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What Are Your Motives?

June 19, 2022 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 2:3

For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery.

Focus

People are motivated by many different things. Most of us have a variety of mixed motives in life, and that’s not necessarily wrong. But sometimes our motives reflect our sinful desires. Thus, we need to make an honest moral inventory, considering before God the “whys” of our life. Like the Apostle Paul and his colleagues, we should avoid “impure motives” for all we do in life and work.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.

Devotion

When I was in seventh grade I ran for class treasurer and lost. Later that year I ran for my school’s judicial council and lost. In eighth grade, I ran for class vice president and lost. But I kept on running for office, hoping that at some point I would prevail.

If you had asked me when I was in junior high school why I ran for office, and why I continued to run even when I kept on losing, I could have given you a good answer. I believed that involvement in student government at school would help me get a scholarship to college. I knew my family did not have the resources to send me to college. So, even in seventh grade, I was trying to build a strong enough record not only to get into college but also to get a scholarship. I worked very hard in my classes to earn top grades and I tried valiantly to be elected to the student office. (In case you’re wondering, I finally had electoral success, but not until high school. Whew!)

Now, when I ran for various offices, I had mixed motives. My ultimate, deepest motive was to be able to go to college. But I also wanted to serve my fellow classmates. I wanted to make our school experience better. I believed I could do this if I were a school officer. Obviously, those were the things I’d mention in my election speeches. I didn’t say, “Vote for me so I can go to college.” Rather, I said, “Vote for me and I’ll work hard to get better snacks in the cafeteria.” So, you could rightly say that I had mixed motives when I ran for office. On the one hand, I wanted to work for a teenager’s version of the common good. On the other hand, I sought to provide for my own educational future.

I’m not the only one who acts with mixed motives. All of us do so, at least to some extent. And that’s not necessarily wrong. It’s a normal part of being human. But sometimes our motives are not just mixed. They’re dishonorable, sinfully selfish, and downright wrong. These are motives we should avoid.

In their first letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul and his church-planting colleagues claimed not to have such improper motives. They write, “For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery” (2:3). The Greek word translated here as “impure motives” is akatharsia. It was used in a literal sense for “uncleanness, foulness, dirt, or filth.” Figuratively, akatharsia referred to “a state of moral corruption, immorality, vileness.” In some cases, it was used, as in 1 Thessalonians 2:3, for “impure motives” (see also the NIV and NLT).

As I mentioned in last Thursday’s Life for Leaders devotion, Paul and his co-writers were intentionally distinguishing themselves from others in the Greco-Roman world who went about preaching as if they cared about people’s wellbeing when, in fact, they were motivated completely by lust for money, power, or sexual favors. Their motives were, in a word, akatharsia. Paul and Co., by rejecting such motives, sought to earn the trust of those to whom they preached.

Again, let me say that having a variety of motives isn’t wrong. We see this very thing in 1 Thessalonians. Paul and his partners are motivated in their church-planting work by their desire to please God (2:4). They do their work because they care deeply for those they serve (2:8), because they will be rewarded by the Lord for their success in ministry (2:19), and because, in a sense, their very lives depend on the faithful resilience of their Thessalonian converts (3:8).

I would certainly admit to having mixed motives in my life, and not just when I was in junior high school. Take Life for Leaders, for example. I write these devotions because I want to see you grow in your relationship with God, connecting your faith to your daily life and work. I am motivated by my desire for you to live in a way that glorifies God and advances God’s work in the world. But I am also motivated by wanting to do my job faithfully so that I can continue to earn money to support my family (including me). Plus, I am motivated by the joy I feel when sharing God’s truth in Scripture with people who want to learn and grow. You could rightly say that I have mixed motives when it comes to Life for Leaders. But I’m pretty sure my motives are not akatharsia, at least I hope not!

The example of Paul and his colleagues encourages us to consider our motives for everything we do in life, including our work and our leadership. As we do this, we may find motives that are not honorable. In this case, we need to confess and ask God to cleanse our hearts and redirect our lives. As we reflect, we will likely find mixed motives for most things we do. But careful introspection may help us clarify our primary motives, to articulate the deeper “why” of our lives. Such clarity can refresh our passion, revitalize our joy, and renew our gratitude.

Reflect

Why do you do what you do in life? What are your fundamental motivations?

Do you think it’s true that most people have mixed motives? If so, why? If not, why not?

Are you ever motivated by dishonorable desires? Which desires can snag your heart?

To what extent does your faith in Christ affect your motives?

Act

Take time to reflect on your motives. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see what’s true about you. Talk with God about anything that needs to be changed.

Pray

Gracious God, again we thank you for the example of Paul and his colleagues. Thank you for their ability to say honestly that their motives were not impure.

Lord, you know me through and through. You know all of my motives, every last one. You see where my motives are not honoring to you. Help me to see with your vision, to be honest about myself. By your Spirit, may I confess anything that needs to be confessed, receiving your forgiveness.

I ask you to help me to be motivated by a vision of your kingdom, by a desire for justice and peace. May I yearn for people to flourish in your grace and truth. May I be eager for your church to grow in godliness and wisdom. May I truly seek your glory and delight above all else. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Lone Ranger Is Not a Team Player


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