It is an unfortunate thing that, in a world so diseased with self-centeredness, we tend to suspect charity or assistance. Upon discovering that someone has gone out of his or her way to help us we ask ourselves, “why?” “Why has this person so inconvenienced himself or herself for someone like me?” “Why would they take time out of their schedule for me?” “Why would they waste their money on me?”: a constant spring of doubts and suspicions that never run dry. The question to these questions is, “why?”
In leading Bible studies the past few years, I’ve found that the most convenient places to meet are coffee shops. A beautiful habit that arose through our Bible studies was that the duty of paying for the coffee each time passed through the hands of each member quite naturally. No one was keeping records of who owed who, nor was there a situation where someone without money would end up coffee-less. When coming to a Bible study we could expect three things to happen. We would encounter the Word in its uncompromising truth, we would enjoy our fellowship together, and the coffees would be paid for.
Often we are blessed with new attendees to the Bible studies and they too fall into this system of group accountability in regards to the coffee bill. It’s interesting to see the reaction of some people who, already approaching Bible study with hesitation and suspicion, when they find that their coffee is paid for. The question that went unspoken but clearly read on their expression was, “Why did you do that?” This person might then be asking, “What was the motivation to do such a thing?” Or, in other words, “What do you want from me now?”
Today, where the Church meets the non-Church daily, there tend to be more occurrences where Christian charity is questioned and judged rather than accepted. Some years ago, Tim Tebow swept the media off its feet due to his unusually explosive and unique style of play that almost took him and his Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl. But the aspect of Tebow’s character that dominated the media spotlight was his openness as a Christian athlete and his love for Jesus Christ. In one of the many stories about Tebow that dominated the media frenzy surrounding him was his charity work in various third world countries and through charitable organizations in the United States. The astonishing thing was not that he participated in charity work, but that these instances of charity were met with an aggressive backlash of judgment and suspicion regarding his motivation, as a Christian, to do such things.
Unfortunately, there are many cases where we Christians have not helped our situation. Often, ulterior motives break the trust in selfless charity. This is why it’s always important for a Christian to not only repent for sins committed against God but also to repent for the righteous things we presume to do for God. We must never forget the words of Jesus when he said that, “no one is good, except God alone.” Christians must never claim absolute possession of that which Jesus claimed to be the sole possessor.
When Christians seek spiritual leadership, we need to be aware of “motivation.” As a young and growing Christian, or someone merely interested in Jesus, there is an ever-present awareness that more of the Bible has been unread than read, and that more questions exist than answers. As infants in the faith, we are at our most helpless, needy and vulnerable state. It is in this position that we most desperately and most likely seek or receive spiritual guidance.
When receiving spiritual guidance from someone, regardless if it comes from a friend, family member, pastor, mentor or stranger, we must always be aware of his or her motivation in helping us. What drives them to help us? Why do they take such an interest in providing said assistance? We must ask these questions, because there are many dangerous spiritual leaders in our world that are more aware of the helpless and vulnerable Christian “infants” than we are of them. Jesus described these individuals, called “false teachers” in Scripture, in detail: “they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.” A wolf is always on the hunt and clever in the way that it pursues its prey. False teachers know all too well that Christian infants are trusting of and reliant on their own kind and the best way to get close is to appear close.
The apostle Peter had much to say about false prophets in the Church. In my experience, I have found that the presence of “prophets” gets a lot of churches and Christians excited. From time to time I hear of a church that has long been described to me as dull and boring suddenly resurrected in the presence of a guest speaker/”prophet.” The guest is accompanied by an influx of excitement in the church. The congregation hangs on each and every word as if Jesus were actually in their presence. Matthew 25 comes to mind when I hear about things like this:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left…
41 “Then [the King] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
I wonder how many homeless, hungry and destitute people we Christians have judged or walked by and not welcomed into the Sunday service while providing the royal treatment to self-proclaimed prophets of God. In response to this, Jesus might tell the “Christians,” “I never knew you.” In these stories there seems to be unquestioned belief in the prophet and each prophecy, but few people stop the show, so to speak, to ask the question, “Why?” “Why am I excited about this person?” “Why do I instantaneously put so much trust in them?”
Whether in the case of a self-proclaimed prophet or a friend, we always have to ask ourselves what the motivation for the assistance is. If the motivation is to increase the profile of the teacher, we know that the assistance is misguided and dangerous. If the motivation is to increase the awareness of a church or congregation, we know that the assistance may be misguided or dangerous. If the motivation is to strengthen the relationship between the helper and the helpless, the assistance may be misguided and dangerous. We learn from the scriptures that at the heart of sin is a self-centered idea of one’s relation to the world and to God. At the heart of sin is an idea that we can be King, and ought to be served as such. Therefore, as we tread the often rocky and tumultuous path of spiritual guidance, we must always identify the motivation of the individual providing the guidance in terms of sin and self-centeredness.
The guidance that one can trust acknowledges the one and true King. Guidance we can trust comes from a motivation to strengthen the bond between the “lost sheep” and the “good shepherd” and no one else. Christian fellowship and leadership primarily seeks to glorify the Father, and the Church does this simply because at the heart of helping one another is Jesus, the reason we help and the only one that has truly helped us. Living on this foundation reveals a selflessness born of the Spirit that can truly guide and strengthen others with a genuine and natural motivation to serve.
with a genuine and natural motivation to serve