Grace and peace be unto you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!
This week we continue with our series on “Returning to Holiness”. We would be examining the sin of attitude and conclude with what the Bible has to say about our motives.
The Sin of Attitude
Writing from a prison cell in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote about the attitude a Christian should have: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ …” (Philippians 1:27). The “whatever happens” here is a reference to whether Paul can come to visit the Philippians or not. Paul gave this instruction so that “… whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel”. No matter what unexpected disruptions, frustrations, or difficulties come our way, we are to respond with a Christ-like attitude. Paul later writes, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:5). He is talking about demonstrating humility and selflessness in relationships. He also encourages us in Ephesians 5:1 to be “imitators of Christ as dearly beloved children.” As children love to imitate what they see and repeat what they hear; we also are charged to imitate and model Christ’s behaviour and to be clear reflections of the Lord (Matthew 5:16).
Jesus maintained a perfect attitude in every situation. He prayed about everything and worried about nothing. We, too, should seek God’s guidance about every aspect of our lives and allow Him to work out His perfect will. Jesus’ attitude was never to become defensive or discouraged. His goal was to please the Father rather than to achieve His own agenda (John 6:38). In the midst of trials, He was patient. In the midst of suffering, He was hopeful. In the midst of blessing, He was humble. Even in the midst of ridicule, abuse, and hostility, He “made no threats . . . and did not retaliate. Instead He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
Our attitude should be as Christ’s
When Paul writes that our “attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,” he had summarized in the previous two verses what such an attitude was: selflessness, humility, and service. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). In other words, the attitude a Christian should reflect is one that focuses on the needs and interests of others. Without question, that does not come naturally to us. When Christ came into the world, He established a whole new attitude to relationships with others. One day when His disciples were arguing among themselves regarding who was to be greatest in His kingdom, Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). Jesus is teaching us that, when we become preoccupied with our own things, it can cause conflicts and other problems with people we know. Instead, God wants us to have an attitude of serious, caring involvement in the concerns of others.
Paul speaks more about this Christ-like attitude in his letter to the church in Ephesus: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Many religions of today, including the New Age philosophies, promote the old lie that we are divine or that we can become gods. But the truth of the matter is that we will never become God, or even a god. Satan’s oldest lie was promising Adam and Eve that, if they followed his advice, “you shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5).
Each time we try to control our circumstances, our future, and the people around us, we’re only demonstrating that we want to be a god. But we must understand that, as creatures, we will never be the Creator. God doesn’t want us to try to become gods. Instead, He wants us to become like Him, taking on His values, His attitudes, and His character. We are meant to “be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23-24).
Finally, we must always keep in mind that God’s ultimate goal for His children is not our comfort, but the transformation of our minds into the attitude of godliness. He wants us to grow spiritually, to become like Christ. This doesn’t mean losing our personalities or becoming mindless clones. Christlikeness is all about transforming our minds. Again, Paul tells us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
It is God’s will that we develop the kind of mind-set described in the Beatitudes of Jesus (Matthew 5:1-12), that we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), that we emulate the principles in Paul’s great chapter on love (1 Corinthians 13), and that we strive to pattern our lives after Peter’s characteristics of an effective and productive life (2 Peter 1:5-8).
What the Bible says about our motives
A motive is the underlying reason for any action. Proverbs 16:2 says, “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Because the human heart is very deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), we can easily fool ourselves about our own motives. We can pretend that we are choosing certain actions for God or the benefit of others, when in reality we have selfish reasons. God is not fooled by our selfishness and is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
Human beings can operate from a variety of motivations, often negative. Pride, anger, revenge, a sense of entitlement, or the desire for approval can all be catalysts for our actions. Any motivation that originates in our sinful flesh is not pleasing to God (Romans 8:8). God even evaluates the condition of our hearts when we give offerings to Him (2 Corinthians 9:7). Selfish motives can hinder our prayers. James 4:3 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Because our hearts are so deceitful, we should constantly evaluate our own motives and be willing to be honest with ourselves about why we are choosing a certain action.
We can even preach and minister from impure motives (Philippians 1:17), but God is not impressed (Proverbs 21:27). Jesus spoke to this issue in Matthew 6:1 when He said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Those involved in ministry must stay alert to this tendency toward selfishness, because ministry begun for pure reasons can quickly devolve into selfish ambition if we do not guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23).
So what is the right motivation? First Thessalonians 2:4 says, “Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts” (NLT). God is interested in our motives even more than our actions. First Corinthians 4:5 says that, when Jesus comes again, “he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” God wants us to know that He sees what no one else sees. He knows why we do what we do and desires to reward those whose hearts are right toward Him. We can keep our motives pure by continually surrendering every part of our hearts to the control of the Holy Spirit.
Here are some specific questions to help us evaluate our own motives:
1. If no one ever knows what I am doing (giving, serving, sacrificing), would I still do it?
2. If there was no visible payoff for doing this, would I still do it?
3. Would I joyfully take a lesser position if God asked me to?
4. Am I doing this for the praise of others or how it makes me feel?
5. If I had to suffer for continuing what God has called me to do, would I continue?
6. If others misunderstand or criticize my actions, will I stop?
7. If those whom I am serving never show gratitude or repay me in any way, will I still do it?
8. Do I judge my success or failure based upon my faithfulness to what God has asked me to do, or how I compare with others?
Personal satisfactions, such as taking a vacation or winning a competition, are not wrong in themselves. Motivation becomes an issue when we are not honest with ourselves about why we are doing things. When we give the outward appearance of obeying God but our hearts are hard, God knows. We are deceiving ourselves and others, too. The only way we can operate from pure motives is when we “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 25). When we allow Him to control every part of us, then our desire is to please Him and not ourselves. Our flesh constantly clamours to exalt itself, and only when we walk in the Spirit will we not gratify those desires of our flesh.
Until next week,
The Saving Grace
…with Akpene Sabah