Examining Our Motives
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Examining Our Motives

Selected Scriptures  (ID: 1502)

Since God looks at the heart, it is important that we regularly examine our motives as well. Regarding evangelism, Alistair Begg teaches that there are many spurious, unbiblical motives that must be rejected. With Paul as our example, we see that we are most useful to the Lord when motivated by a desire to see God glorified and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.

Series Containing This Sermon

Crossing the Barriers

A 12-Lesson Study on Evangelism Selected Scriptures Series ID: 23101

Sermon Transcript: Print

What we’ve done is we’ve taken these early weeks to deal with the theology of evangelism, and we’re going to go on from here to the practice of evangelism. Last week we gave our time to understanding our message, and this evening we’re going to give some time to examining our motives. For God is interested not simply in what we’re doing, but he is extremely interested in why we’re doing it.

And so tonight, I want us to begin by noticing, first of all, that if we’re going to be useful in evangelism, then it’s going to be very important that our motivation is seen to be in accord with the pattern and the principles of Scripture. That’s very straightforward, and yet it’s good for us to remind one another of its truth.

Spurious Motives for Evangelism

I say that because we are aware of the fact that there are a number of motives which are often used and which we may succumb to in relationship to the whole question of evangelism which are spurious, and therefore, they are to be rejected. It’s not good enough for us to respond to things which are very effective, perhaps, in mobilizing us and yet are not biblical at all in terms of the reason as to why we would engage in the whole matter of evangelism.

Let me just go through these quickly and fill in the blanks for you in your outline.

First of all, a spurious motive is a desire for peer group acceptance. In other words, we get amongst a group of people, and all the people are involved in evangelism, and so we just feel we ought to be involved in evangelism, because everybody’s doing it. We don’t really know why, we don’t really know what, we don’t know where, but we feel the pressure of the group.

And directly related to that is the motivation of dutiful conformity to external constraints—once again, being propelled by something which is completely outside of us. That is not to negate nor is this addressing the question of dutiful obedience to the external constraint of Scripture. I’m talking now about being pressed upon by the framework in which we find ourselves to be involved in perhaps a particular kind of evangelism, and we don’t have any drive from within in us at all, and we’re tempted to go simply being constrained from outside.

Or that we might have within us a perverted desire to pronounce judgment upon people. You say, “Not me.” Well, that’s good. I hope not you. But it is true of some that they may be motivated by a desire just to go around and harangue people and tell them how bad they are and how bad everything is. And their personality is put together in such a way that they don’t find it difficult to do that, and a certain form or style of evangelism seems to feed that need within them, and it’s a perverted desire within them; it’s not biblical at all.

And right along with that, another spurious motive is a desire to gain control of people. For when we are wielding the sword of the Spirit, when we’re going amongst people with information that we have gained a clear understanding of ourselves, we go in a position of power. And sometimes it’s possible for people to want to be involved in these things because of the control that it gives them.

Or, fifthly, a sense of meeting a required quota. I remember when I came to the United States for the first time, I had a friend who was going to a particular place of theological instruction, and I didn’t like the sound of it for a number of reasons. First of all, because it wasn’t racially mixed, and I couldn’t understand that. Secondly, because you couldn’t have long hair, and I didn’t want that. And thirdly, because you had to go out every week and fulfill your quota in evangelism, come what may. And they brought you in at the end of the week to find out how many scalps you’d managed to hang from your belt since last Sunday. And if you weren’t meeting your quota, then they beat you around the ears a little bit and sent you back out—a bit like working in corporate America, in sales, actually. And it is definitely, definitely an unbiblical and spurious motive.

If we seek to address the question of motivation and summarize it in just two motives, then they are these: that first of all, we should be driven by love to God and a concern for his glory; and then, secondly, love to man and a concern for his welfare.[1] Actually, if you read the book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer, you’ll find both of those things in there. If you read Our Guilty Silence by John Stott, you’ll find a variation upon that theme. They’re not unique in any way; they are, I think, a fair biblical encapsulation of the two prime motivating factors that ought to be present within the heart of the individual who’s going to be involved in the task of evangelization. And so what I’d like to do is to spend our time this evening examining each of these and the implications of them in turn.

When we read our Bibles carefully, we discover that God has demanded of us and commanded us to be involved in evangelism.

Love to God and a Concern for His Glory

First of all, being concerned with love to God and a concern for his glory.

Our love for Jesus, we’re told time and again, is revealed in our obedience. We saw that when we studied John’s Gospel together. John 14:[15], Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey [my commandments].” And when John writes his first epistle, which we also looked at together in this past while and which we studied only in the last few weeks, he says in 1 John 5:3, “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” So the issue of the compelling influence of God in our lives and a concern for his glory brings us to the place of obedience.

And since evangelism is one of the activities that the Father and the Son have commanded, we have no right, then, to decide that evangelism in any shape or form is some kind of optional extra for a rarefied few within the fellowship. And I think sometimes as churches, we tend to get into that. We either decide that evangelism is the job of the pastor—we’ll let him preach, and we’ll bring people in, and we’ll go from there—or evangelism is the peculiar interest of a small group of people who have “signed up for that.” But in actuality, when we read our Bibles carefully, we discover that God has demanded of us and commanded us to be involved in evangelism, each one. And indeed, his purpose for the world is directly related to our willingness to be obedient to his command.

Now, when we mention obedience, sometimes people get a little bit distressed, because they have come out of an environment where any thought of obedience implies reluctance. But in actuality, obedience to Jesus Christ should not imply a spirit of reluctance but rather that it should imply one of joyful privilege. And if you were to take time—and you may at any point along this journey tonight—to turn up Acts 5:41, you’ll discover there that the context is the apostles having been thoroughly beaten for their willingness to name the name of Jesus Christ. They had been flogged, they had been ordered to speak no more, and we’re told that they “left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for [his] Name.” And so, when we think of love for God and the concern for his glory, it brings us to the place of obedience. Obedience should not imply reluctance but rather joyful privilege.

And so, when we look the Great Commission straight in the face, as it were—Matthew 28:19—we must appropriate the promise of his presence, and we must accept the commission. Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.”[2] And so we are rejoicing in that. We are happy that that is true. And that was directly stated within the framework of an obedient church about the business of evangelism.

Now, moving on from there and still following through in your notes, we’re going to realize that if evangelism is the task of the church in general, it is the specific task of individuals. It follows, I think, quite clearly that if the church as a whole is called generally to the responsibility of evangelism, then you and I are called particularly to be involved in that also. Okay? That’s the same reasoning in relation to baptism that we use, is it not? Jesus said, “Go out and baptize.”[3] Who would he baptize? He would baptize those who had responded to his claims in repentance and in faith. So if I have responded in repentance and in faith, then it follows that I am to be baptized. If it is a general command issued to the church, then it is a particular personal responsibility to be responded to by the members of the church.

Now, having laid that down as foundational—and I don’t think there are any surprises in it—we need to go on and recognize that when we are motivated to tell the world about Jesus, we’re going to be involved in telling the world about God’s marvelous deeds. And every time that we share the gospel with somebody, we are declaring the marvelous deeds of God. The psalmist refers to the deeds of God in Psalm 96:2–3 in this way:

Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
 proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
 his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

And when you and I are involved in the task of evangelism—whether it be over a cup of coffee, whether it be answering a question of someone who is a colleague of ours in the daily routine of life, or whatever it might be—what we are doing is proclaiming the wonderful deeds of God. And God’s deeds in creation pale in relationship to his deeds in new creation, so that while we may not fully understand it or may not be cognitive of it in the expressing of our faith, every time that you and I declare that Jesus is the Savior, we give glory to God. Because he said from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in [him] I am well pleased.”[4] And when we declare the wonderful dealings of God in Christ, then God is glorified as a result of our heralding his marvelous deeds.

Now, you will notice in Acts 17 as you study it that it was a deep-rooted concern for God’s glory that provided Paul’s zeal in evangelism. You remember we looked at this last time. He was driven by a concern for God’s glory when he saw all the idols in the city of Athens. And he said, “You know, this shouldn’t be, for these idols just topple over. This shouldn’t be that folks are sidetracked into these things. What should happen is that they should come to know the God who is unknown to them.”[5] And in his heart he was driven, he was zealous as a result of his concern for God’s glory.

Now, let’s pause there for a minute and be honest. Ask yourself the question as you think about witnessing to people: How much of our desire to tell others about Jesus stems from the fact that the pastor said we should, stems from the fact that we feel a little bit guilty, stems from the fact that people seem so demoralized, rather than stems from the fact that we know that God has purposed to get glory to his name, and since we should glorify God, we want to do anything that serves that purpose; therefore, we want to be involved in evangelism? We want others to be added to the great chorus of praise that will stand before God on the day of resurrection and will give glory to his name—those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

Biblical evangelism never puts a full stop after conversion but regards conversion as a prelude to worship.

Now, I put it to you, loved ones, that this is a real and life-transforming event when this begins to burn itself in underneath our skin—that our desire in evangelism is not simply because somebody made the flames of hell lick up around our ankles. It’s not simply because we began to cry buckets over the condition of men—although we should, as we’ll see. But it is far more: that we saw that God has purposed to have a people of his own and get glory to his name. And so every morning we wake we say, “O magnify the Lord with me, and [come on,] let us exalt his name together.”[6] But we find ourselves saying, “Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works [towards] the children of men!”[7] A deep-rooted concern for God’s glory is the example of the apostolic church.

And right alongside that, I noted number eight, which is this: that biblical evangelism never puts a full stop after conversion but regards conversion as a prelude to worship. “Now, where do you get that from?” says somebody. Well, right from the words of Jesus when he spoke to the lady at the well—when he was involved in personal evangelism, if you like. You turn to it in John 4:23, and Jesus makes clear to this lady, who’s trying to sidetrack him concerning the discrepancies between Samaritan and Jewish worship, and he says, “[Listen lady,] a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

So here’s the deal tonight: the Father is seeking worshippers! God does not need us. There is no gap in God that we must fill up. God is entirely self-existent. But God has purposed that glory should come to his name, and he is seeking worshippers. So when we go about the business of evangelism, we are aligning our wills with the God who is seeking others to add their voices to his song. Therefore, the evangelist should look beyond the benefit which comes to the convert who is saved, to the glory which comes to the God who loves him.

I put it to you tonight that this falls strange on many ears. It was a long time before my own approach to evangelism took this turn. That is not to denigrate anybody’s style nor approach, but I do believe that to begin here, with God and his glory, is where the Bible begins, rather than with man and his guilt or man and his need or us and this and that.

And finally, under this, number ten: worship expresses itself in witness, and witness expresses itself in worship. There’s a whole message here. The worshipping church is a witnessing church. When men and women who have no knowledge of God in Christ come and worship with us on the Lord’s Day, our worship is in itself a witness. We are witnessing in our worship. We are magnifying the wonderful deeds of God. We are bestowing honor and glory upon his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And those who remain unconverted are listening to these songs. They may in measure add their faltering tongues in the chorus, but from their hearts they know it isn’t so. They are not expressing the reality of their experience. And so, in the providence of God, as a result of his dealings in their lives, many of them come to a sure knowledge of Jesus Christ, having in the experience of worship been witnessed to. And now their witness will express itself once again in worship.

I think that one of the problems we have is in our terminology in our churches. We’re so hung up about what’s happening here and now and there and whether “Is this worship, or is it service, or is it witness, or what in the world is it?” The actual fact is that the unifying theme is the glory of God. And when God is being glorified, then our worship is in accord with his purposes, and the supreme incentive of our modern evangelism is set in place.

Love to Man and a Concern for His Welfare

Well, that’s the first: love to God and a concern for his glory. And secondly, love to man and a concern for his welfare.

The Scriptures say that we should “do good to all [men].”[8] Now, I ask you: What greater good can we do for anyone than to set before them the knowledge of Jesus? So when we think about evangelism and doing good to those who are our neighbors and friends, we realize that ultimately, the greatest good we can do them is to commend them to the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. And it is ultimately our awareness of man’s condition, which we dealt with last time, that demands that our love will issue in action.

Now, turn for a moment to the passage that is represented here, and we just set this clear in our minds. Luke 10:29. Some of you know it without turning to it, but the rest of us need to turn it up to see what it is. Luke chapter 10. And the story begins in verse 25, and it’s the parable of the good Samaritan. And here Jesus is answering the question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And the man, who so far has been giving some pretty good answers, seeking to justify himself, after Jesus said, “You should love your neighbor as yourself,” asks the question “Who is my neighbor?” And “in reply Jesus said,” and then he told the story: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among thieves, who stripped his clothes off him and departed, leaving him half dead.”[9] And then he went on to tell how some religious figures came down the street: “A Levite, when he came to the place …, passed by on the other side,” despite the fact that he’d seen him. A priest who was going down the road, he went on the other side. “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was.”[10]

Now, if ever we are going to be involved in evangelism, it demands that we get where people are. It demands that we get down and get dirty if they’re dirty. It demands that we get bloody if they are bloody. It does not call for us to ride in on a large white stallion using a megaphone to call directions to the poor individual in their needs and to cry out suggestions as to what might be possible remedies for their condition. No, says Jesus. The man or the woman who understands the condition of man then is prepared to be involved in the action.

Now, this is not to be simply some dutiful response to, if you like, the tactics of the army, but rather, the impulse to evangelize should be a spontaneous response to the need of our neighbor. That’s why we were reading in 2 Corinthians 5: that the love of Christ compels us, constrains us from within.[11] It is a spontaneous response, so that if somebody, if a child were to fall in the street in front of us, as surely as we would reach out to grab them, so as we see those who are our loved ones, our neighbors, and our friends lost and without Christ, God’s Word says when the Spirit is within us, it is to be the spontaneous response of our hearts to get where they are, to meet them at their point of need, to bandage up their wounds, to pour on oil and wine.

Let me ask you a question: How much talking is there in this Good Samaritan story? How much talking do you read of? None! The only conversation that takes place at this point is a conversation between the Good Samaritan and the innkeeper. Everything else that takes place for the man in his condition is love in action. So before we fall into the pit of thinking that evangelism has never taken place without a lot of talk, without running through a kind of encyclopedic parade of our knowledge of the gospel, let’s remember this: as the old song said, you know,

Not merely in the words you say,
Not merely in [the] deeds confessed,
But in the most unconscious way
Is Christ expressed.[12]

In Scotland, this is what they say: that the gospel is “better felt than telt.” I’d rather see a gospel than hear it any day. The spontaneous response of the heart that is filled with the Spirit and is in obedience to the Word of God gets down to the need of our neighbors. It was natural—and absolutely naturally supernatural, if you like—for Andrew to tell Simon and for Philip to break the good news to Nathaniel.[13] How could you know such good news and keep it from your brother? How could you know such good news and keep it from your friend?

Now, let’s deal with the final two, and then we will conclude.

While such an approach may become easy and natural… Let me qualify that. What I mean by that is, there comes a time when, if you are daily sharing your faith, if you’re seeking opportunities, if you’re seizing the moment to speak a word for Christ and to live out a Christlike example, as it increasingly becomes the spontaneous response of a heart, there is a sense in which it becomes easy in terms of it being a natural overflow, in the same way that for a—let’s say a professional baseball player, it becomes easy to swing in a certain way or for the pitcher to throw a certain kind of ball. There’s a natural overflow. But no matter how natural, no matter how easy it may become, if we’re going to do this, it’s going to remain costly in honest friendship. There’s a paradox there, I recognize, and yet, if you think it out, I think you’ll agree that it’s true. No matter how straightforward it may become for us to share our faith, there is a cost involved in honest friendship—in getting, like the Good Samaritan, where people are. And as simple as it seems, genuine friendship is a vital prerequisite for effective witness.

We’re going to talk about all the different kinds of witnessing—the witnessing to the person that you may never see again in your life and that gives you a peculiar window of opportunity that may only last for a moment or two. But many of us, most of us, have the greatest opportunities, at least in personal evangelism, with folks that we see regularly, routinely. And there is nothing in Scripture that would allow us to devalue in any way the place of genuine friendship as a means—as an open sesame, if you like—into telling others of the truth of Jesus.

Genuine friendship is a vital prerequisite for effective witness.

Now, we read, or Bob read for us, in 2 Corinthians 5 concerning the approach of Paul. And I just want to fill this in for you, and you can perhaps use it as some homework study, looking at the approach of Paul as he described it for us in that passage.

First of all, you will notice that the judgment of God, where he says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,”[14] brought two things to Paul’s life: it brought a sense of urgency, and it brought a degree of consistency. We will appear before the judgment seat of Christ; the Bible assures us of that. So will our friends and neighbors. Therefore, there is a great urgency, and it calls for consistency.

Also, Paul says that the inner compulsion in his life was love. It was the love of Christ that compelled him. Which forces us to ask this question: Do I love people because I want to see them converted, or do I want to see them converted because I love them? And as he outlines that which makes it possible for him to exercise his ministry, he defers to the power of Christ, by which life is changed and men and women become made new; the ministry of Christ in our lives; and the death of Christ, who became sin, who was not sin, so that, as was underlined for us tonight, we might become the righteousness of God in him.[15]

Can we bow for a moment of silent prayer?

And as our eyes are closed and our heads are bowed, let’s ask God to come in his searching gaze in our lives to examine our motives. For the truth of the matter is that one day we’ll be judged according to our motives. That’s why it’s always dangerous for us to judge one another: because while we may deduce certain things from actions, we don’t know the motives of each other’s hearts. But God knows tonight. And if we find ourselves being driven by motives which are those of fear, of external, legalistic strictures, of a desire to be well thought of by the group that we move around in, then let’s ask God to liberate us from those things, to set us free by his love, so that we might be able to say with Paul that it is the love of Christ which constrains us. Let’s ask God to remove from our hearts the spirit of the priest and the Levite and give us the heart of the Samaritan.

Let’s pledge ourselves afresh tonight, having asked the question “What is evangelism?”; having sought to understand what is God’s part and our part; having given our minds to concentrate upon the nature of the message we proclaim; and having now exposed the motives of our hearts, let’s pledge ourselves afresh to be useful to the Lord in our walk and in our talk.

“Lord, make me like you,” make us like you. Please, “you are a servant,” make us one too.[16]

[1] J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1961), 73, 75.

[2] Matthew 28:20 (paraphrased).

[3] Matthew 28:19 (paraphrased).

[4] Matthew 3:17 (KJV).

[5] See Acts 17:22–23.

[6] Psalm 34:3 (KJV).

[7] Psalm 107:31 (KJV).

[8] Galatians 6:10 (NIV 1984).

[9] Luke 10:30 (paraphrased).

[10] Luke 10:32–33 (NIV 1984).

[11] See 2 Corinthians 5:14.

[12] Commonly attributed to Beatrice Clelland.

[13] See John 1:40–42, 44–46.

[14] 2 Corinthians 5:10 (NIV 1984).

[15] See 2 Corinthians 5:21.

[16] Carol Owens and Jimmy Owens, “Make Me Like You” (1978).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.