If you’re a conscientious Christian, then you’ve done it. In fact, you might do it regularly, maybe even obsessively.
I helped that person, and I really wanted to help him, but I was also sort of hoping that someone from church might see me helping him and think I was a good Christian.
Oh, my heart, my heart, my sinful heart. My motives are always corrupt How can I possibly hope to ever be truly pleasing to God. . . .
Wow, I have so been there.
So it might be a little unnerving to read II Corinthians (what prompted this line of thinking) and see that Paul talked and talked and talked about all the good things he did, all the ways he helped the Corinthian Christians, all the persecution and other trials he had undergone, all the concern he felt for them, and never once did he even imply that he was having issues with his motives. In fact, he said just the opposite.
If you do a flyover of the book, you’ll see it throughout, but 4:1-2 gives an example: “Therefore, seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not, but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully. . .” Or as the Amplified Bible puts it, “We do not get discouraged (spiritless and despondent with fear) or become faint with weariness and exhaustion.”
There are few things potentially as exhausting, dispiriting, discouraging—when you’re just trying to be a good Christian—as realizing that your motives are corrupt, and probably have been all along.
So was Paul saying he never had trouble with that? Well, he didn’t mention it, but one thing I know for sure is that he was human. Like me.
Here’s the Amplified Bible again, in II Corinthians 4:2. “We have renounced disgraceful ways (secret thoughts, feelings, desires and underhandedness, the methods and arts that men hid through shame); we refuse to deal craftily (to practice trickery and cunning). . . .”
I think Paul saw his life as a laser beam pointing to Jesus Christ—and that’s the way I want to see mine. My eyes on Him, encouraging others to fix their eyes on Him.
Do I do that flawlessly? Ha ha! If you know me at all, you know that this is far from the truth. But Paul wasn’t flawless either. Rather, he was focused. When his thoughts started to turn away, for example, in discouragement (which was significant in this epistle), he pointedly turned them back. The (lack of) transition from II Corinthians 2:13 to 2:14 is an excellent example.
So what if a thought now says to me, You know that all you really want is your own glory. Your motives are corrupt and all these efforts to please God are filthy rags.
Now, I don’t start analyzing the thought and trying to figure out if any aspect of my motives were pure and how overwhelmingly much is corrupt. Instead, I see this thought—in the same category with thoughts of discouragement and fear—for the garbage it is. I actively respond, Jesus Christ! In You alone I am perfectly pleasing to God! You are the cleanser of my motives! You will be glorified in me, in spite of who and what I am!
By the power of Christ, I renounce the thoughts. I refuse to accept them. I turn to Jesus. The understanding of the spiritual battle within, which Paul shows so clearly in II Corinthians, was a big part of what could keep him focused and full of energy—we can even say full of love and hope—in the face of one discouragement after another.
It seems perfectly clear to me that Paul didn’t obsess over his motives. He didn’t have time to pay a lot of attention to them. He was looking at Jesus. I pray that we can all do the same.