What Motivates Us?
What motivates us to act? Why do we do what we do? Christians know that they are to act out of pure motives, putting away those attitudes and evil desires that stand in the way of holiness. Peter wrote, “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Pet 2:1-3). Paul wrote, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry … But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices” (Col 3:5, 8-9). Nothing is to be done with selfish ambition or empty conceit, but with humility of mind following the example of Christ (Phil 2:3-5).
We are called upon to give constant consideration to our attitudes and desires to make sure we are acting out of love for God and others, which are to two greatest commands. We are to have the mind of Christ (Phil 2:3-5). Personal motives and attitudes can often betray us. We might try to put on a good face outwardly, but inwardly we may be filled with malice and envy, perhaps wishing the worst on another. This is what happened to Paul.
People often assume that others will act, react, and operate on the same basis that they do. If some are liars, they will assume that others are liars. If they operate “in the shadows,” they will assume the same of others. If they are willing to betray, they will feel that others are betraying them. If they are the envious type, they will assume that others will also become envious and act accordingly. They are suspicious of others because they themselves lack integrity. They see a dark world because their eyes are blinded to their own sinful attitudes. They cannot attribute good motives to others because they know their own motives are not good.
I believe this is the mentality that underlies that of the teachers who meant to do Paul harm while he was imprisoned. Here’s what Paul said in Philippians 1:15-17 about certain teachers: “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.”
Notice that Paul did not say that the content of what these men taught was in error. Rather, these teachers were preaching out of envy and rivalry, even if what they taught was true. They had selfish ambition and thought that their success in preaching would cause problems for Paul while he was imprisoned. How so? Likely by thinking that Paul would think and act the same way they do. Paul would become envious out of his own selfish ambition and thereby suffer at the success of others. Perhaps Paul would feel cheated out of due credit for bringing others to Christ or establishing more congregations.
However, as is also common among those who have such bad motives, they misjudged Paul. Paul did not think or operate on the same level that they did. He was not envious and showed no such self ambition. Paul’s attitude was displayed through his humility, which included rejoicing that truth was being preached. Again, these particular teachers are not said to be teaching error. Their problem was their motives. “What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice” (v. 18). What mattered to Paul here was that the truth about Jesus was being preached. Preaching the gospel was not about him.
One of the reason we need to root out evil motives in ourselves is because we will likely attribute the same evil motives to others. How we operate becomes, in our minds, how others also operate, and this does an injustice in our attitudes toward those we ought to be loving and serving. “Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:6-7).
Assume the best in others and perhaps that will also speak to purer motives in ourselves. If we have pure motives, we can start by assuming that others do as well. This does not mean everyone will have pure motives in the end, but if we cannot start by giving the “benefit of the doubt,” then our own bitterness will get in the way of being able to develop healthy relationships and serve one another through love.
Let us continually consider where our own motivations rest and always rejoice that Christ is preached.