Monday, December 26, 2011

What’s My Motivation?

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 12.31.11

Why do we do the things we do?  Because someone is making us?  Because we’ll get some kind of reward?  To stay out of trouble?  What motivates a fireman to run into a burning building or a soldier to go into the most dangerous part of the battle?  Is somebody making them do it?  Is it because of a set of rules somewhere that says they have to?  What motivates a person to spend years in prison because of his (or her) beliefs?  What motivates a 21 year old to leave her family rather than give up her religion?
“A young Christian in Myanmar was forced to choose between faith and family recently when her relatives demanded that she recant her faith. On Sept. 19, 2011, 21-year-old Ying was preparing to leave for classes at an underground seminary when her relatives locked her in the house. They threatened to disown her, beat her and withdraw support — including food — if she continued to attend seminary or church. In addition, they threatened to send her to a remote village with no known Christians if she did not recant her faith. Instead of giving in to their demands, Ying ran away from home and left her family behind.”[1]
I’m pretty sure that most of the people reading this, right now, have not had to choose between our families and our beliefs; it’s really hard for me to imagine.  But why did she do it?  Why didn’t Ying just give up her Christian beliefs and go back to being Buddhist?

What motivates a person to do the “right” thing when it would be easier not to or when no one would notice or even care what he did?

“Within an hour of closing on his first home, Josh Ferrin, an artist for the Deseret News, used the keys to take his first official look inside. While taking it all in, he noticed a tiny scrap of carpet peeking out of a small door in the ceiling of a workshop at the back of the garage. He got a ladder and climbed up to explore the unseen space. It was dark and musty, but Ferrin could see a black metal box sitting there. It was a heavy metal box—the kind used to haul ammunition during World War II—and it was filled with cash (more than $45,000), old stamps, bond certificates, and other random memorabilia.
And he gave it all back!
“‘You can't make plans for money like this,’ Ferrin said. ‘It just doesn't feel right to do anything but give it back. So I immediately closed it, locked it in my truck, and called my wife. 'You won't believe what I just found.’ His wife Tara immediately knew the couple had to return the money to its rightful owners.
But Arnold Bangerter, the former homeowner, had passed away in November 2010, and his youngest son, Dennis Bangerter, the executor of Bangerter's estate, had just signed the 1950s red-brick rambler away. It took at least three hours for the Ferrins to sort and count the box-full of cash, all the while teaching a lesson of honesty to their two young sons, who wanted to keep ‘just one’ of the bundles and kept trying to slip coins into their pockets.
“‘The house needs some work,’ Josh Ferrin said. ‘I could use the $45,000 for remodeling, but he didn't save that money for us. He saved it for his family. I never considered the money mine. You can't allow yourself to think like that.’”[2]
I mean, come on, who would have known if the Ferrins kept that money?  The house was theirs now, wasn’t it?  The guy who’d put the money there was dead; what’s the big deal?  Would anybody say that Mr. Ferrin was living “under the law” because he felt he needed to give the money back?  Was he doing the “right” thing because someone was making him do it?

On the other hand, what motivates people to do the “wrong” thing…actually, maybe “wrong” isn’t the right word…you decide:
“Several years ago I knew a girl who had signed a contract to teach. In August she received another offer from a school closer to where she wanted to live. So she broke the original contract. Had she acted on the biblical principle in (Psalms 15:4), where God says that He is pleased with a person who swears to his own hurt and does not change, she would not have done that. The department chairman ... said her justification was ‘I have a peace about it,’ and he commented rather sardonically, ‘Isn't that lovely? She's got the peace and I've got the pieces.’”[3]
I guess that young woman would have said she was doing the right thing…doing what was best for her.  But it doesn’t seem like the honorable thing to do, does it?  She wasn’t acting with integrity.
“Integrity is keeping my commitment(s) even if the circumstances when I made the commitment(s) have changed.”[4]
Would anybody say that living with integrity is living “under the law”?  I guess that would depend on a person’s motivation.  Is he trying to “look respectable?”  Or would he act the same way if nobody would ever know the difference?

When Paul was writing to the Galatians, he wanted to know that some people were motivated by, what we would call, legalism.  They wanted things to “look respectable” but they didn’t care much about what was going on inside or underneath (in the hearts of the new Christians).  Paul was worried that the church in Galatia was being misled, by the Pharisees, to do things just to make things look right.  The Pharisees wanted them to look respectable but didn’t care whether or not they lived with integrity

Legalism doesn’t care why we do something, as long as we do it.  Integrity cares about motivation first.  Does that make sense?
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  Galatians 6:7-10
So, what’s your motivation, respectability or integrity?  Can we do both?  Can we tell by looking at someone whether or not they’re living under the law or under grace?  Not always.  But God knows…

[1] “Faith Over Family” Voice of the Martyrs,
[2] Wendy Leonard, "Big Cash Discovery Becomes Lesson in Honesty for Bountiful Family," (5-18-11); submitted by Van Morris, Mt. Washington, Kentucky
[3] Paul E. Little in a sermon, "Affirming the Will of God" (in Great Sermons of the 20th Century). Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 16.
[4] David Jeremiah, Leadership, Vol. 10, no. 2.

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