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“Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:5)
I once heard an apocryphal (meaning it is not in the Bible) story that was told by Elisabeth Elliot, a Christian author and speaker, in her book These Strange Ashes. It’s a story about Jesus and His disciples, and it goes like this:
One day Jesus said to his disciples: “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.” He didn’t give any explanation. So the disciples looked around for a stone to carry, and Peter, being the practical sort, sought out the smallest stone he could possibly find. After all, Jesus didn’t give any regulation for weight and size! So he put it in his pocket. Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey. About noontime Jesus had everyone sit down. He waved his hands and all the stones turned to bread. He said, “Now it’s time for lunch.” In a few seconds, Peter’s lunch was over. When lunch was done Jesus told them to stand up. He said again, “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.” This time Peter said, “Aha! Now I get it!” So he looked around and saw a small boulder. He hoisted it on his back and it was painful, it made him stagger. But he said, “I can’t wait for supper.” Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey, with Peter barely being able to keep up. Around supper time Jesus led them to the side of a river. He said, “Now everyone throw your stones into the water.” They did. Then he said, “Follow Me,” and began to walk. Peter and the others looked at him dumbfounded. Jesus sighed and said, “Don’t you remember what I asked you to do? Who were you carrying the stone for?”
As Jesus would say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
The above verse, 1 Corinthians 4:5, is a sobering one worthy of reflection. Paul writes that God is our judge, and on judgment day He will expose the motives of our hearts, the reasons that laid behind the things we did on the earth. Therefore, Paul says, judge nothing before its appointed time. Paul seems to be saying that because we can not see the motives of a man’s heart, we dare not pass judgment on their actions. Like Peter in Elisabeth Elliot’s apocryphal story, a man may spend his life doing good and noble things, yet underneath it all be driven by a desire for the approval of others, or a compulsive need to prove himself worthy to his father, or even by the belief that such actions will gain the favor of God Himself. A man may sing songs of worship in the hopes that others will praise him for his great voice. A woman may feed the poor to make herself feel better about buying more clothes for herself. A man may become a pastor because he thinks it will win him the admiration of others. Even the noblest deeds may be driven by entirely self-centered motives.
Jesus Himself alluded to this reality when He spoke of the Pharisees and their good deeds in Matthew 6:1-6:
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 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. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
If the motive behind our good deeds – even behind our prayers – is the praise of man, to receive their honor, then Jesus declares that that is the only reward we will get. Therefore, consider the motives behind the things that you do.
A word of hope, however: before you go overanalyzing and scrutinizing everything you do, know that there is a solution for our mixed motives. The gospel of Jesus declares that no amount of good deeds or pious acts can ever earn the favor of God. The only way we can be declared righteous is by admitting that we are not, and by instead putting our faith in Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death on our behalf. As we accept that the only righteousness we have is found in Jesus and not in what we have done or haven’t done or in the purity of our motives, we begin to stop trying to earn our self-worth from our performance. We begin to stop judging ourselves on the basis of how well we are living up to our standards, or how others see us, or even whether we think we are living holy lives in the sight of God. As we come to a deeper grasp of His great love for us, that gave everything so that we might have new life, we desire more and more to carry any stone for Him, for His glory, because we love Him so much.
So test your motives, but more importantly, believe the gospel until it transforms you. As Jesus reveals the motives of your heart, may you be able to say like Peter the denier did to the resurrected Jesus in John 21:17: “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
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