Sunday, March 22, 2009

What is your motivation?

Some passages in the Bible, mostly the Old Testament, imply that one is saved through good works. That is, God weighs the good and bad deeds that each person commits during their lifetime. If the balance is reasonably positive, the individual goes to heaven. Other passages in the Bible imply that one is saved solely on the basis of one's faith. If the believer confesses sins, is genuinely repentant, and trusts Jesus, then he or she will be saved. In this case, good works and deeds can be expected as a logical consequence of having first been saved. This is mostly supported in the New Testament and a tenent of most Protestant faiths.

But, whatever you believe about salvation, whether good works are necessary for salvation or a fruit of salvation, do you do these things because people are watching or do you act the way you do because you are solely concerned with serving God?

A few nights ago there was a story on the local news about a “club” or “society” holding an auction for charity. It works like this: various members of the club donate items to be auctioned off and the proceeds are turned over to charity after money is taken out to pay for expenses, which includes tables of wonderful food, drinks, and sometimes a band. The charity is used as an excuse to have a big to-do.

Mostly in my single days, I attended various parties, picnics, museum shows, auctions, and balls given in the name of charity. The price of admission is given to the selected charity, after expenses, yet in the meantime, the participants, dressed to the hilt, are there to see and be seen. I knew some of the attendees – most of them did not really care about the actual charity or the people who were to be helped. Knowing that fact and feeling uncomfortable with the public show of “piety,” I eventually ended my membership in a particular society (club) and quit going to these events, opting, instead, to write checks directly to the charities of my choice.

Jesus often spoke of public piety. The gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6, begins with the words, “Be careful” or in some versions of the Bible it says "Beware." In Matthew, Chapter 6, Jesus is telling the disciples that they are to be very cautious when it comes to the motivation behind their good works. Improper motivation behind good works was a common and serious problem in that time - just as it is today.

Jesus first describes the hypocritical acts of piety, showing how artificial, phony and ostentatious false piety is. Then He tells the disciples the proper way that piety expresses itself. Further, each of the three sections contains verbatim, and almost identical, important phrases for emphasis: “they have received their reward in full,” also “done in secret,” or “who sees what is done in secret.”

Here are the specific verses from Matthew 6:1-8 and 16-18 of which I am speaking:

"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full."

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the [churches] and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

"But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen [spirit]. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."

"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen [spirit]; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

These verses show that Jesus is very concerned with shows of piety. The three forms of piety he described are: good works or charity directed toward man, our approach to God in prayer, and self-sanctification. Many Jews of that day had turned these things into acts of self-promotion and self-exaltation. Charitable deeds were announced so that the giver would receive credit or praise from mankind. Prayers were done in public so that everyone would know how religious the person was. Similarly, men who fasted let everyone know the pain they endured to receive glory from men.

The central problem behind these very public acts of piety is the fact that they are not done out of a genuine desire to please God and be faithful to Him, but rather to gain standing before men. Jesus forces us to examine our hearts to look to the motivation behind our charitable acts. Although most religions speak of charity as steps toward salvation, Christianity views them as fruits of a redemption already achieved through Christ.

The philosophy of this world tells us the very opposite of what Jesus says. It says that man’s chief end is to seek happiness or personal fulfillment or self-esteem. When men do good works to be seen by men they are really seeking to please themselves or their own ego by glorifying self. Paul taught the same principle when he said that all of our obedience, even under the eye of men, must be done with sincerity or literally singleness of heart to Christ (Eph. 6:5). There should be no ulterior motive, false pretense, or egotism involved in charitable works.

“How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).

Matthew 6 speaks against man-made rituals which includes, in my opinion, the man-pleasing entertainment of the church's “praise movement” where most of the congregation stands, some raising hands in ‘praise’, some shedding tears, while the band on stage puts on a ‘praise’ show. Think for a moment what church services would be like today if the central motive was not to please men but, instead, to please God. All the pomp and ceremony of modern worship would disappear.

Jesus also said “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). In chapter six Jesus tells the disciples that their good works must be done in secret, while in chapter five He tells them that the light of their works must not be hidden under a basket, but placed on a lamp stand so men can see these works.

Is this a contradiction? No, it is not – for the following reason:

Each of these teachings is speaking to separate issues. In the first the Savior is warning against cowardice because the disciples’ job is to spread the gospel of Christ in a fallen world. This requires courage and good works that are in public. In the second teaching Jesus is not dealing with courage, but self-exaltation or improper motives. He speaks against attracting attention to oneself in order to glorify oneself. A charitable deed should not be advertised by the one performing the deed. A charitable deed does not necessarily mean you are of good character, either. It depends on your motivation. God sees your character every day, who you are and what you do, when you think no one is looking.

Our charitable work should be done for God alone. To see and be seen by society or by fellow church members should not be the motivation.

So, just what is your motivation for your charitable works?