For many Christians one of the most significant motivators in their actions is a desire to please other’s (especially other Christians). Most of us want to be known as someone that others can really count on. We try our best to never let anyone down. It’s a good thing to always try to do the right thing. But when many of our decisions are based on pleasing our church, our family and our friends; unseen difficulties arise within our character. While reading a fiction book this week I stumbled over a scene where the “wiser” knight explained to his squire that “doing the right thing for the wrong reason is still the right thing.” On the surface that sounded really good—and I even shared that tidbit with some friends and family members. But as I spent more time chewing on it, two things occurred to me.
First, isn’t that what the hypocrites were doing? In Matthew 6, Jesus addressed the hypocrisy of some of the Jews of His day. He said their motivation to give, to pray, to fast should not be for the wrong reason if they wanted God to be pleased. When our good deeds are motivated by the “applause of people” (Matt 6:2), that applause will be our reward. Don’t get me wrong giving to a charity, a food drive, a person in need is a good thing to do—even if your motivation is to impress your friends, your family or your preacher! But if that is our reason it will not impress God. Further, when you continually do what you do not want to do to please another person you set up an ideal breeding ground for resentment, guilt, and pride.
Second, in everything God has commanded us to do, the motivation that He desires is one grown out of love—loving God and loving others. Jesus said, “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:40) Paul will explain in Romans 13:8, “Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” And again to the church in Corinth Paul will tell them that even if they have the impressive gift of tongues, even if they have perfect faith and knowledge, even if they sacrifice themselves and all their belongings—if they do any or all of these things without love they gain nothing. (1 Cor 13:1-3)
It’s not that giving, serving and sacrificing have no inherent value—they do! But the value is limited to the recipients of that giving, serving and sacrificing. The one doing those things only receives true, eternal value when done out of love; love that honors God and His creation. So the next time someone asks you for a favor, needs your help, wants you to volunteer or even to pray about something, try not to worry about impressing them. Rather, focus on what God would want you to do, thank God for giving you the time, resources and abilities to be helpful. You should also try doing some good deeds secretly (Matt 6). This will help you focus on pleasing God, and help you do the right thing for the right reasons.