Free Grace people understand that our motives are significant. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, the Lord Jesus will expose our motives for serving Him and others (1 Cor 4:5). This will determine our rewards. We can do things for our glory or the glory of the Lord (Matt 6:1-21). Sometimes our motives are not godly. If we hear that a believer whom we admire conducted his ministry motivated by his own lust for fame and fortune, we are sad. It is certainly appropriate to ask the Lord to give us holy motives.
Sometimes, however, we make proper motives too important. When we do, we ignore things that are actually more important.
We see this when we hold the view that one’s motives trump the truth. We hear someone preach a gospel of works—a Lordship or Arminian gospel—and we disagree with him. But we also say, “his heart is in the right place.” We know he is sincere in what he is teaching. He thinks he is pleasing the Lord. Some who disagree with the works gospel that such a preacher espouses would still say that the preacher loves the Lord. After all, we don’t want to be dogmatic and act like jerks. We can overlook his unbiblical teaching and work with him. He is a good guy. Often, we can even look at some of the outward results of his work and conclude that he is doing good things for others.
We have a natural tendency to want to get along. Our culture rejects the idea that there is absolute truth. When we meet evangelicals with whom we have differences concerning the offer of eternal life, it is easy to say that their motives are more important than their message.
In Philippians 1, Paul takes an entirely different view. He speaks of people who proclaim the truth—they preach Christ. But their motives are lousy. He says that they teach what is true, but they do it out of “envy and strife.” They are not sincere and want to “add affliction” to the sufferings Paul is experiencing as a prisoner in Rome (Phil 1:15-16).
What Paul says about such preaching is striking. Twice he says that it causes him to “rejoice” (v 18). He is not glad that these men are teaching with impure motives. But he rejoices because they are teaching the truth. The truth is being spread.
I can’t help but compare this to what Paul says about what happened in the churches of Galatia. In those churches, the truth had been lost. People were teaching a perverted gospel of works. There was a push to go back to the Law. Perhaps some were saying that keeping the Law was necessary in order to receive eternal life (Gal 5:4; cf. Acts 15:1). Others, perhaps, were saying that legalistic Law-keeping was necessary for spiritual growth (Acts 15:5). What is clear is that the truth was maligned. The good news of grace was denied.
The preachers in Galatia most likely had good motives. They thought they were doing the work of the Lord. They were elevating that great OT prophet, Moses. I guess they could even point to examples of people they had helped to live better lives outwardly. I am sure they had the support of others who said they were good people.
But Paul does not rejoice. If Philippians is the most joyful of Paul’s letters, Galatians is the sternest. He tells them that such teachings are accursed (Gal 1:9). He tells them that by adding works to the good news of Christ, they have turned from the truth. It is as if somebody has cast an evil spell on them (Gal 3:1).
These two examples are very instructive for me. At Philippi the truth was taught with bad motives. In Galatia the truth was abandoned with good motives. Of course, we would love to see sound teaching with great motives. But if we had to choose, I feel sadly confident that many evangelicals today would prefer the situation at Galatia.
Paul does not.
The lesson is clear: Truth trumps motives. Proclaiming the truth of the promise of life is paramount. Eternal life is given by faith alone and can never be lost. If someone is proclaiming that, we should rejoice. That is true even if his motives are wrong. But if someone adds works to what is necessary in order to gain or retain everlasting life, he is proclaiming a false gospel and we should not rejoice. It doesn’t matter that he may be the most sincere person we know and that he has the best motives in the world.
Of course, we are called to the highest standard. We are to do good–including proclaiming the true gospel–with godly motives. We are not to seek the praise of men. We are not to be greedy for financial gain.
When it comes to evangelizing, let’s combine sound doctrine with God-honoring motives. We long to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
When it comes to our response to the evangelistic ministries of others, may we rejoice regarding those who proclaim the true gospel, even if their motives are wrong. And may we be grieved when we hear of those who proclaim a false gospel. Grieving over the teaching of false doctrine is suffering for the Lord.