What is God more interested in: your actions or your motives? This is a trick question. So many of us assume that, if we had good motives, our actions are not a big deal. But the Lord is clear in his word that both our actions and our motives matter a great deal.
Consider Saul, the king. He knew he needed to go into a battle. He knew that he had not sought the Lord’s favor by offering a sacrifice. But Saul was not authorized by God to make that sacrifice. Surely, if he broke the rule on who is allowed to make the offering, God would not mind. Surely God would not be so strict on those restrictions.
1 Samuel 13:8-14 – 8 He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. 9 So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. 10 As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him. 11 Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, 12 I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” 13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
OK, it turns out that God was just as concerned about Saul’s obedience as he was about the offering. This move on the part of the king did not please the Lord. and this move on Saul’s part, along with a mess he makes in chapter 15, results in his family’s loss of the throne of Israel.
Consider how applicable this all is to our lives as Christians. What things are Christians compromising right now? What are we willing to think God will be OK with so long as our motives are pure and the results of our actions successful? Where do we decide that a pragmatic victory is worth more than obedience?
I see this in the way that many compromise worship for the sake of supposedly reaching out to the lost. Some churches shape what they do on Sundays entirely around those who are not part of the family of God. But the Lord is clear that worship is about him, not about those who are turned against him.
Or what about the way that many churches and individuals compromise on hot-button social issues for the sake of being received by the world? Should we not be more interested in pleasing the Lord than in gaining a reputation in our community through compromise?
I bet, if you think about it, you can think of several ways that you are personally tempted to cut corners on the things of God for the sake of what you think is a good end. We do not want to be naturally offensive people. We do not want to seem weird to the world. We do not want to look like our standards or our thoughts are several centuries out-of-date.
But the truth is, dear Christian friends, our thoughts and standards are not going to be with the times. They cannot be so and still please the Lord. Our actions have to be based on obedience to the word of God, and not on any sort of pragmatic focus on supposed life or ministry success. God wants us to submit to him, to love him, and to keep his word. Let us remember that doing so is very important, even if we think that we have good motivation to turn to our own ideas.