Why are we serving in the manner in which we are? Is it for recognition? Because we are skilled in that area, or we have a passion for that method of ministry? Do we expect the praise of others? Do we feel expected to do so, or have we already set the precedent by doing it and doing it well? Do we know that if we don’t do it no one else will?
There are many different reasons for performing a single task… some we are aware of and some we aren’t. Some of our reasoning for doing particular things is subconscious and natural. Motive is the key in everything we do as disciples of Christ. What we do is important, but why we do what we do is even more important. In Matthew 6:1, Jesus gave the principle that should guide all of our service. That passage says,
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
How do we check our motives and ensure that we are doing and serving the way God wills for us to with the correct outlook, motives, mindset, and heart?
Let’s think together.
- Look at God’s Expectations
Romans 12:1 says,
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
That passage lays out what God expects from us when it comes to service, life, and Christian living. We are to present our bodies and our service to God… not in an unworthy way, but rather, as a holy sacrifice.
Instead we are often guilty of falling into a legalistic trap or mindset when it comes to Christian service. There are two kinds of legalism that are destroying the church… the idea that service or “works” can earn your salvation, and the belief that in order to be accepted as a “good Christian” one must be active in service.
We know that Christianity is the only way to Heaven and the only hope of the world… but even knowing that we fall into legalistic traps or views that can be applied across the board to many religions. In fact, there are many people who serve different “gods” or entities in order to earn salvation or a way into the afterlife.
As believers we are told something entirely different concerning our salvation. Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10 this,
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We know that the grace of God is the only thing that assures salvation, and the grace of God happens apart from human effort or merit. Christians are not only saved by grace, but kept by grace. In Romans 8:28-39 we see that nothing can separate us from the power and love of God… no army, no mistake, not even our own laziness. Romans 8:28-39 says,
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ultimately the belief that in order to be accepted as a “good Christian” one must be active in service presents a belief in a theology that believes that God accepts Christians not for who they are, but for what they do. But we actually know, according to Scripture, that God accepts all Christians because of their identity in Christ as God’s sons… as heirs.
Romans 8:17 says exactly that,
And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Now, I do believe that it must be said that godly living would normally involve service of some kind. However, particular circumstances may not permit a Christian to minister in a particular way for a particular season, which, with incorrect theology, may result in feelings of inadequacy or insecurity about God’s acceptance of them at that time.
Our works do matter to God. But we must never think of them as a means to earn what God freely gives: grace, mercy, love, salvation, new life. Good works come as a response to the activity of grace in our lives. Yet, we must always remember that our salvation does not come by our works. This means, among other things, that you don’t have to get it all right to be in a relationship with God. You don’t have to be perfect, or even close. You don’t have to have perfect, unfaltering faith. Rather, you need only to receive God’s grace in faith and allow it to transform your life.
Both avenues of legalism that we have discussed, and more, are unbiblical motivations for serving God. The Christian can do nothing to earn or keep God’s salvation or favor, because one is accepted in Christ if he or she has simply believed in and accepted Him.
- Selfless instead of Selfish
Sinful selfish motives are another motivation that we have to check when we enter into or are continually serving in Christ’s name. In fact, there are many selfish reasons one might serve: financial gain, power over others, pride/ to impress others, to prove to others that one is spiritual, etc…
There are many biblical examples of those with self-seeking motives.
Matthew 6:1-6 says,
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Mark 12:38-40 says,
And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Several times we also see Jesus rebuke James and John when they argued about their future position in the kingdom. This should serve as both a warning to us… and an encouragement that we aren’t the only ones who suffer from impure motives when serving God. Even those who walked beside Jesus had their motives tainted to some degree by selfishness at one point or another. We see one of those encounters in Mark 9:33-35 where it says,
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
We see another in Luke 22:24-30,
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Even our impurities aren’t that creative! Selfish and unworthy motives have been around since Jesus walked the earth or before!
One of our “Father” figures in ministry, Paul, was sensitive to ministry out of selfish motives. In 1 Timothy Paul warns Timothy and says that servants should see to it that their master receive ALL the honor. 1 Timothy 6:1 says,
Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.
The ministry of the gospel was not given to advance any selfish agenda. Those who use it as such are ministering from unworthy and ungodly motives.
- It’s not a Competition
1 Peter 4:10 says,
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
We each have received a special gift according to the Word of God. No two of us are alike. Everybody is unique. And every person has a unique gift to be used to advance the Kingdom of God. Everyone is unique. Every gift is unique.
Sometimes in church service we buy into a “competition” mindset that places us against everyone else we view as being competitors in our particular
“realm” of giftedness… this can be contained within our Body of Believers or can be church wide amongst several bodies who all compete.
1 Corinthians 12:4 serves as a reminder that we all may have separate gifts… but they all come from the same “gift-giver.” That passage says,
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.
The idea behind God giving us gifts to serve Him is that we would work together in unity to advance the Kingdom. A war can’t be singlehandedly fought on the frontlines. Someone has to keep those troops equipped, another has to keep them healthy and fed, someone else has to form a strategy. You get the idea. We all play a part in this… but our role may look different than the person next to us.
If we take a step back and look at all of 1 Corinthians 12:1-27 it paints another picture of unified service in different forms. It says,
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
A body struggles when missing a part. We must be contempt with our function and gifting and do it well. If you don’t use your gift that is ultimately a loss to the body of Christ. Let’s be satisfied in our gifting and use it for His glory. It isn’t a competition.
- Turn off the “Applause- Meter”
Lastly, are we serving for the praise or recognition of doing so?
Let me tell you… as a musician, or someone who stands and serves in front of others, this is so hard to keep in check. The motivation when starting may be pure… but it is a gradual slope that leads to a free-fall. We begin to judge our “serving” based off the reactions and praises of others and allow that praise to drive our decisions and our service.
Praises are like a drug. Little by little we become tolerant and immune and it takes more and more to satisfy our need. Suddenly, when we aren’t getting enough the enemy can slip in and tell us that we aren’t appreciated, or that our service is overlooked or not good enough.
Be honest… has this ever happened to you? It has me.
Too often we allow the lies of the enemy to make the church look like an elementary school playground… we get upset, frustrated, disappointed, etc… and instead of handling the root issue we pack up our toys and march off.
Much of the time the “greener pastures” that we pursue are laced with deception and pride. We turn the plains in which we reside into the valleys of self-pity and loathing.
A seminary professor in a class I was taking put it this way,
Below many “green pastures” lies a septic tank.
Don’t base your serving off of what others say about you… instead look to what the Father says and your reasoning for serving. Let’s do ourselves a favor and turn off or unhook the applause meter!
So… what are your motivations for serving? Is it time to get them back in check?