In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about a lot of different topics. The underlying theme that ties them all together is motives. One of the main points of Jesus most famous sermon is that God not only cares about what you do but why you do it.
One reason Jesus hammered this nail so hard in this sermon was to show the people how much they needed him. It was as if he was saying, “Look, none of you follow the law perfectly. But even if you could obey the letter of the law, your motives are still wrong. To be right with God, you not only need to live perfectly but to live perfectly for the right reasons. Since no human can do this, now your only hope to be right with God is to put your faith in me.”
After salvation, the Christian enters into sanctification. Yes, God saves us through faith, but once we put our faith in Jesus he will begin to teach us how to live for God and how to please him in our actions. And according to Matthew 6, it is crucial that our motives be right if we want to love God well.
So how can you have good motives as a Christian? By studying Matthew 6:1, I believe we can define at least 4 steps in our pursuit of pure motives.
If You Want Good Motives, You Must “Be Careful”
When Jesus tells us to “Be careful” that our motives are pure, it was not an empty warning. Humans often give empty and obvious warnings, “Drive safe,” “Take care of yourself,” “Have a great day.” We mean well, but warnings like these are worthless, “Oh, thank you. I was going to drive dangerously, I was going to not take care of myself today, and I was planning on having a terrible day, but now I won’t because of your helpful warnings.”
Whenever Jesus tells us to “Be careful,” he means it in the most literal sense. So if you want to have good motives, the first step is to be in tune and sensitive to your inner motivation. As 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test?”
You won’t have good motives if you never pay attention to your motives. Jesus wouldn’t have told us to do this if it wasn’t possible to actually be aware of your motives and intentions. If we are being honest with ourselves, we can sense the Holy Spirit’s conviction when we are doing something for a self-exalting or impure motive.
If You Want Good Motives, You Must Know What Good and Bad Motives Are
Matthew 6:1 says, “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.”
I think the first mistake we often make when trying to correct our impure motives is to avoid doing our good works in front of people at all. But notice that’s not what Jesus really said. He said “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” He didn’t say it was wrong for people to see you do good. He said it was wrong if your motive was to be exalted by others as they see you do good. In Matthew 5:15-16, for example, Jesus said:
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Is Jesus speaking double talk here? No. Notice the motive in both of these passages. Matthew 5:16 says to do your good deeds in front of people so that God may be glorified. Matthew 6:1 says don’t do you good deeds in front of people for your own glory. These two Bible verses say the same thing about motives, which is that doing things for God is the best motive.
To have good motives, you have to know what good motives are. There are many good motives God wants us to have. He wants us to have a motive of helping others, making sure our families are well provided for, he wants us to have a motive of doing the right thing, and on and on it goes. But over and underneath and inside all of these motives God wants our intentions to be saturated mostly with a motive of glorifying and loving God.
So what is the best motive you can have? To glorify and love God.
If You Want Good Motives, Choose the Good Motive
We know we need to be careful and examine our motives, we know what bad and good motives are, but now we need to know how to have good motives.
Well it certainly starts with grace and being regenerated. In our sinful flesh we don’t have good motives. Only a new heart will have pure motives. But even after God gives us these things through Jesus Christ and by his Spirit, we must still choose to walk in them. Jesus said, “If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1, NIV).
“If you do,” means you have a choice. So one of the first steps in having good motives is to realize you have a choice. Sometimes I think we believe our internal thoughts and motivations just have a mind of their own. But they don’t. You are in control, you just need to take control. Jesus wouldn’t have told us to choose good motives and to choose to glorify God if this was not possible. If Jesus told us to choose a good motive, then it must be possible to internally choose a good motive when you are living your life.
It’s an internal choice to go to work because you have to or because you want to glorify God at your workplace. It’s an internal choice to serve at church so your friends see you or so God sees you. It’s an internal choice to pray publicly at small group so people will hear your beautiful words or so that God may hear you intercede for those present.
So when you want to have a good motive, put the bad motive before you and the good motive before you in your mind and internally choose to do that good deed with the motive of doing it for God.
It will revolutionize your walk with God when you realize you can choose what motive you are going to have in each action you take in life. You may be tempted to do your acts of righteousness before people so they will feed your ego, but you can choose not to.
Do the good deed still, just choose to do it with a better motive.
Choose the Best Motives for the Reward You Will Have in God
What? Did I just totally contradict myself? If you do something for personal gain, isn’t that a bad motive? No, it’s not. If you personally benefit from gaining more of Christ, this is a good thing (Philippians 3:7-8). I’m just saying what the Bible is saying. Notice this line of thought running through Matthew 6:1-18.
If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1, NIV)
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:3-4)
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
“ But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:17-18)
God has designed people to live for pleasure. Christianity is not a pursuit of pain. Christianity is not a religion based on denial and self-sacrifice. No, the essence of true Christianity is all about finding pleasure in God.
As John Piper has put it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” When we pursue our joy in God, he is glorified. When he is pursued as the greatest prize and the greatest pleasure, he is praised in the process.
So why am I saying this? Because to overcome sin, you need to take hold of a greater promise of reward. Sin is tempting because it promises us pleasure. The way you overcome temptation is not just by denying that sinful pleasure but by pursuing something better. To overcome sinful pleasures we need to seek a greater pleasure in God.
This is exactly Jesus’ point throughout Matthew 6:1-18. He keeps telling us about the reward we get in God if we choose to have good motives because he knows we won’t choose good motives if we don’t have a good reason to. You won’t do hard things for God if you don’t realize you will be rewarded with far more than you will be asked to give up.
Christianity will cost you, but Christianity will not be a sacrifice. It will cost you your sinful lifestyle. It will cost you your short-term pleasure. It will cost you the immediate gratification you get when you live in sin. It will cost you your worldly reputation. But in the end this will not be a sacrifice because you will get back far more than you give up. When you forsake worldly pleasures and worldly praise, you get so much more back from God. David Livingston gave his all to God and eventually died on the mission field in Africa from malaria. He said this:
People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? . . . It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”
When you give up anything for God, you always get more of God in return. God is the ultimate reward. So yes, Christianity will cost you, but you will never make a true sacrifice because you will always have gained when you give anything up for God. Philippians 3:7-8 (NIV) perhaps says it best:
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ . . . .”
How do you choose to have a good motive? You must realize that doing good for God is better for you in the long run than receiving earthly praise. This is why Jesus kept mentioning the rewards you will receive if you do things with a motive of pleasing God and not man.
So next time you are tempted to please people and pump up your ego, remember that it is better to please God, which will then give you the motivation to choose a good motive for the Lord.
1.What are your general reactions to what was said in this article? What do you agree with, disagree with, or would like more insight on?
2. Do you believe you can choose what motive to live from? Why or why not?
3. The key phrase throughout Matthew 6:1-18 is, “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” How does this verse help you live with better motives?
*Feel free to leave your answers or some other comments in the comments section below.