I can recall some time ago being at a conference where a well known church figure was asked the question why he felt there had been such a lull in evangelistic fervour amongst Christians.
I was anticipating the usual mantra of the modern day, twentieth century comfortable western Christian whose sense of urgency was diluted by their relative comfort and ease, etc., etc…. What I got instead made me stop and think. The speaker responded by saying that he felt most Christians needed to simply stop trying to evangelise their neighbours and ask themselves whether they really cared and loved them!
He explained that he had felt for some time that the majority of our evangelism was being done out of no higher motive than guilt! Christians, semi-regularly bashed over the head with their need to reach others, had been forcing themselves to evangelise because they needed to off load the accumulating guilt they were experiencing for not doing enough….
I had to admit, I had never considered this aspect of it up to that point. But it does raise questions about what we do and why we do it in church or our Christian lives.
What drives our serving?
What motivates our loving?
Why do we do what we do?
For some of us our activity in church is driven precisely by that very motive, a need to alleviate guilt. We are told by various teachers, pastors, friends etc., that true Christians, authentic Christ followers do this, and that, and consequently we desperate try to do this and that because we want to feel (and appear to others perhaps) like genuine, true believers.
For others their activity is driven by a need for approval, or a deep sense of wanting to feel valued and appreciated. Or simply to feel like they are useful and making a contribution.
Two men…two contrasting motives
Let’s just pause a minute here and see how these various motivations work out in practice. The Bible has given us a pretty accurate working model in two of Israel’s most prestigious characters. Their first King—Saul, and arguably their most celebrated and successful—David.
Saul classically served out of deep insecurity and spiritual instability. He desperately wanted to please Samuel, to curry favour with God. He plays a spiritual guessing game most of the time wondering if his last act was executed to Samuel’s satisfaction…..or whether his next act will be to God’s required standard.
Saul is never sure, never confident. He’s tormented and troubled and thereby in a semi-permanent state of spiritual instability.
David by contrast is everything Saul is not. He serves out of a deep love and singular devotion carefully crafted over many years of communion and conversation with God whilst still a young shepherd boy.
He has no vested interest in wanting to please anyone; not his advisor, nor his prophet, priest or chief of staff. David’s heart is tuned to the audience of one, it is God and the desire to please and celebrate him that provides his richest motivation. He is not ruling for serving by the seat of his emotional pants – far from it. David knows he is loved, he knows he has been chosen. He lives out of a sense of deep personal assurance and spiritual stability.
Consequently David, unlike his counterpart Saul, loves and serves free of a burdening need to justify or quantify himself. He is operating out of love not fear, assurance not uncertainty.
The driving motive of Jesus
Right before Jesus’s breathless act of humility, where he washes his disciples feet; John provides us with these introductory words,
Jesus, with the full knowledge that the Father had put everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was going to God…(John 13:3)
Why? That is the question we are wanting to put to John. Why say this immediately before telling us of this remarkable foot-washing display? I believe one of the central reasons John includes these words is to give us an insight into Jesus’s deeper motives for doing what he did. John wanted us to appreciate that Jesus, unlike many of us, was free from the superficial need for favour. Free from the cosmetic necessity of status.
When we find Jesus assuming the lowest domestic role of an everyday, ordinary foot-washer, we see him void of any need to win approval, or alleviate fear, or resolve guilt. He moves beyond the constraints of personal insecurity, he is a foreigner to spiritual one-upmanship. Jesus reflects the truth that serving, in its purist form, can only be expressed by those who are not in need of it to quantify or establish their personal significance or importance in the eyes of both others and themselves.