Motives matter

Sermon: Sunday, 7th July, 2024
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:10-15

When it comes to being a follower of Jesus, our motives matter. God is not just concerned with what we do with our time and resources; he is also concerned with why we do what we do. In other words, God is concerned with the workings of our hearts.

‘For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’   (1 Samuel 16:7)

Jesus focuses on our motives a lot in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells us plainly that our Christian acts ought to be done in secret, so that we are doing them in order to please our heavenly Father, and not because we want others to think well of us:

‘Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’   (Matthew 6:1-4)

Our motives matter. We ought to give a portion of our money back to God, motivated by just how much Christ has done for us.

So, if we want to be a healthy gospel church, it is crucial that each of us thinks deeply about why we do what we do. What is motivating us? Why have we come to worship God today? Why do we spend our time the way we do? The truth is, because we are at the same time saved and yet still sinners, our motives are always mixed. We need to keep praying that more and more, the Lord would motivate us by the right things, and that we would not be motivated out of self-righteousness, pride, greed, guilt or laziness.

In 1789, an Anglican minister called Thomas Scott wrote his autobiography. He made a shocking admission that his ruling motives in becoming a minister were: a comfortable career, lots of leisure time, little labour and the accolades of men. As it turns out, at that point Thomas Scott was not a true believer in Christ. In the Free Church, one of the questions we are asked before being admitted to a pastoral charge is this: ‘Are not zeal for the honour of God, love to Jesus Christ, and desire for saving souls, your great motives and chief inducements to enter into the function of the holy ministry, and not worldly designs or interests?’ Again, our motives matter.

In Paul’s day, there is a group in the church in Corinth who question Paul’s motives for his ministry. They want to undermine his authority and his work by accusing him of being in it for selfish reasons. In this short section (2 Corinthians 5:10-15) Paul defends his own ministry, but giving us an honest account of some of the main things which motivate him. This is enormously helpful for us today, because we can learn from this, and prayerfully seek to be motivated by the same things as Paul. This is particularly helpful to our own church family at this time, as we have been spending time considering how we must serve God and others using our spiritual gifts. As we do this, it is vital that we also consider our motivation for serving Christ and one another. We must evaluate our own hearts. So, what motivates Paul?

1. The fear of the Lord

Of course, this ‘fear’ does not mean that we are scared of God in a negative way. He is our loving heavenly Father, after all. This ‘fear’ speaks of the reverential awe which all Christians should have towards God, their Master. Consider again these verses in our passage.

‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.’   (2 Corinthians 5:10-11)

There is something in us that would like to think that we can live any way we want and it doesn’t really matter. We like to think that we are not accountable to anyone else for our actions. But that is not true. As Christians, we know we will never be condemned by Christ; nonetheless, we must still appear before him to give an account of what we have done with all that he has entrusted us with. In others words, how we live our lives matters and is a serious business. It is wise to live with an eye to pleasing God our Father, and not ourselves or others.

‘For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God…’   (Romans 14:8-10)

Who do you live for? If you live for yourself then you are a selfish person. But is there someone better to live for? Absolutely. We were created by God in order to glorify and enjoy him. He deserves our service because he (not we) is the king of the universe, and he is loving and merciful and good. In fact, he is so kind that our service to him will have positive eternal consequences for us – treasure in heaven! Who do you live for and why? Ultimately, we are all answerable to God and will meet with him face to face one day.

Think of an apprentice who has just been taken on be a good company. She works conscientiously because she wants to please her boss. That’s a good thing. We too want to please our boss, who is our Heavenly Father. ‘We make it our goal to please him.’   (2 Corinthians 5:9)

2. God’s glory

Paul cares far more about God’s glory that what others think of him.

‘If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.’   (2 Corinthians 5:13)

Paul has obviously been accused of being fanatical in his devotion to Jesus. In the book of Acts, when Paul speaks of Jesus rising from the dead, the Roman leader Festus accused him of being mad: ‘At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defence. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane.’   (Acts 26:24)

Paul is in good company. Jesus’ own biological family thought he was mad: ‘When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’   (Mark 3:21)

What do you care most about? Is it what other people, such as non-Christian friends and colleagues think of you, or is it what God thinks of you? If you are motivated by being a people-pleaser, then it’s unlikely you will live wholeheartedly for Jesus and tell others about him. It is more likely that you will hide your Christian faith away and keep silent about the gospel. However, if we are God-pleasers, then we won’t care as much if we are laughed at, mocked or marginalised. We know living for God is what matters from an eternal point of view. And we also know that the souls or men and women are at stake and sharing the gospel is worth it, no matter how we are treated.

3. Christ’s love for his people

Paul is motivated by Christ’s love for him.

‘For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’   (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

This is a crystal-clear statement of what motivates and energises Paul: it is the love of Jesus. And in particular, what Jesus has done by dying on the cross for him. We see in verse 15 that the cross makes a radical difference in Paul’s life – he no longer lives for self but for Jesus.

As a church family, this is the heart-beat we want to have as we serve God each and every day. We want to be energised, not by guilt, but by the love of God and the grace of God. This is Paul’s secret for effective and fruitful Christian living.

There was once a woman who won an amazing trip around the world. However, she decided that she could not take up this great prize. When pressed why not, it came to light that her friend was in hospital and she wanted to be there for her friend more than she wanted the holiday. Why was that? It was because her friend had done so much for her at a time when she was a drug addict and lived a chaotic lifestyle and when no one else showed her love and care. Her friend had loved her so much in the past and so now it was a no-brainer- in her friend’s time of need, she would gladly and willingly be there to help. She was compelled by love. The more we actively remember what Christ has done for us, the more our actions will be controlled by that love.

Let’s go back to Thomas Scott, our Anglican clergyman with dubious motives. His autobiography moves on, and he is wonderfully converted. It’s so tragic that some ministers then and now are not true believers, but Thomas Scott’s motivation changed from selfish motivation experiencing being compelled by the love of Christ. He says: “My desire henceforth, God knoweth, is to live to his glory, and by my whole conduct and conversation, to adorn the doctrine of God my Saviour, and to show forth his praise, who has called me out of darkness into his marvellous light, to be in some way or other useful to his believing people and to invite poor sinners who are walking in a vain shadow and disquieting themselves in vain, to taste and see how glorious the Lord is and how blessed are those who put their trust in him.” Now Rev Scott is compelled by the love of Christ.

I agree with Douglas Kelly when he says: ‘We need nothing more in God’s church today in every country than a baptism of the love of the Lord Jesus afresh containing us in a God-ward direction. Ultimately, this constraint is the same love that the Father has to the Son through the Holy Spirit, a love which Augustine called ‘the bond of charity.’

‘… God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’   (Romans 5:5)

There are many other good things which motivate Christians to use our spiritual gifts and to live for the glory of Jesus Christ. But this morning I wanted to focus on two core motives found in this passage. Douglas Kelly summarises these: ‘This is Paul’s double motivation: he is constrained by the love of Christ, and he desires never to disappoint the Lord Jesus when he looks back on his life.’

Consider the words of Isaac Watts in the great hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross:

3. See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.