In human relationships, motives matter. We have understood that truth in our marriages, in our friendships, in our relationships with parents, and in the business world. First, consider the business world. This is a well-known statement: "There are no free lunches." In the business world, if someone other than a friend takes you out for lunch, there is a business reason. There is a business motive for taking you to lunch.
Second, consider personal relationships. Those of you who are single, think with me for a moment. If someone that you hardly know of the opposite sex begins to send you a gift every week, how does that affect you? If you hardly know the person, a likely first reaction will be, "Why is he (she) sending me gifts?" As you continue to receive gifts week after week, the next likely reaction will be suspicion: "What does he (she) want?" If the gifts continue to come, and you still don't know why you are receiving them, just receiving the gifts can become frightening. You likely will regard receiving a gift as an act of harassment. Gifts received for unknown motives are suspect.
Husbands, suppose we really "outdo ourselves" in being thoughtful, caring, and considerate to our wives, far beyond the bounds of our usual behavior. We know we are in trouble if she reacts to our uncommon consideration and asks, "Just why are you being so nice to me?" She wants to understand the motive behind our behavior. Wives, when (if?) we husbands show extraordinary kindness and attentiveness, what is the first question that enters your conscious thinking? Is it, "What does he want?" or, "What has he done?"
In every relationship context, motives are critical. The way we react to other people's actions and deeds will almost always be determined by our perception of their motives.
Human motives are as important to God in our relationship with Him as motives are in our relationship with each other.
- Thus far in our examination of Jesus' sermon in Matthew 5, 6, and 7, we have noted:
- Jesus began by giving his description of a righteous person. The righteous person:
- Recognizes his or her own spiritual poverty.
- Is grieved over that poverty.
- Is gentle or meek.
- Hungers and thirsts for righteousness.
- Is merciful.
- Has a pure heart.
- Is committed to promoting reconciliation.
- Will endure hardship and opposition for Jesus' sake.
- Next, Jesus stated how the righteous person would function in an unrighteous society.
- He or she would be light.
- He or she would be a saving or preserving influence, like salt.
(Transition: tonight, Jesus focuses us on the motives of a righteous person. Jesus emphasized that in being righteous, motives matter.)
- Jesus began with a warning: Do not perform godly acts for the purpose of bringing attention and praise to yourself; if you do, that is the only reward that you will receive.
- Let's clearly understand the warning.
- The warning does not focus on the visibility of our good deeds, but on our personal motives for doing the good deeds.
- Remember, in this very same sermon, in chapter 5:16 Jesus has already said, Let your light shine before men in such a way as they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
- Our good works are to be open and obvious--we do not shun visibility.
- But we are not calculating in our good deeds; we do not perform them in a manner that promotes self rather than God.
- If we do good deeds and religious acts to win praise and promote ourselves, the praise and attention that we receive is our reward for what we do, and our only reward.
- The only reward that we will receive is human praise; there will be no reward from God.
- When we receive the praise we were seeking, we are at that moment paid in full.
- We got what we wanted; we achieved our objective; there is nothing further to be received from God.
- Jesus clearly illustrated his warning by using three common examples that occurred every day in their society. Example # 1: the practice of giving alms or giving assistance to the disabled.
- That is still an important good deed, an important religious deed in Arabic cultures and in a number of third world countries.
- It served a purpose close to the intent of our social security system.
- The handicapped and disabled must be cared for even in a poor society, and Israel was a poor society.
- It was the responsibility of the disabled to publicly ask for alms.
- It was a godly act, a good deed, to give something to those in need.
- There is a tremendous emphasis in the Old Testament on the importance of helping those in need.
- Jesus continued that emphasis in his teachings.
- You and I would view standing on the street asking for help from strangers as undignified and shameful, but it was the responsible thing to do then.
- The warning: when you give help to a needy person requesting your help either in the synagogue or on the street, do not give your help in a manner calculated to attract attention to yourself, or act for the purpose of gaining praise from others.
- To do so is an act of hypocrisy.
- Because you are making a public declaration of concern for "this poor, unfortunate person" when your primarily concern is not for the person.
- You are primarily concerned about shaping and influencing other people's perception of you.
- Since your real motive is to gain attention and praise, when you receive that attention and praise, you are paid in full.
- When you give help to another, do it quietly, in genuine concern for the person as an act of your devotion to God.
- People do not have to know what you have done for God to see what you have done.
- Example # 2 concerned personal prayers that were prayed in public (this is not speaking of assembly or group prayers where one person is leading a collective prayer).
- Praying private prayers publicly was a common, accepted practice that was so common place you likely were regarded to be odd if you did not do it.
- That was why a person went to the temple daily if he lived in Jerusalem.
- That was commonly a part of synagogue practices.
- It still occurs in Jerusalem every day at the wailing wall, the only remaining remnant of the temple.
- At some point that practice had evolved into at least some praying personal prayers aloud in public.
- It became a means of attracting attention to yourself as you prayed your personal prayers.
- If a person prayed his personal prayers aloud in public to attract attention and win praise, then he was paid in full when he received the attention and praise.
- Jesus said the person who did that was hypocritical.
- He publicly presented himself as communicating with God, but his primary objective was creating an image for himself, not communicating with God.
- Jesus then presented some new emphasis and concepts concerning personal prayers.
- Meaningless repetition does not impress God--that was an idolatrous concept.
- God is completely aware of our needs before we ask for His help; the objective of personal prayer is not to inform God.
- In personal prayer:
- Honor and praise God.
- Pray for God's purposes to be achieved.
- Ask God to supply your physical needs (not your wants--prayer is not a tool to be used by our greed).
- Ask for forgiveness from God as you are willing to extend forgiveness to others.
- Ask God to guide you away from temptation and to deliver you from evil.
- This focuses on the basic concerns of the righteous person:
- Honoring God.
- Commitment to the will and purposes of God.
- Receiving basic physical necessities.
- Receiving forgiveness.
- Receiving guidance away from temptation.
- Receiving deliverance from evil.
- Jesus ended this emphasis with a sober admonition: forgive if you want God to forgive you.
- Example # 3 concerned the practice of fasting every week.
- The practice of weekly fasting arose in Israel as a means of declaring humility before God.
- In many past generations, Israelites suffered severe consequences because their pride made them stubborn before God.
- The primary message intended by weekly fasting was this: "God, I am not stubborn and I know my place. You don't have to punish me to teach me my place."
- But they perceived a problem with fasting as a private act: other people would not be aware that you were fasting.
- In the same spirit and with the same motives of the other two examples, it was important to make others aware that you were fasting.
- So they put flour on their faces and wore somber expressions to attraction attention to the fact that they were fasting.
- Jesus said the attention was their reward; they were paid in full.
- Again, he said such activity was an act of hypocrisy.
- They gave the public appearance of humbling themselves; actually, what they were doing was an act of pride because they coveted the attention of others.
- If you are fasting as an expression of humility before God, don't make your fasting apparent to others.
- God sees and accepts when people can't see.
Alms, prayers, and fasting were long established, unquestioned expressions of righteous commitment to a godly existence. Absolutely nothing was wrong with any of those three acts--unless they were performed for the wrong reason in wrong motives. Done for the right reason and right motives, they were godly acts. But done for the wrong reasons and motives they were ungodly acts that resulted in God's rejection.
Consider a couple of examples that relate more to our realities in religious practices.
- Example #1: a Christian has just arrived in a community and is establishing a new business in the area.
- His desires and his motives:
- He wants to establish the best and most profitable contacts in the area, so he chooses a congregation that has the greatest potential to help his business.
- He gets involved in that congregation in every high profile manner available to him.
- What he does is good--there is nothing wrong with his deeds and actions, but his primary motive is not serving the Lord, but building his business.
- Good deeds, good involvement, wrong motive.
- He builds his business; he accomplished his objective--paid in full.
- Taking tax credits for our contributions to the congregation.
- Is that wrong? Not to my understanding.
- In my personal judgment, it is a responsible act of good Christian stewardship.
- Personally, I can use more money for specific support of congregational projects and works if I accept tax credits for my contributions.
- I never want to stop growing as a better steward of all of God's blessings, and I want to constantly grow in generosity.
- But there is a difference in a Christian using tax laws to be a generous, better steward, and a Christian using tax laws strictly as a good business decision.
- Regardless of our motives, the funds we give will benefit the congregation or the godly work, just as the giving of alms benefited the needy person regardless of the motive of the giver.
- But our personal motives will determine if our generosity is of spiritual benefit and reward to self.
We need to jump ahead in Jesus' sermon to emphasize an important truth. If a Christian brother or sister is personally convinced that it is wrong for him or her to take a tax credit for his or her contributions, then he or she should not take it. I should not judge him in his decision, and he should not judge me in mine. At the beginning of chapter 7 Jesus addresses this truth.
One of many things you nor I can do is accurately determine and judge the motives of another person. God knows my motives, and if they honor him, he accepts them. God knows your motives, and if they honor him, he accepts them.
When it comes to motives, we each are responsible to be aware of our own; we each are responsible to honor our own consciences in a manner that is true to our motives; and we each are responsible not to pass judgment on each other's motives.
We must never forget that in godly acts and deeds, motives matter.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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