Motive Matters

Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ 

Expediency ask the question, ‘Is it politic?’ 

Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ 

But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’”

(Martin Luther King, Jr.)

People make decisions for a lot of reasons and most of them are not good. Of the four choices mentioned by Dr. King, only one – conscience – is right. All others lead to trouble and, in the end, destruction. While I counsel people to listen to their conscience, I also encourage them to examine the scriptures and their conscience side by side and consider the possibility that their conscience is not biblically trained. (All consciences need some reckoning with biblical truth regardless of how one grew up.) Nonetheless, when all is said and done, they must do what they believe is right.

There was a time, when with all the discernment of a proud Pharisee, I would glibly judge a man’s motive. Having been burned by my pride and the guile of others’, I try not to presume anymore. Being that we all struggle with our motives, we must judge ourselves and do so strictly and humbly. Especially leaders. Doubtless we’ve all made decisions as cowards, as politicians, and some with much vanity. Some have decided spiritual issues based on what’s good for business and many make choices simply to “save face” and stubbornly refuse to change course. We all have a lot of decisions to make and the first question one must learn to ask in decision-making is the question of their own motive. After all, this will come up at the Bema!

If pleasing God is our motive, then at some point, scripture and its principles enter into the picture. In decades of pastoral ministry, I have been unpleasantly surprised at the absence of biblical thinking going on in the lives of many outstanding people I have known. Little mention is made of biblical parallels, principles, or truths when arguing a point of view. The absence of biblical precedent in their thinking and discussion may indicate nothing at all or it may indicate a great weakness in the body – weak minds not renewed and not saturated with the Word of God. It is not expected that all would think like they had theological training but it is expected that believers who have sat under years of preaching and teaching should have some scripture seep into their thinking. Maybe that’s not the weakness though. Maybe it is just cowardice. Maybe many of our leaders are political. Maybe? It is a sad state of affairs when men of God put their agendas, their careers, and futures ahead of the glory of God, the name of Christ, and the welfare of His people.

Not all the things one can do are things that one should do. Paul, in addressing the Romans and the Corinthians on the matter of making difficult decisions, makes others the high priority. “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). People matter to God. Do they to you? No, we’re not prisoners of others’ expectations, misguided convictions, and untrained consciences. That’s not the issue. But we are our brother’s keeper and we should not put him in a place of danger or temptation with our liberty. “It is good not to… do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Rom. 14:21). Standing fast in our liberty is not a matter of protecting my personal liberty but a matter of living by grace. And doing so for the sake of God and for others. Restricting my liberty is not legalism, it is a matter of being a channel of grace and, thereby, extending grace to others. It is also a personal means to grace and growth – one that is sorely needed in the body of Christ today. Paul’s discussion on the matter of freedom in Galatians five includes a description of those who stand in freedom as producers of fruit akin to the nature of the Spirit and character of Jesus. This “standing fast in freedom” builds others and glorifies God. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity…, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself’”(Gal. 5:13-15). Those who don’t stand in liberty are a danger to themselves and others. They have a spiritually macabre propensity to “bite and devour one another” and to please their flesh causing strife and division. Such ugly behavior appears in all who abuse freedom – libertines or legalists. They both bite and devour because they are both selfish and self-serving. (And that style of “gospel living” will not attract even the most lost among us!)

Paul is not defending one side of an issue or another. He is jumping all over one’s motive. Motive matters. You can be right theologically and dead wrong in your behavior. You can also be wrong theologically but still be right in how you carry out your position. And how about the times where we’ve been wrong on both accounts? If your motive is the glory of God and the welfare of others, you will find the right way to come out at the right place. You will be a discerning steward of grace rather than an ugly opportunist. To claim your liberty at the expense of others in order to make a selfish decision is wrong. On any side of any issue.

Make your choices according to grace. Train your conscience in grace and discern how best to channel God’s grace to others thereby. Grace is not your privilege and license but God’s gift to be exercised in a wise stewardship. Steward wisely. You will rejoice now in this life and later at the Bema. I don’t know about you, but like Paul, “I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting” (1 Cor. 9:15).

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved (I Cor. 10:31-33).

 

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