Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Motivation for Action: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Do our actions always call for pure motives? Is pleasing God always the best motivation for action? Now, the apostle Paul sought to appeal to the Thessalonians from pure motives and was more into pleasing God than people (2:4). And in this scripture lesson Paul seeks to provide practical instruction on how to please God through holy living. My hope is that my questions-at-an-odd-angle lead us to more subtle thinking about motives and actions as maturing Christians.
Obviously impure motives for our actions can muddy our ethical waters. When British Petroleum gives lower levels of oil leakage than less biased sources, shifts the blame for the oil spill to contractors, defends its safety record, and promises to clean up this big mess, their ulterior motives seem obvious. Saving face and maintaining profitable business-as-usual are not the best of motives. And BP should be held accountable.
But, are our own motives always as pure as the driven snow? My wife and I adopted two older special needs children over 20 years ago. My main motive? To provide a home for some children at great risk. My lesser motives? To provide companions for our natural born daughter. To have a son who would carry on the family name. To please my wife, who wanted more children. To be seen as a person with a justice-seeking lifestyle. My motives were not completely selfless. If I only acted from pure motives, I would most likely get nowhere in life.
What about pleasing God as the purest of motives? There may be times when rote acting to please God reflects an unreflective, immature faith. Hear me out. Many people relate to God as an overbearing, judgmental parent or with unhealthy dependency issues. “Pleasing God” becomes just a repetition of the same old kind of fretful acting that’s done to please parents, boss, spouse, or teacher…. which doesn’t please God! And sometimes our best motives may be to do something simply because it is the right thing to do and that is what ends up pleasing God. Capeesh?
Pleasing God as a motivation for action is generally a good moral principle, as Paul teaches us. But be careful not to limit your moral actions by scrupulously calculating the purity of your motives or the extent to which you are pleasing God. God knows our hearts and our humanity.
•Do you always have a full grasp of your motives when you act?
•Are there times when our actions simply call for doing the right thing and leaving the rest up to God?
•When does our desire to “please God” become unhealthy?