if I do good things, I will be known as a good person.” “If I am labelled by this job, or this skill or this talent, I will be known as ….” But I really feel challenged to think more internally.
Why do we do the things that we do? What are we hoping to accomplish with our goals, our tasks, our missions? In our darkest and deepest thoughts, what is motivating us to have the behaviours that we do?
Our motives are what define us.
The problem is, we rarely ever place thought into our motives. Sometimes the reasons behind our motives are so deeply buried, we wouldn’t even be able to identify them without help. Other times, people are intentional and know how to be manipulative and that becomes their motive. Regardless, our motives are what define us with every decision we make, conscious or not.
When we do something good, to look good in front of others, we’re not doing it from a good heart, but rather from an insecure place that needs validation to come from people telling me how thankful they are, how awesome we are, or what a difference we made. When we do something good for the purpose of “having good karma” as many say, we’re not doing good to make a difference, but rather we are hoping that we will get luck on our side so to speak. When we do something good, and we turn to Facebook to post about it, or brag to our friends, we are doing good to be able to boast in our own abilities. When we do something good, so that we can later use it to control someone, or have them reward us back we are doing good but out of manipulation. Those motives are wrong, even though the outward appearance can sometimes seem good.
Its important to be self-examining. Its also important to be committed to growth and learning, to maturing and developing yourself into the best version you can be. I believe that being aware of our motives is a huge step in this process, and I can say this from having learned these lessons in my own life. Luke 6:45 explains it well, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.”
It was Jesus who said that, and it was apart of his longest record message, the Sermon on the Mount. Over and over the point of this sermon was to constantly be reminded to watch our motives. Jesus mentioned the Pharisees often, and his extreme anger towards them to warn us – you see, a Pharisee was a super religious person, who followed the law to a fault and used the law to oppress others (reminding them they weren’t good enough because they didn’t obey every aspect of the law.) On the outside, the Pharisees seemed perfect! They followed all the rules, they obeyed every command and they made a big public example of how to behave, setting the bar high. So, why on earth would Jesus be full of anger towards them? Because of their motives, of course! Our motives are what define us. They were doing all these outward things to look good, get praise from others, and to be able to say, “I’m perfect, unlike you.” But their hearts were bitter and miserable. They were terrible to those who they considered to be less than them, and they did everything out of oppressive motives.
Jesus spent so much of that sermon and his other lessons teaching us the opposite – for example, a Pharisee would believe they were perfect for obeying the commandments, including “you should never murder.” Sure, they didn’t murder, but Jesus said “if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgement! If you call someone an idiot you are in danger of being brought before the court.” (Matthew 5:22) Jesus is tying to teach them that even though they didn’t physically murder someone, they still are at fault for having a heart full of hate or anger. Going back to the first reference I shared, out of an evil person’s heart comes all sorts of evil things, so do you really think your motives can be good when you are full of anger and hate? Will you look out for the person’s best interest? Of course not. So, while you are not murdering them, you still aren’t wishing them well, trying to help them or forgive them, and therefore your motives will start to be out of anger, and hatred, and as a result will produce nasty outcomes.
The author of the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon, was a man who became a King over Israel and asked God for wisdom. He wrote the book of Ecclesiastes to stop future generations from learning the hard lessons he had learned, including about our motives. In Chapter 4, verse 4, he writes, “Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors.” Is that why we choose the careers we aspire to? Is this why we raise our children the way that we do? Is this why we go into debt to have all the bells and whistles? Is this why we burn ourselves out trying to accomplish everything that we can? Is this why we have the relationship norms that we have? Is this why we have to go see the latest movie, or concert even though the scenes and words do not depict our morals? Is this why we are cruel to those we are jealous of, or show spite to those who have more than we have? Is this where our constant anger, jealously, resentment and bitterness comes from?
Our motives are what define us.
What motivates you?
I can honestly say that I am learning to be more aware of my motives and make sure they are right. I want to stand before God someday and say, “I did many good things out of pure motivation full of love.” I don’t want to say “Well you see God, they deserved it. They had it coming to them. They shouldn’t have treated me as they did.” I don’t want to stand before the creator of the universe making excuses. Ecclesiastes 11:10 says, “Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do.” This someday will come for all of us, because the only certain thing about life is that it ends.
I am human. I have flaws, and I always will. God doesn’t expect me to be perfect, He knows I never will be and I don’t expect that of myself either. In my imperfection, I make mistakes all the time, but the first step of trying to be aware of my motivation is helping me to mature immensely. Am I motivated to do right for selfish reasons, or because out of a good heart comes good things? Am I motived for human gratification, or for God’s? Am I motived to make the lives of those around me better? Motived to make this world a better place however I can?
Proverbs 21:2 assures me, “People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Galatians 1:10 says “Obviously, I’m not trying to get the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Lastly, Philippians 2:3 says “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” Over and over again, the Bible is full of verses like these, reminding us that even more important than what we do is why we do it. The world could be a better place if we all chose to do things entirely out of selfless love and not just to glorify ourselves.