The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:7-11
At a Lollapalooza concert several years ago you could purchase a psychedelically colored button with a simple phrase: “Jesus is coming. Look busy.”
One might infer from Peter’s opening statement in verse 7 that all his exhortations to us are motivated by a desire not to be caught looking idle when Jesus returns. Jesus does exhort us to be found faithfully obedient at His return (Matthew 24:45-51), but the motive behind that obedience is surely greater than just having the appearance of being faithful. Looking busy is nothing to God.
Every act has a motive. Samuel Johnson, and others before him, identified the measure of an act when he said that “the morality of an action depends on the motive from which we act” (Boswell, Life of Johnson, i, 397). It doesn’t take long for even the most moral to discern a complex of motives driving their actions, some of which are less than virtuous.
As we heard Sunday, Peter spurs believers on to many things, but not without reference to the motives behind them. Since self-control and sobriety can be motivated by a desire for personal advancement, Peter cites unhindered prayerfulness as the proper motive. Since what may seem like loving hospitality can at its core be saturated with begrudging, Peter calls for earnestness. And since using our gifts—whether speaking or serving—can become a veiled act of self-promotion, Peter insists that their use reflect a thoroughgoing regard for the origin and purpose of those gifts.
Even if we don’t find those blatantly suspect motives undergirding our actions, what shall we do if we detect something less than earnestness in our love, or selflessness in our service? Shall we break off obedience until our motives become unsullied? Or are we to pay no attention to the rough edges of our motives and just press on?
Jesus knew we had nothing and could do nothing to commend ourselves to God. Those who recognize their lack of intrinsic virtue, which Jesus terms poverty of spirit (Matthew 5:3), genuinely comprehend the holiness of God and His grace to forgive and renew them. Paul understood that it would not be by our righteousness that we would know God’s salvation (Philippians 3:8,9). Yet both Jesus and Paul speak unequivocally about seeking the “reward” of the Father (Matthew 5:12) and making it our “aim to please Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9). Again, can obedience plagued with mixed motives obtain either outcome?
When we notice conflictedness of motive in us it’s time to ask, “Why is the Lord worthy of this obedience?” The question will drive us back to the Cross and force us to see the stinginess of our love against the lavish backdrop of His. Then, it’s time to pray that the Lord will remove the spiritual blindness and callousness of our hearts so that we obey with increasing earnestness. Finally, we need to act on the conviction that even if suspect motives taint our actions, the Lord, through our continued obedience, will work to refine both our motive and our obedience.
Where do you notice your self-control, your love, your service lacking in unstained motive and vigor? With your colleagues, your children, your spouse? You can take comfort that even the obedience of the disciples often had self-interest infiltrating its motives (Matthew 20:20-28). You may also note well, though, that Jesus had, and has, as much interest in refining motives as in securing obedience.
Jesus is coming. Take every motive captive to obey Christ.