About Pure Motives

By Keith Miller | May 10, 2010

Keith, I hesitate to write you about this problem because it seems so ridiculous.  But as a Christian, I am bothered continually about whether I am unselfish or not.  Several times a day I will ask myself, “Are my motives really pure or is there a little selfishness in this act?”  It’s getting so that I hesitate to do and say even kind things because I don’t want to be a hypocrite and I’m not sure if my motives are unselfish or not.  Help!

Once when I was going through a period of worrying about my motives, I was reading a book by William Law.  In it he said something to the effect that if you don’t know your motives are selfish or not, assume that they are selfish and you will be right a very high percentage of the time.  But the point is that my job for God is to surrender my whole life, impure motives and all, because everyone evidently has some impure motives that they can’t even see.  We have to ask God to show us where we are ‘impure’, and then get about trying to listen and love people who are lonely, scared or confused and pay attention to them to let them know that God cares for them.  Gradually, when I’ve tried to surrender my life to God and ask him to reveal to me where my motives need changing, He has shown me places where I need to change.

Since that time, I have learned that virtually all my motives are at least tainted with selfishness due to the human part of me that wants approval, that wants to “do it right,” and be admired.  In fact this almost universal tendency among human beings to put ourselves in the center is one form of what the late William Temple called “Sin.”

Temple said that there is only one Sin (with a capital S) and it is characteristic of every person.  That sin is putting one’s self in the center where only God belongs.  All other sins (with a small s), like gossip, gluttony, envy, murder, rape, theft, adultery, (among many others), are things we do because we have put ourselves in the center through this Copernican shift.  Even if we’ve never committed “sins” that are crimes, when we are in that central position (where only God should be) we become focused on how we “look” to others around us and it is in this place that I’ve found myself many, many times. I still catch myself “painting the best picture” of who I am and what I’m doing.  I used to not understand that I was denying or not facing my self-centered motives.  Then I read that Jesus confronted the Pharisees for the same kind of denial when he said they could see the tiniest speck of sin in anyone else’s life but couldn’t see the log of the same sin in their own eye.

Realizing that this condition called “Sin” (with a capital S) causes virtually all my motives to be tainted with selfishness, I still didn’t want that seemingly inevitable circumstance to get in the way of my attempts to love God and other people by causing me to hold back until I could act out of pure motives.  While perfection is a great concept, and striving for it definitely has a place in clearing up problems in my life, actually achieving perfection in my human situation has been impossible for me.  It seems to me that this state of affairs is one of the major reasons God sent his son—because we need to be rescued from our inevitable imperfection.

So although I don’t know about solving the mixed motives dilemma, when impossible questions or problems about my own motives surface, I stop and confess my condition of mixed motives to God. And having made that confession, I try to go on and love people, listen to them and help them, realizing that my motives are always mixed.  This has saved me a lot of unproductive worrying time.  And it feels better to me to go ahead and help people though not being sure of my motives, than not to help them in order to make sure I am keeping myself clean.  So it’s just another leap of faith that I have to make on a regular basis.  This is more, I realize, of a confession of having mixed motives rather than a “solution”.  But it’s the best I can do right now.

God, I am a totally self-centered you-know-what.  I confess it.  My worry about my motives has shown me in a subtle way how self-centered I am.  Thank you, God, that you sent your son to forgive and to love those of us who see our selfishness, and that you can use people like me with mixed motives to help in the loving and freeing of other people.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.

So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on! And I’m going to keep that celebration going because I know how it’s going to turn out.

Philippians 1:15-21, The Message

Topics: Christian Living, Weekly Devotional | Comments Off on About Pure Motives
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