Selfish Motives Are Not Strong Enough (April 19)


“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL THINGS WE CAN DO IS IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF OUR MOTIVES. Since we obey our conscience only when we’re sufficiently motivated to do so, our motivation needs to be as energetic as possible. But it is mainly as we move toward higher and nobler motives that the strength and effectiveness of our motivation increases. Motive is the key to motivation. So the improvement of our motives is a matter of great practical importance. Whatever the reasons are that move us to do good right now, personal growth requires more than just believing those reasons more strongly. We must acquire some other, higher reasons.

To be specific, we must become people whose hearts are less and less self-centered. If we are moved by no more than the desire to get what we want and avoid what we don’t want, then our motivation is going to fail us eventually. In the hardest moments, selfish motives (however “noble”) are simply not strong enough to move us toward right conduct.

The purest and most powerful motive we can have is simply the real love of God. When Jesus said “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15), His point was not just that those who love Him are expected to keep His commandments, though that’s certainly true. Jesus was also teaching that loving Him is the key to keeping His commandments. Only when we act out of love will we find that His commandments are “not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). No other motive is strong enough to keep us moving consistently in the direction of obedience.

And so we must get outside of ourselves and be drawn into concerns that are more vast and “moving” than the mere rise and fall of our own happiness. To a great extent, this is what growth toward spiritual maturity is about. It is learning to live by the strong laws of love. We must live not by the laws of self-interest disguised as love, but by the laws of real upward-looking love itself. When we’ve grown in health to the point where our spirits are genuinely turned upward, then we’ll know a strength that we couldn’t have known while sick with selfishness.

“A man’s spiritual health is exactly in proportion to his love for God” (C. S. Lewis).

Gary Henry –