Why do you do the things you do, not your words or actions, but your motives. What are your motives behind what you say and do?
In Matthew 6:1, Jesus gave a warning to the religious people, “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” Jesus knew their selfish motives, why they did their good deeds and charity toward others, so Jesus gave them practical ways to counter their selfish motives. For example, Jesus told them to give generously to others in secrecy or anonymously so people would not know who gave, but God would know (reference Matthew 6:3-4). Or, when addressing their motives for praying publicly, Jesus encouraged them to be consistent and genuine in their prayers when they were alone with God while no one was listening or watching, rather than offering long and showy prayers publicly for others to admire (reference Matthew 6:5-8).
After Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, James, the half-brother of Jesus, was convinced that Jesus was God, became a leader of the church in Jerusalem, and wrote the book of James to encourage Jewish believers in Jesus to persevere through trials they were experiencing because of their belief in Jesus. Like Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6, James addresses the motives behind their prayer life and the quarrels they were experiencing among themselves.
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. James 4:1-3
Both Jesus and James affirm that you should ask God for things, that God knows what you need and is willing to provide for you, but often you prefer to go after things on your own instead of asking God. But when you ask God, He is interested in your motives. Are your motives selfish and impure or selfless and pure? How would you know?
The apostle Paul, in First Corinthians, provides some instruction for how to determine the why behind what you say and do (i.e., your motives). The new believers in Jesus at the church in Corinth were struggling with cultural practices, specifically food and drink offered to false gods or idols. These new Christians wanted Paul to help them know what was acceptable, but more importantly, what would please God because they disagreed.
Paul does not give them a rule about food and drink consumption, but rather gives them principles to determine their motives behind what they do (or don’t do).
You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others. … So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. … I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 31, 33
Identify your motives.
Apply these questions to anything you say or do.
- Are you most concerned about your own good or are you more concerned about the good of others?
- Whatever you do, is God being praised (i.e., receiving the glory He is due)?
- When you do anything, is your motive based on what is best for others or primarily on what is best for you?
- Does another person’s faith/belief in Jesus impact what you do (or don’t do)?
Even with these evaluative questions, you may deceive yourself about your true motives. Ask God and rely on Him to help you identify your motives because God already knows your true motives. Ask God something like the prayer of David, “Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me. Test my motives and my heart” (Psalm 26:2). Also, realize that God exposes yours (and everyone else’s) motives as they truly are (Proverbs 16:2; 20:27; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).
But how much more pleasant is your life when you participate with God in your spiritual growth by asking Him to reveal to you your true motives and then you seek His purification and forgiveness for any selfish or impure motives He reveals.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. Matthew 5:8
Watch the LIVE REPLAY to learn more about identifying your motives. Join us LIVE every Monday at 3 p.m. ET on @GodGivesCourage Instagram for our Spiritual Growth Series and check back here on Tuesdays for the companion blog post.