“For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (John 13:15)
When you meet someone for the first time and want to get acquainted you may ask, “What do you do?” You may wrestle with the “what” question for yourself from time to time: “What should I do? Am I in the right role? Should I make a change?”
But more often the question you put to yourself is “How? How can I be successful in my work, my ministry, my Christian life?” But, however, there is a much more important question than what you do and how you do it. And until you find the answer you will not really know a person, not even yourself. And the answer to that question will have a lot more to do with the outcome of your life than what you may do or how you may get it done.
WHY? Why do you do what you do? This question is more important because it is the motive question. More than vocation or location, your know-how, skills, and motivation will determine the outcome of your life. Why work so hard or not work so hard? Why buy what you just bought, why save, give, witness, keep silent, behave, misbehave? Reflect for a moment on the motives of your own life. When you peel back all the surface impulses, what is the driving force? Or what are the driving forces, the root motivations of your soul? To get at the possibilities, let’s look briefly at that mysterious, overwhelming word of Christ on the night of His resurrection, for there we find people who are moved by all three of the basic motives that cause people to do what they do, choose what they choose. Three motives.
The disciples were following along at some distance behind Jesus, having a heated discussion. When they arrived in their headquarters town of Capernaum he asked what they had been disputing about (Luke 9:46). They were embarrassed and didn’t want to tell him. But he knew they had been disputing which among them would be the greatest. He drew a child to his side and explained that he who is least is the one who is great in his Kingdom. In a church, too. Or mission team. Now we follow with them on their way up to Jerusalem where Christ was to make the supreme sacrifice. He had told them repeatedly he must die, but they rejected the idea of a suffering servant so weren’t hearing him. The mother of James and John, with her two sons in tow, asked for top cabinet rank for each of them (Matthew. 20:20; Mark 10:35 ff.).
How did the others respond to that idea? Especially after Jesus had rejected the request? Were they understanding and spiritual about it? After all, the mother and her sons were relatives of Jesus and the disciples understood near eastern culture and family obligations. But no, they were angry! Why? Perhaps each of them wanted the top rank and were offended that these two were muscling in ahead of them?
Jesus took the occasion to explain that if they were to be in his company, they must all be servants. They reached Jerusalem and were gathered for the last meal together. Someone should have volunteered to wash the dusty feet so that the person reclining next would not have to eat in uncomfortable circumstances. It was traditionally the youngest, the lowest in rank who should have volunteered. No one did. The lesson on the child and the servant somehow had never gotten through. The meal began with dirty feet and then they got into the same old dispute. This time it was not over who would rule, but who would serve (Lk. 22.24-27). Finally Jesus himself took the servant’s basin and towel and demonstrated the way rank was to work in his Church.
Why were they in this enterprise? For what they would get out of it. Their motive was love for self. Didn’t they have any compassion for others? They wanted to call down fire on those who rejected them or were inhospitable. They wanted to bar from preaching those who had been to the wrong seminary. They had no time for women and children, the weak and oppressed. Oh, they loved God and his glory, his Name and Kingdom. Especially, they loved Jesus. But above all they loved themselves and were in it for what they would get out of it. A disciple can give generously, witness faithfully, work up an ulcer serving God, even lay down life on a distant mission field from love of self. In desperation we cry to the Lord for deliverance. Remember what he said? It was the “Why?” question. “Why do you want deliverance?” We might say, “Who wants to fail?” In an instant the true us stands naked before God. We pray, “For Jesus’ sake, amen” when all along we should have been honest and closed our prayers with, “For my own sake, amen.”
Most of us operate at the level of self-interest most of the time, according to the researchers. The “duty to self-ethic,” they call it. But there’s a higher motive; the commission Christ gave to us. Who did he set as our model?
“As the Father sent me…” said Jesus. And what was the Father’s motive? “For God so loved the world…”