In the Christian life, our deeds are important. But even more important are our motives.
Even the most sweeping actions and sacrificial gifts are nothing if done without the proper motivation – they leave us, as Paul says, like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
There’s only one motivation that will provide us the fuel necessary to endure – only one motivation that will count for anything in the eyes of God.
That motivation is love.
If you struggle with maintaining the discipline to keep going or if you struggle with focusing and managing your time – love is the only motivation that will allow you to succeed.
It sounds easy to say but hard to live out – mainly for the reason that we, as Christians, are so good at deceiving ourselves. We think we’re acting out of love when we’re not.
I have problems acting out of love. I imagine you do too.
Here are some ways that not serving out of love will cause us to fail – and thinking about these behaviors will also help us diagnose our own hearts to see if we are truly acting out of love.
It’s easy to look like you’re loving from the outside. External actions are rarely a good indicator of motives. For instance, take a look at Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 where he mentions someone who gives away all he has and even delivers his body to be burned – but yet he didn’t love.
Am I acting out of love – or am I acting so that I can feel like I’m acting out love? That may sound petty, but there’s a huge difference.
Am I acting for the best interest of others? Or do I just want to look in the mirror and tell myself that I’m a good little Christian?
Problems When Love is Missing
The opposite of acting out of love is legalism. And when people think about legalism, they think about chasing a perfect standard that you can never meet.
One possibility is that you will exhaust yourself trying to constantly be better and better, trying to earn approval and trying to earn the love of others.
2. Lowering the Bar
But another possibility of legalism is that you want to change the standard. Instead of trying to be perfect, you just want to be as good (or maybe a little better) than those around you.
For instance, instead of us husbands loving our wives like Christ loved the church, we just want to fall in line as a generally decent husband.
Instead of acting out of love towards others, we’re concerned with reaching some benchmark where we’ll feel good about ourselves. And we lower that bar to a very achievable point.
The danger of lowering the bar is that when we get there, we stop.
Instead of continuing to act out of love towards those around us, we get complacent.
4. Pride and Resentment
Once we’ve achieved this lowered standard, we get prideful. We start to pat ourselves on the back for how well we manage our time or for all the good we do. We end up being like the Pharisee who gave thanks to God that he wasn’t like the sinners around him.
Or we feel that our good works aren’t being reciprocated. We’re hustling and doing all of these good things – but our husbands, wives, coworkers, bosses, children, or friends are still the same. No one’s responding the way we feel that we deserve, so we get resentful.
5. Blame and Excuses
If you aren’t concerned about truly being loving towards someone but only feeling like you’re loving – then you only care about achieving that feeling. It doesn’t matter if someone has benefitted, as long as you feel like you acted well – or at least could have acted well.
Deep down, the results are secondary. The most important thing is that you maintain the feeling that you’re a competent, hard-working, and generally good person.
When failure occurs, you’re quick to place blame. When things are looking difficult, you’re quick to make excuses.
You convince yourself that things would have been fine if you had only had a more competent husband, a more supporting wife, better coworkers, or better leadership.
Or you make excuses. You don’t have the right tools, the right technology, the right environment, or the right skills. You don’t have the time or the money.
Finger pointing is just a way for us to preserve our egos – to keep that feeling that we’re good people who do good things.
Did you see yourself in any of these descriptions? I know I did.
Photo Credit: TalAtlas (Creative Commons)
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