Christian Living

Making Sense of Mixed Motives

For almost a year, I have published at least one new post per week on this site. That is, until recently. If you follow this blog, you may have noticed that it’s been a month since any new content has been published. Please accept my apologies for the month-long hiatus.

My reason for pausing was so I could determine if I should continue to post new content, or if I should allow the site to go silent. 

Don’t get me wrong; I love to write. I thoroughly enjoyed publishing my first book and I’m excited to hear testimonies of the impact it is making on churches currently without pastors. Publishing articles on this blog has also helped me to clarify my own thoughts on a number of different topics. So, please hear me when I say that I love to write.

My struggle is that while I love to write, I also love to be recognized for my writing. I love it when folks Like, Comment, and Share my posts on social media. I love it when I get a notification informing me that my stats are booming from a recent post. (It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I get excited!) I love it when other websites want to repost one of my articles to their site. Whenever those things happen, I tell myself that writers write to be read, and all of those experiences are indicators that my words are being read. 

While that statement is certainly true, I know it’s not the whole story. Whenever I find myself incessantly checking my phone to see how my latest post is doing, I have fallen prey to the sinful temptation of pride. While there is still a desire to help others, there is also a desire to be praised by others.

In other words, I have been struggling to make sense of my mixed motives.

The Problem with Our Motives

As I began to evaluate my motives, I was reminded that we are all sinful, imperfect beings. Even on our best days, we still stumble in many ways (James 3:2). I recognized that there’s often a veiled smidgeon of pride behind most of the articles that I write. My specific struggle was whether I want more people to read my posts in order to encourage more Christians or to make a name for myself.

Maybe writing is not your thing. But, if you are a Christian, you can likely identify with the internal struggle between pure and impure motivations for serving the Lord. 

Maybe you serve in your church’s worship ministry because you love to worship the Lord, but also because others praise you for your musical talent. Perhaps you serve in the Children’s Sunday School department because you want to help young people develop a biblical worldview, but also because you don’t think anybody else can teach as well as you. Maybe you serve on your church outreach team because you genuinely care about the lost souls in your community, but also because you like to impress others when you tell them how many people you’ve led to the Lord.

Motives Matter

As imperfect sinners who serve a perfect Savior, the reality is that our motives are not always as pure as we would like for them to be. As Paul described it, our members are often at war within us (see Romans 7:15-23). He reminds us, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21). Most of us can relate.

Whenever we serve the Lord with mixed motives, the impact of our service is severely hindered. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

In other words, motives matter. A lot. In fact, the bulk of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is focused on serving the Lord with proper motives.

Spiritual Paralysis

Whenever the Lord reveals that we are serving Him with mixed motives, the proper response is to confess and repent, and ask Him to replace our impure motives with pure ones instead. When David was confronted with his sin, he cried out to the Lord, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). That’s the proper way to respond.

However, I know that I’m often tempted to take a different approach. Perhaps you are too. Whenever the Lord reveals that our motives are not completely pure, the enemy often whispers softly, “If you can’t serve God with a pure heart, you shouldn’t serve Him at all.” 

Instead of responding in confession & repentance, Satan tries to convince us to respond with despair. To adopt a defeatist mindset. To conclude that we are unworthy to serve the Lord.

If we accept this logic, we will quickly find ourselves stuck in a state of perpetual spiritual paralysis, consumed with guilt and unable to serve the Lord in any capacity. It’s a hopeless predicament.

The Believer’s Response

What then? Should Christians stop serving the Lord because our motives are not always entirely pure? That’s the question that I have been wrestling with for the past month. Should I stop writing new content because I sometimes get more excited than I should when one of my posts receives a bunch of Likes, Comments, and Shares? 

The Apostle Paul faced a similar question. Not about writing, but about preaching. And not about his own preaching, but about the preaching of others. In Philippians 1:15-17, he identifies a group of men who are preaching the gospel with selfish motives: “To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment.”

At this point, Paul could have asked the Philippians to silence these men. Since they were not preaching the gospel out of love and good will, they should not be preaching at all. After all, he has never shied away from calling out false teachers in the past. Take – for example – Galatians 1:8-9 where Paul says, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!”

However, that’s not the approach that Paul takes here. Instead, he writes in Philippians 1:18: “What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.” 

If you’re like me, this is not the response I was expecting.

It’s important to note here that Paul does not excuse their impure motives, but neither does he try to stop them. He actually rejoices that the gospel is proclaimed, regardless of their motivations for doing so. As Matt Smethurst rightly observes, “The only thing that bothered Paul more than wrong motives was the wrong gospel.”

So, back to our question. Should Christians stop serving the Lord whenever our motives are not entirely pure? I believe the short answer is No. Should Christians leave those impure motives unchecked? I believe that short answer is also No.

Recommended Steps Forward

Here’s the longer answer. Whenever you find yourself wrestling with mixed motives for serving the Lord, let me suggest a few steps that have been helpful for me.

First, remember the gospel. The gospel reminds us that although we are still sinners, we are redeemed sinners. We have been justified by faith (Romans 5:1), and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). Apart from Christ, we are unworthy to serve the Lord. But in Christ, we are worthy because He is worthy. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Therefore, we don’t have to believe our enemy’s accusations about us.

Second, repent of your sinful motives. As I have already mentioned several times, our motives are not always pure. Although we are redeemed sinners, we are still sinners. Therefore, whenever the Lord shows you that your motives miss the mark, confess that to Him. As we read in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confess and repent of your sinful motives, and ask the Lord to change the desires of your heart (see Psalm 51). Then, get back to serving Him!

Third, recognize your gifts. The Lord does not intend for us to waste our spiritual gifts, but to use them for the good of others and the glory of God. Paul explains that we have received spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ through serving others (Ephesians 4:12). If we do so, we become good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Peter 4:10). If we fail to use them, we are poor stewards. Therefore, once you recognize your spiritual gift(s), you can rest assured that God intends for you to use them!

Finally, dedicate your service to the Lord. Paul exhorts us in Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Similarly, he says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Regardless of any other reasons we may have for serving the Lord, our primary motivation should always be to bring glory to God. If every other motive submits to this overarching goal, you will serve the Lord with a clear conscience, bearing fruit thirty, sixty, or even a hundredfold.

The Future of This Blog

As for my brief blogging hiatus, the Lord has shown me that I’m far from perfect. My motives are far from perfect. My posts are far from perfect. But I serve a perfect God who has given me a gift, and He intends for me to use it. Therefore, by His grace, I plan to resume writing for the good of others and the glory of God. Whenever He shows me that my motives have begun to miss the mark, I will confess and repent, and keep serving Him. 

I pray that you will do the same!

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

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