Copyright March 10, 2015 by Chris Mullis
The Season of Lent, which is the 40 day period leading up to Easter, is a great time to take stock of your life. We derive this 40-day period from the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting as he prepared to begin his public ministry. Fasting is depriving your physical body of food to help induce a more spiritual experience. Some people give up food or other things during Lent to help them focus more on their relationship with God. But the whole point is to get rid of anything in your life that distracts you from what’s most important—a pure relationship with Christ.stock of your life.
Last Sunday, we started a message series to help you purify your life and draw closer to Christ. Just as we cleaned up our church building last week, we seek to clean up our lives so we can better focus on the Lord. Last week, I encouraged you to spend more time reading the Bible. I challenged you to start in the Gospel of Matthew and read one chapter every day—and so read the entire Book of Matthew by Easter. Today, I want to challenge you to get rid of selfish motives. Let’s read together what Jesus had to say about selfish motives.
Mark 8:31-3831 Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead.
- Jesus begins by explaining God’s master plan to save humanity from sin and its consequences. Sin leads to pain and death and eternal separation from God. When I was a kid, my church explained all this in simple terms that I could easily understand. They said, “Everyone sins and falls short of God’s glorious standards. And the consequences of sin are death. When you die, you will either spend eternity in Heaven or Hell. Because we all sin, we all deserve Hell—which is an eternal punishment you can’t even imagine. But because God loves us so much, he sent Jesus to save us. And if we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and follow him, we will spend eternity in Heaven—where there will be no more sin or suffering or sickness or tears or death. This salvation is made possible because Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. And here in this passage before it ever happens, Jesus explains the Master’s plan.
- Peter did not want Jesus to die. In general, we don’t want anyone to die—especially people we love. But let’s not pass over this too quickly or we will miss something important about Peter’s motive. Why doesn’t Peter want Jesus to die?
- First of all, it didn’t make sense to Peter. His vision was too small. People tend to have very limited perspective. We think in terms of what’s going on in our lives, right now. Not many of us have a greater vision to think about what will be happening ten years from now or even one year from now. And we rarely think very much about what’s going on in other people’s lives or what will be going on in their lives in the years ahead. We are pretty focused on ourselves in the here and now. But God thinks in broader terms. He sees the here and now, but also one year from now, ten years from now, and ten thousand years from now. Consider this: as Jesus explained his plan to his disciples in this passage 2,000 years ago, he was thinking how you would be sitting here in this church right now contemplating it. He saw how his actions would directly affect you, your children, grandchildren and your descendants another 1,000 years from today. But Peter’s vision was small. And Peter didn’t want Jesus to die because Peter loved Jesus. He didn’t want harm to come to him.
- Peter didn’t want to lose Jesus. This is one type of love (from the Greek word for love: phileo—which we studied a few weeks ago). It is a somewhat selfish kind of love. It is more about our desires than the actual wants and needs of the one we “love.” This is a common form of love we see throughout the world. You see, Peter did not want to be apart from Jesus. Maybe he even felt he couldn’t bear to be without Jesus if he died. This kind of love is motivated more by what Peter wants than what Jesus wants or even what is best for Jesus or the world. But the highest form of love is another Greek word often used in the Bible: Agape. Agape is the love that abandons its own selfish desires and works for the good of others, with no conditions and without any expectation of receiving something in return. This is the love that motivated Jesus to die on the cross for our sin.
- It might seem strange that Jesus would rebuke Peter so sternly—even calling him Satan. Yet, Peter’s motives were selfish. There was a type of love in him, but it was mixed with impurity too. In fact, what Peter was doing was not much different from what Satan once did when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. When Jesus went into the wilderness fasting for 40 days in Matthew chapter 4, Satan tempted him to eat something. “Tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:3) And Satan offered to give Jesus “All the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (verses 8-9), if only Jesus would bow down and worship Satan. Peter wasn’t asking Jesus to bow down and worship him, but he was asking Jesus to bend away from God’s perfect salvation plan in favor of Peter’s lesser, worldly desires. In Peter’s eyes, Jesus was on the verge of a gaining the popular support of the people; couple that with Jesus’ amazing power and Peter thought they could set up an earthly Kingdom of unequaled justice and righteousness. But this was not God’s plan. So Jesus said to Peter almost the same thing he said to Satan in the wilderness. “Get away from me, Satan!” And then Jesus explains the pure motives that must guide our thoughts and actions if we are his followers.
34 Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
- Jesus taught being his follower means getting rid of our selfish motives and letting Agape love motivate everything we do. Just as Jesus was willing to lay down his own life for the sake of others, we should do what’s best for others—even if they don’t deserve it or plan to do anything for us. What a difference it makes when you finally decide to get rid of your selfish motives and let Love guide all your actions!
What Motivates You?
Why do you come to church? Why do you go to work? Why do you support your wife and kids? Why do you do the things you do? There are many different motives for the things we do. And sometimes our motives are not too pure. I suppose we would be here all day if we tried to list them all. So I’ll just list the first four that come to mind.
The first is pseudo-love. We already talked about how Peter “loved” Jesus and didn’t want to lose him. I call this “pseudo-love” because it is “like” love, but it is not Agape Love (the selfless, unconditional love God wants us to practice). It is the love of a mother who “smothers” her children—who loves them so much, she can’t give them the space they need to grow into individuals, but must hover over them at all times. The truth is, helicopter parents practice a selfish kind of love. Really, they are using their kids to satisfy a deep longing in their own lives. And this is not true love. It is not the motive God wants us to have. And if this is the kind of love that motivates you—whether you be a helicopter parent, a jealous boyfriend (or girlfriend or just friend), or anyone who is motivated by your own intense desires for the companionship of someone else, you need to get rid of your false motive.
Another false motive is greed. Are you motivated by your intense longing for more wealth, possessions, or power? Do you always want to have the latest gadget, the biggest house, the fanciest car? Do you always feel like no matter how good the stuff you already have is you always need something a little better? These are all forms of greed, which is a powerful motivation in our society. But God doesn’t want us to be motivated by greed. Perhaps you need to get rid of this false motive.
Pride. Are you overly concerned about preserving your own dignity? Do you have an excessively high opinion of your importance? Or conversely, are you always concerned with what others think about you? These are all forms of pride, arrogance, vanity… The Bible does not speak highly of pride. Rather, Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” Jesus listed pride as one of the vile things that comes from an evil heart—alongside adultery, greed, and wickedness (Mark 7:22). If Pride, vanity, self-importance, or arrogance motivates your actions, it’s time to get rid of your false motives.
Control. Do you always need to be in control? Does everything have to be done a certain way—your way? Do you have to be intimately involved in every decision your kids or your spouse makes? Is it almost impossible for you to delegate responsibilities to someone else because you’re afraid they won’t do it the way you would? Do you find it incredibly annoying to work with others as a team because you’d rather just do it your own way? If you find it unnerving to let go of control, then it’s probably time to get rid of your false motive of control. Let me let you in on little secret. You are not in control anyway. And all your annoying efforts to keep things “under control” are not pleasing to God. It’s time to stop trying to run the world around you and learn to trust God (and other people too).
One more—pleasure. We live in a world that says, “If it makes you happy, do it.” “Follow your own heart.” “Have it your way.” It sounds harmless, but if the desire for pleasure motivates you, you need to get rid of this false motive. God calls us to be motivated by love. And quite often real love motivates us to do things that are not pleasurable—sometimes things that are very hard. That’s why when we get married, we promise to love our spouse “In good times and bad times, for richer for poorer, in sickness and health, until death …” I’m so Glad Jesus wasn’t motivated by the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure. For it was not pleasurable to hang on the cross for our sins. And yet, because he loved us, this is exactly what he did. What about you? Perhaps it’s time to get rid of your false motives.
Last week, I challenged you to read your Bible more—to start in the Gospel of Matthew and read one chapter a day. I hope you have accepted my challenge and have been reading. If not, it’s not too late to start today.
This week, I want to give you a new challenge to add to the one from last week. This week, I want you to make a list of what motivates you to do the things you do. Sit down with a pen and a piece of paper. Prayerfully list out all the things you typically do each day. Be specific. Get up and take a shower, take the kids to school, go to work, talk to a friend on the phone, go to the grocery store, cook dinner, etc. Now think deeply about why you do these various things. What is your motive for each one? Why do you do it? Right down your motives for each thing. Ask yourself: are my motives pure? Would Jesus be happy about my motive for doing this? How much is this motivated by pure love (Agape)? What motives do I need to get rid of? How might I let my actions be guided more by love? I challenge you to make a list this week and pray that God would help you be motivated more by love.