Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God (1 Cor. 4:5, NASB).
Paul reminds us that the day is coming when our motives will be considered. That is because why we do what we do matters to God. Speaking to the multitude, with the Pharisees in attendance, Jesus made that clear. On three separate occasions he pointed this out in his Sermon on the Mount. Proper motives were an essential part of: giving (Matt. 6:1-2), praying (Matt. 6:5-6), and fasting (Matt. 6:16-17).
Notice Jesus’ words,
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matt. 6:1-4)
Doing the right thing for the wrong reason reveals a self-centered heart. We want our attention now, and if we don’t get it our response reveals our self-centeredness. Do you feel a sense of disappointment that you aren’t recognized, thanked or appreciated? The discontentment brewing within you is a warning that you really were not serving with the purest of motives.
A friend of mine often said, “The hardest part about being a servant is being treated like one!” The servant’s work often goes unnoticed, and the lack of public acknowledgment serves as a great motive-purifier.
John the Baptist shows us the way we should respond. His ministry was flourishing until Jesus appeared. Immediately some of John’s disciples became disciples of Jesus (John 1:35-42). As Jesus’ ministry gains notoriety, John’s ministry appears to wane. When John is questioned by his remaining disciples, his response is spot on.
You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:28-30).
Simply put: the right reason is always the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), the wrong reason is most often revealed as the glory of self. Which glory is your desire?