Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 22:24-30; Hebrews 8:7-13; Proverbs 24:1-22; Isaiah 43
A Benefactor literally means one who does good. Rulers and the wealthy in Roman times would sometimes provide money for public events and buildings. Corporations and philanthropists act similarly today. Jesus points to the irony that underlies some of this apparent generosity. In ancient times, those aspiring to political power would sometimes try to buy public support. In some ways, little has changed. While doing good for others, some are motivated primarily to do good for themselves. Whether on a large public scale, or individually, some to do good to gain influence and authority for themselves.
Jesus urges us to ‘not be like that.’ He was not addressing the rich and powerful, but his own disciples. They were the ones arguing over who was the best. It is easy to point the finger at politicians and greedy corporations. Those of us who are seeking to follow Christ must also reflect on how our good deeds might be self-serving. God is not only concerned about our actions, but also about the motivations that underlie them. How large a factor is our desire to be seen to do good and thereby win favour or influence? How much of our service is motivated by a competitive desire to be the best rather than out of gratitude? Are we developing a servant heart, or just a track-record to get us ahead? Do we serve because we truly believe it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35)?
We will gain insight into our motivations when we reflect on our attitudes while serving. If helping others is a means towards some other end, we will be frustrated if that end is not obtained. If we help someone because it is the right thing to do, we can be satisfied whether or not our help is recognized or acknowledged. If we find ourselves frustrated or angry after helping someone, we should carefully check our motivations. Burn-out among those helping and caring for people long-term, either professionally or otherwise, may be tied to expectations arising from inappropriate motivations.
Our motivations are complex and sometimes conflict. As we go to serve someone, we may realise that we would like them to think well of us. A doctor may care deeply for her patients, but also realise she really likes the wealth and prestige of being a doctor. We help someone out, hoping he will now leave us alone. Should we serve others when we realise we have mixed motives?
Proverbs 24:11-12 helps to address this question. People are being exploited and abused all over the world. People are left to starve, workers toil in sweat shops, girls are forced into prostitution, disabled people are left sitting in soiled diapers, colleagues are being bullied. With global communications, we cannot say, “But we knew nothing about this.” Likewise, we cannot wait for our motives to be perfect, otherwise we would rarely serve. Some things should be done because they are right, even when our motives are imperfect. Sometimes, in doing the right thing, we come to develop the right motives. Serving the poor and vulnerable can be what it takes to develop a serving heart. At the same time, we should engage with God and others in prayerful reflection about the complexities of our hearts. Examining our motivations should remind us that, like Paul, we have not yet been perfected (Philippians 3:12-16). This brings humility as we serve, and drives us to depend on God’s grace and forgiveness as we allow him to change our hearts.