The Motive That Matters Most

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Motives matter. And the highest motive—love—matters most. This isn’t news to most of us, but it is sometimes unintentionally forgotten in the world of busy ministry, constant comparison, self-promotion, and celebrity-focused church life. If you’ve ever wondered, specifically regarding ministry, what’s love got to do with it, the answer is a single word: everything.

I was reminded of this while reading through 1 Corinthians, especially chapters 12-13. After clarifying for his readers the fundamental importance of spiritual gifts, different roles, and the variety of ministries (12), Paul unifies his readers around the one element that gives these gifts, roles, and ministries their lasting significance—love (13). It’s an entire chapter on why love matters most in the church! What we often hear read at weddings should actually be read at staff meetings, church services, and ministry get-togethers. This is a chapter more about how to unlock ministry than how to enjoy wedlock.

The point? The key to unlocking ministry is love. It is the surest foundation and filter that determines what God thinks about what we’re doing. It is, in all reality, the one motive that gains God’s smile even after man’s words and worlds are long gone. In fact, I find it interesting that the chapter (13) both begins and ends with this thought: nothing really counts if love is absent (13:1-3), for in the end, what counts most is love (13:13).

Admittedly, we could wax on and on about how to do this specifically. And rightly so! Paul essentially does that in vs. 4-12. But we’ll perhaps unpack that on another day in another blog. For now, allow me to just exhort us all towards the “aim of our charge, [which] is love…from a pure heart” (1 Tim. 1:5). So let’s love this week, shall we?

Yes, let’s preach sermons, schedule workers, hold meetings, make plans, conduct events, visit the sick, call on absentees, disciple others, preach messages, care for widows, study passages, pay bills, purchase supplies, run errands, call out sin, exhort small groups, write curriculum, develop graphics, play music, lead songs, cast vision, solve problems, and so much more! Yes, let’s do those things, and a hundred other things, big and small, through our different gifts, roles, and ministries in our different churches. These are important and matter. But they won’t matter at all in the end if we don’t do them in love. So let’s do them this week in love. It’s when we do the natural stuff of life in the supernatural way of love that we do it in a way that matters most.

Here’s a rather simple formula that helps me work towards operating in love more, not less; increasing in selflessness, not selfishness. These are three time-based, sequential actions I pursue by God’s grace and his Spirit’s power:

  1. Think about why I’m doing what I’m doing before I do it. This moment of pause to preview the upcoming action helps set my frame of reference and point of view. This is typically a time to correct my vertical outlook.
  2. Express appreciation while I’m doing it. Gratitude has a way of resetting my emotions and perspective in-flight, so I let thankfulness correct my course during the work. This is typically a time to adjust my horizontal outlook.
  3. Review what I learned from what I did after I’ve done it. This includes both positive and negative elements, for God uses both to accomplish his will and sanctify me. Remembering that motives are integral to methods helps me place the action in its proper place. Often when things don’t go as planned, it’s calming to know God is more concerned with the ‘why’ than the ‘what’ and can use a right motive in the middle of a flawed method.

Incidentally, you can utilize this technique after each ministry activity/assignment or season of ministry. Or after each day, week, or month. Just engage in it regularly. As you grow in this before-during-after exercise, you will learn to check and double check yourself and your motives, and you’ll be able to spot the work of God’s Holy Spirit in you as he gradually but surely changes why you do what you do, moving you to serving with the motive that makes all the difference: love.

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