“For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed–God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else” (1 Thessalonians 2:3-6 a).
Motives matter to God. If we have the ability to speak eloquently, the faith to make mountains jump, and the willingness to give all our possessions away, even be burned at the stake but lack love, we are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). God tests hearts; He cuts right through the actions to the motives in the heart. God doesn’t want us just to do the right thing; He wants us to do the right thing with the right motive. God wants us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, and mind. God desires for His people to love one another and others the way they would love themselves.
Motives matter to Paul, and he knows they matter to the people at Thessalonica, too. Paul’s ministry was not based on trickery, deceit, error, or impure motives. God entrusted His team – Paul, Silas, and Timothy – with the Good News. When God has provided the message, you don’t need flattery, a smoke screen, or mirrors to get the message across. When the team understands God chooses people, God provides the message, and God tests the hearts, they understand there is no need to try to please people, only God.
A preacher motivated by people-pleasing will employ whatever it takes to win the approval he so craves. Buttering up people rather than speaking honestly is justified. Masks, smoke, mirrors, are all warranted. The choices, the message, the judgment are all about the preacher and his obsession with gaining admiration and praise. And watch out for a church trying to please everybody. Bill Cosby was so right when he said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is to try to please everyone.”
Ministry is to be God-driven. The church is to be God-focused.
And yet Paul, with such strong convictions about prophet motives, extends grace to those who preach Christ while impurely motivated by selfish ambition and a spirit of rivalry (Philippians 1:15-18). So on the one hand, Paul stresses the importance of motive and on the other hand he says, “Whatever!” Is Paul speaking out of both sides of his mouth? What does all this mean?
I need to be as strict as possible on myself, careful even with the motives of my heart. I need to be as gracious as possible with others, especially with the motives of their hearts. God wants my ministry to spring from a pure heart. God can use others’ Christ-honoring words even when they originate from flawed intentions.
God examines hearts. We honor Him both when we invite Him to test our heart, and when we allow Him to be the one to scrutinize the hearts of others.