Measured by Motive

Categories: Straight from the Word

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Friends Magazine Hong Kong
By Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva
April 2013 Edition

Author of the classic book, Imitation Of Christ, Thomas à Kempis worded it rightly, “Man sees your actions, but God your motives.”

If there is a measurement against which our actions ought to be judged, it has to be the touchstone of our motive. Because motive, by definition, is “a reason for doing something, especially one that is hidden or not obvious.”

This validates why, even in criminal investigations, authorities often primarily seek to establish the motive for the commission of a crime.  On a lighter note, yet by the same token, we tend to become circumspect too toward people who suddenly do out-of-the-ordinary things for us.  Ask a mom whose teenage son, totally uncharacteristic of him, suddenly offers to do the laundry just because!

* * * * *

In the Old Testament, there are two occasions in Prophet Samuel’s life wherein God exposed the power of human motive.  And in these two occasions, God showed how, like a two-faced coin, motive has the power to ruin or restore – not only individuals, but also even nations.

When the time came for the LORD to avenge the Israelites against the Amalekites who blocked Israel’s way after the Israelites came from their Egypt exodus, He sent Samuel to King Saul with the following order: Attack Amalek. Claim everything they have for God by destroying it. Spare no one and nothing – even the cows and sheep, camels and donkeys (1 Samuel 15:3).

King Saul did as instructed.  Well, almost.

“Then Saul slaughtered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt. He captured Agag, the Amalekite king, but completely destroyed everyone else. Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality” (1 Samuel 15:7-9, NLT).

Confronted by Prophet Samuel on why he didn’t carry out fully the command of the LORD, King Saul reasoned with Prophet Samuel that he spared Agag and the best of the spoil because they will be sacrificed to the LORD.

To King Saul’s army, his outward action may seem justified, even commendable, but to the LORD who weighs the motives of the heart (Proverbs 21:2), it was a detestable act of disobedience, even rebellion (1 Samuel 15:22).

“Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So BECAUSE YOU HAVE REJECTED THE COMMAND OF THE LORD, HE HAS REJECTED YOU AS KING” (1 Samuel 15:23, NLT, emphasis mine).

This should serve as a serious warning to us.  “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit” (Proverbs 16:2, ESV).

Meanwhile, when it was time for Prophet Samuel to anoint the successor of King Saul, he went to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem to pour oil on the head of God’s chosen one.

When Jesse’s muscular firstborn stood before Prophet Samuel, he immediately thought: “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!”(1 Samuel 16:6, NLT)

Yet just as soon as the thought came to his mind, God’s Word came to his heart: “Don’t look at his appearance or how tall he is, because I have rejected him. God does not see as humans see. Humans look at outward appearances, but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, NLT).

One by one, Jesse’s sons were called out to stand before Prophet Samuel until the verdict was made: “The Lord has not chosen any of these. Are these all the sons you have?” (1 Samuel 16:10-11, GWT, emphasis mine).

Alas! The forgetful father was put in remembrance! “There is still the youngest,” Jesse replied. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats” (1 Samuel 16:11-12, NLT).

By our standards, it can be said that it was not the best beginning for a would-be-king!  But God does not see as humans see. He is not impressed by what usually catches our fancy. He weighs the motives of the heart.

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It is not for us to say whether an endeavor is a success or a failure, based on our limited and warped definition of success and failure. The story of King Saul and the Israelites tells us that success is not simply winning a war; it is winning the LORD’s approval by doing everything He commands. On the same note, King David’s election story tells us that being disqualified by one’s own father as a potential future king is not an outright failure or rejection. David was blessed that, while others saw him as a mere shepherd boy, God found him a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22) and worthy of the throne.

We should never be afraid to “walk on water” if the LORD tells us so. We should never be afraid to “let down our nets for a catch” even though we have only been through a night of unproductive fishing.  We should never be afraid to wholeheartedly obey God in all things, and at all times, even when the results of our obedience do not match our expectations.

After all, “God will certainly judge everything that is done. This includes every secret thing, whether it is good or bad” (Ecclesiastes 12:14, GWT).

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