Should I Do Good, Even If I Have the Wrong Motives?

changing tireI happened to be driving behind an acquaintance, and we were both on our way to the same meeting, when he had tire go flat.  He pulled off the road, and in a millisecond, I experienced the following rapid train of thought:

  1. Well crap.
  2. I don’t wanna pull over and help him.
  3. I’m gonna be late!
  4. I don’t want to get my hands dirty.
  5. He’s stronger and more mechanical than me; he probably doesn’t even need my help anyway.
  6. I don’t know if he knows I’m behind him… but if he does, I don’t want him to see me just drive on by without stopping – what would he think of me?
  7. I can’t go into that meeting on time and have him walk in 30 minutes later when I didn’t even stop to see if I could help – what would the others think of me then?
  8. Ughh – I gotta stop.  Dangit…  Okay, here we go…

Now, I can’t imagine a worse attitude or set of motives than what I had for helping another person in need!  But I pulled over.  I helped him get out the spare tire and jack up the car while he loosened the lug nuts.  There was a bigger problem with the wheel, and we ended up not being able to remove the tire, so I waited with him while he called AAA for help.  We talked for awhile, and I kept him company while he waited…

Eventually, he told me he thought I should go on ahead of him to the meeting, that AAA would be along any minute to change the tire for him.  I asked if he was sure, and he said yes, I should go on ahead.  We exchanged numbers, and I asked him to call me if he needed any further help.  (Now – I honestly meant that!)

As I drove away, I wrestled with this question: Should I really stop and do something good, when I know my motives are so wrong?

The larger implication of this question might be this:

Should I still obey God, even if my attitude is bad or my motives are wrong?

Now, this requires some self-awareness and some self-honesty.  If I’m being self-observant and honest, I know there are often good things I do, not because I really want to do them – nor because I feel compassion for the person in need – but because I feel I should (a sense of obligation) or I am concerned about what someone might think of me (a sense of vanity or people-pleasing).

So. Should I then not do the good thing, when I can recognize beforehand that my motives for doing it are suspect?

james4_17Well, in short, YES.  James 4:17 says,

As a follower of Jesus – as I cooperate with the working of His Holy Spirit in my life – I am on a journey of growth and maturation in Christ.  He is steadily shaping and forming my character, my thinking, my habits, my inclinations – all to be more and more perfectly holy, like His.

Spiritually speaking, doing good things as the Spirit of Christ directs is a key part of this ongoing journey of growth with Jesus whether we really want to do the good thing or not.  In fact, when we override our own nature and will so that we can obey what God is directing us to do, we do more good for ourselves than we can possibly imagine.  We remind our sin nature that it is no longer in control; we are training our will to submit to God’s.

And when we help others, we encounter Christ in a very real and personal way that shapes us deeply, both in the present and for the future.  See Matthew 25:31-46.

And hey, practically speaking, this dude had an immediate need that I might be able to help with!  And what would I have wanted him to do, were our roles reversed?  I would’ve wanted him to be concerned about me, to stop, to check on me, to try to help, to keep me company while I waited for more help…

By God’s grace, I must obey the leading of Christ’s Spirit within me.  I must endeavor in His power to do the right thing, whether I want to or not, and whether my motives are pure or not.

Do you have any examples of this you would be willing to share?  Maybe an instance where you did something you knew God was leading you to do, but with the wrong attitude or the wrong motives – but you encountered Jesus there in a way that you would have missed, had you not obeyed?  Please share it here in the comments section below.  Thanks!

4 responses to “Should I Do Good, Even If I Have the Wrong Motives?

  1. I once heard a person say that it is not hypocrisy to do things you don’t feel like doing. You are only a hypocrite if you do things you don’t feel like doing but then say you enjoy doing them. For example, if a baby is crying at 2 am and needs you to get up and take care of it, you are not being a hypocrite if you get up and take care of the baby even if you don’t feel like doing it. You are only a hypocrite if you do so and then tell others that you enjoy doing it if you are lying. Good post, Nick!

  2. One morning many years ago, I woke up and prayed, asking God to use me for His glory. I told Him I would do whatever he needed me to do. Then I went out shopping. I was all set to spend money on something or other I wanted. Then I heard the crashing of cars. I looked down the street and saw two vehicles in the intersection… and kept going! Saying things like “But I’m on my way to buy what I want. It’s just a fender bender. Those people are fine.” I heard the Holy Spirit say, “Really? You just told me you’d do anything for my glory. What if they need a phone to call for help?” Reluctantly, I turned around and went back. Crazy enough, they really needed a phone to call for help! I was officially blown away!

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