In the midst of my desire to be used as a servant of God, I also perceived thoughts of a different nature. To put it bluntly, I wanted people to think I was doing a good job. I wanted to be respected and valued as a teacher, at least partially so that I could be entrusted with other opportunities in the future. As I realized these desires for the praise of men, I knew they were not right, and I determined to adjust my thoughts with God's truth. I wanted to see more clearly what God says about motivation for ministry.
Jesus addressed the wrong type of heart behind spiritual service. He warned His listeners, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them" (Matthew 6:1). "How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?" (John 5:44). The notice and praise of men should never be the motivation for service.
Wanting to make people happy and pleased is another wrong motivation. A servant cannot effectively serve two masters. Devotion to pleasing men negates the ability to truly please God. "Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh . . . not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ" (Ephesians 6:5-6). "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).
Self-promotion is a wrong motivation for service. Paul talked of men "who cause dissensions and hindrances"; these men who wanted to be seen as right were, in reality, "slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites" (Romans 16:17-18). Paul himself was okay with the description that "his personal presence [was] unimpressive and his speech contemptible." Paul knew that being compared favorably with others was not important or even wise: "For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding" (II Corinthians 10:10&12).
It is wrong to serve God with a conceited mindset, assuming that no one else would be able to do the job as well. "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude [humility] in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:3&5).
The pursuit of personal profit is a wrong motivation. Paul speaks favorably of Timothy, who had a genuine concern for the church's spiritual welfare. Paul set Timothy in contrast to many others, who "all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:21). Not only is such self-seeking service ineffective in God's work, but it does not bring the results people seek. "For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption" (Galatians 6:8).
Peter spoke harsh words to Simon, a converted sorcerer, who was enamored with the power of the apostles. Peter ascertained a dangerous motivation: "Your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity" (Acts 8:21-23). Simon had some serious heart problems that caused him to desire the spiritual gifts of the apostles.
In addition to identifying wrong motives, thankfully the Bible also addresses proper motives for service. By word and example, Paul admonished the believers, "You must help the weak." He continued by quoting Jesus' words, "It is more blessed to give than to receive"(Acts 20:35). It is good and right for believers to want to reach out to help their brothers in need.
Ministry to any need within the church must be motivated by love. "If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing" (I Corinthians 13:2). Without love, the service is empty. The Bible actually commands loving service. "Through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13).
An even greater motivation than love for others is a love for God Himself. Love for God is the motivation behind the joyful and willing keeping of His commandments, one of which is to lovingly serve others. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:3).
A believer who truly loves God will want to do what God wants him to do. Part of God's will is to serve others in need and to serve within the church. Love motivates a believer to perform this service willingly and joyfully, not seeking praise, prestige, or personal profit.
Was it wrong for me to want to do a good job? Not at all. I should desire to serve God to the best of my ability. My motivation, however, must be independent of the perceptions of others. I should want to do my best for God alone, whether people notice or not.