Motives Pleasing to the Lord

Dr. Brian Allison

Recently I was speaking to a minister friend of mine who is embroiled in some nasty Church politics. (Church politics are often disgraceful and dishonouring to the Lord). Apparently, there has been certain false accusations leveled against him. He has become the object of defamatory remarks; and as a result, his reputation is being sullied. Now, he believes that the one leading the attack against him, and leveling these accusations or charges, has a hidden agenda. He believes that his antagonist is not concerned about securing the truth, but rather is desiring to get him 'out of the picture' because this minister is preventing him from reaching certain political objectives. The individual who is leading this attack against this minister appears to be pursuing justice, but may have wrong motives. John P. Grier wrote, "The biggest gap in the world is the gap between the justice of a cause and the motives of the people pushing it." I wonder if this statement would be a commentary on the recently released Kenneth Starr report.

Motives shape and drive our actions. The character of our motives determines the character of our conduct and behaviour. To understand our motives is to understand ourselves, that is, what makes us tick, what we are made of. 1 Thessalonians 2:3, 4 reads, "For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts." Recall that the second chapter of this epistle concerns the matter of the Gospel ministry. Apparently the apostle Paul had been unjustly maligned, he had been slandered. Various detractors had sought to discredit him (cf. Acts 17:1-15). However, the Thessalonian believers, to whom the apostle wrote, had first hand knowledge and experience of Paul's ministry and conduct. They could vouch for his integrity and honesty. Thus, we read, "For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake" (1:5). We further read, "For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming [or entrance] to you was not in vain [i.e., we made a spiritual impact], but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition" (2:1,2). Paul and his colleagues were committed to the Gospel ministry. They were resolved to preach the Gospel, regardless of the opposition and resistance. Accordingly, in response to his detractors' criticisms and accusations, he sought to defend his ministry (and there does come a time when one may justifiably defend his ministry when that ministry is being undermined, resulting in the poisoning and negative biasing of the minds of unsuspecting believers by reckless critics who unthinkingly spread unfounded charges, accusations, and criticisms).

The ministry of exhortation

Paul's detractors had cast serious doubt both on his conduct and on his motives. He, therefore, proceeded to address this matter by first commenting on his motives. Why was Paul even preaching at all? What did he seek to gain or accomplish through his ministry? He states, negatively, "For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity" (2:3a). When the apostle refers to 'exhortation' he is simply talking about preaching, of which a major part would be exhortation (possibly we have here a synecdoche). Biblical preaching primarily entails exhortation. Exhortation is preaching which is designed to effect a certain kind of moral behaviour. It is preaching that challenges the will, with the view of producing or evidencing proper and acceptable conduct. Exhortation addresses the conscience and demands a response.

More specifically, exhortation demands a decision to live more godly, righteously, and holily in this life. Paul reminded the Thessalonians, "You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory" (2:10-12). So exhortation is designed to awaken us, to motivate us, to inspire us. We are naturally creatures of ease, laziness, and lack of self-discipline. We therefore need to be constantly exhorted and challenged. We need to be reminded of our responsibilities and duties because we are prone to self-interest and self-concern.

With exhortation, which is really strong, pointed encouragement, we are able to persevere in the faith. Accordingly, Hebrews 3:12 reads, "Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage [or exhort - the verbal form of the same word in the original as we find in 1 Thessalonians 2:3] one another day after day, as long it is still called 'Today,' lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Similarly, Hebrews 10:23-25 reads, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [or exhorting; same word in the original] one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near." We need to exhort one another to do what God has called us to do, to be faithful to the trust that He has given to us. So, we read in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, "Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more."

Exhorting from sincere motives

Now, why did Paul exhort? What motivated his preaching? He says, "For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity." Again, the apostle addresses the matter of motives. (It is a shame that many of God's servants have to justify their motives because others impute false motives to them). Paul first affirmed that he had sincere or honest motives in ministering among these believers – his exhortation did not derive from the motive of 'error'. Paul's exhortation did not find its roots, and thus its strength, in the desire to lead astray or deceive. He had no desire to mislead God's people into falsehood. He did not have a sinister hidden agenda. He was not some kind of huckster or charlatan, wanting to pull the wool over the eyes of believers for his own personal profit. Paul thus disavowed being a false prophet or teacher. Recall the apostle Peter's comments on false prophets and teachers, "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves...For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error [same word], promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved" (2 Pe. 2:1,18f.).

Exhorting from pure motives

Paul argued not only for the sincerity and honesty of his motives, but also for the purity and rightness of them. We read, "For our exhortation does not come from...impurity" (2:3a). Paul had pure, right motives. That is, his exhortation did not find its roots, and thus its strength, in the desire to fulfil any selfish ambition or personal need. He did not have a self-promoting hidden agenda. He did not desire to line his pockets, or pad his wallet, with money. He did not desire to manipulate people in order to secure power. He did not exploit his position of authority in order to enjoy sexual advantage. No, his motives were wholesome. He was not driven by pride and carnal lust. What he expected from the Thessalonian believers, he himself demonstrated. Recall, for instance, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honour, not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity [same term in original], but in sanctification. Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you."

So, our motives are critical and foundational. How would you evaluate your motives? Paul was faced with a situation in which certain (probably Jewish) detractors had charged him with having false and insincere motives. They had engaged in character assassination. Have you engaged in character assassination? Have you slandered or maligned someone by imputing wrong motives? The Word of God says that your sin will surely find you out. For example, we read, "Furthermore, in your bedchamber do not curse a king, and in your sleeping rooms do not curse a rich man, for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound, and the winged creature will make the matter known" (Eccl. 10:20). Again, our motives are the roots of our behaviour, the seeds of our actions. Proverbs 4:23 reads, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life." As a man is, so he will speak; as a woman is, so she will live and behave.

So, the quality and character of a person, as well as the direction and end of one's life, is determined in great measure by his or her motives. Accordingly, when we stand before the judgement seat of Christ, the primary issue will be the sincerity and purity of our motives. Thus we read in 1 Corinthians 4:5, "Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God."

Does Paul's situation have anything to do with us today? Why should we emphasize the need for honest and right motives? Let me be quite frank, my brothers and sisters. As a pastor, various things have been shared and reported to me by different ones in the church, which quite frankly are reprehensible and repugnant – things that have been uncaringly, and even maliciously, said behind people's backs, by way of gossip and character assassination, even hurtful things against those in leadership. That is unacceptable. If you are guilty of gossip, backbiting, slander, maligning, and carnal criticism, then you must confess and repent of your sin. You are not simply dealing with people with whom you apparently have a problem, and with whom you don't get along; but you are dealing with God's Church for which He died – "Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are" (1 Cor. 3:16,17).

Motives shaped by the coming judgement

Because the motives behind his exhortation were sincere and pure, the actual character and content of Paul's exhortation were sincere and pure. We read, "For our exhortation does not come...by way of deceit [lit. in deceit]" (2:3b). The emphasis here is not so much on the roots of action and behaviour, but rather on the actual expression of the action and behaviour; that is, on performance, not motives. This phrase 'in deceit' refers to the moral character of Paul's exhortation. In effect, he says, "Our exhortation was not characterized by trickery; it was above board, it was not underhanded, it was not devious."

Now, Paul indicates why the motives behind his exhortation, his preaching, were both honest and right, resulting in integrity of conduct. The reason was that he had been called, confirmed, and commissioned by God to preach the Gospel; and thus he was answerable to God for how he discharged his calling and duty – "But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak" (2:4a). God had set the apostle Paul aside for the Gospel ministry, and had equipped and enabled him. God had ordained the ministry of the apostle Paul, and had put His seal on that ministry. God had reckoned him to be a faithful servant, one who would indeed fulfil his God-given responsibilities. 1 Timothy 1:12 reads, "I thank Jesus Christ our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he considered me faithful, putting me into service." So God deemed Paul fit for ministry, fit to be entrusted with the Gospel. God had reckoned him worthy to serve. This matter of being entrusted implies a stewardship. Accordingly, 1 Corinthians 4:1, 2 reads, "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy." The determinative factor, with respect to serving God as a steward, is not whether one conforms to the whims and expectations of others, but whether one is faithful with what has been entrusted to him. There is no room for self-interest or personal agendas.

Recognizing that he had been called by God, that his position and mission had been decided by God, Paul had pure and sincere motives. That is, Paul lived his life coram deo – before the face of God, in the presence of God. He spoke as one who continually stood before God; and thus his goal was not to please people, but to please God – "not as pleasing men but God" (2:4b). Paul was not controlled by slavish fear. His preaching was not carried out in order to court the praises of people. His ministry was not determined by the whims and expectations of people. His goal was to please God, regardless of the resistance and opposition.

Paul had honest and right motives because he realized that his life was an open book. He realized that God saw, and took note of, his motives; that God clearly and fully understood what was going on inside him, and that one day he would have to give an account to God for the contents of his heart. Thus, he could say, "But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord" (1 Cor. 4:3,4). Paul's motives were right because he knew that one day he would have to answer for his stewardship – "so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines [proves, tests] our hearts" (2:4c). Again, Paul laboured with a view to the judgement (and that keeps a person sober). 2 Corinthians 5:9-11 reads, "Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences."

So, Paul here addressed the character of his motives, being put in a position to defend himself; knowing that if he did not defend himself, the ministry would be undermined and the Church would be hurt. For the sake of the welfare of the Church and the respect and honour of the pastoral office, he spoke out. He affirmed that his motives were right and sincere, that he had a stewardship for which he would give an account one day in standing before the judgement seat of Christ. He was answerable to Christ alone, who examines the deepest recesses of the heart.

We all have a stewardship, and not just spiritual leaders. We all have an entrustment. Every believer has a calling and commission. Every believer has been gifted and enabled to serve. Every believer has received the grace of God for service. So we read, "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Pe. 4:10). What are you doing with the grace of God given to you? What are you doing with your stewardship of grace? Where is it being demonstrated for the good of the Church? I will have to give an account for the grace of God given to me for the Church, and you will have to give an account for the grace of God given to you for the Church. One day we will stand before the judgement seat of Christ, and the issue will be this: the motives of our hearts. What has been driving you? What determines how you relate to your brother or sister in Jesus Christ? There is One who will judge righteously because there is One who knows all – "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Hb. 4:13). May we be found acceptable on that day.