The word of the day is “motive.” Our motivations are hidden from others and even ourselves. But God knows the secrets of the soul. Thus, St. Maximos the Confessor says that the “Logos” (Jesus Christ who is the Word Incarnate) judges the intentions and thoughts of the heart, that is, the invisible underlying disposition and the motives hidden in the soul” (St.-Maximos-the-Confessor 1981, Kindle Loc 13302).
Today in our reading of 1 Corinthians 9:13-18, Paul defends himself against the false accusation that he is proclaiming the gospel for monetary reasons. He answers, “What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the Gospel” (OSB vs. 18). Today our study of Paul’s defense of his motives gives us insight into the proper motivation of our actions.
Paul Answers the Charge that He Is Preaching for Earthly Gain
In today’s passage, Paul gives evidence that one faction of the Corinthians is attacking his motives (vs. 1) to undermine his authority (vs. 17-18). But St. Paul denies that he is taking money from the Corinthians (vs. 15) while claiming that he has a right (vs. 4-10) to their support. He says that if he preaches the gospel unwillingly, then the duty to proclaim it has been pressed upon him, and he can’t boast about it since it is his duty (vs. 16). On the other hand, if Paul proclaims Christ willingly, the only reward he seeks is that he may do it without charge. He refrains from taking money from the congregation to preclude the accusation of abusing his authority (vs.1 8) or gaining anything from the church.
Proper and Improper Motives for Serving the Lord
On the surface, Paul seems to be denying the petty charge that he is shaking down the congregation. But if we consider the matter more closely, we see that Paul exemplifies the proper motives for service to Christ. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul lists some improper motivations for service to the Lord. He writes, “For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit. But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts” (1 OSB Thessalonians 2:4-5).
The Greek word for “error” comes from the idea of “wandering about” (Strong’s #4106, 202) as if Paul was “taking the Corinthians for a ride.” The Greek word for “uncleanness” is a literal but awkward translation of what defiles one’s soul (Strong’s 165 #10). A better rendering would suggest that Paul has mixed and impure motives for his work. Moreover, the Greek word for “deceit” comes from the idea of setting a trap with a “bait” (Strong’s #1388, 71). This term suggests that Paul is tricking the congregation. Finally, the word “please” would indicate that Paul was trying to ingratiate himself with his hearers (Strong’s #700, 41).
Whose Interest is Being Served?
Paul’s answer to these charges comes down to the question of whose interest is served in ministry in the Name of the Lord. The apostle insists that his desire is not to make himself agreeable to his hearers but to please God (OSB 1 Thessalonians 2:4). The commendation of the Almighty is the highest and most proper motive for our actions.
According to St. Maximos the Confessor, “In everything that we do God searches out our purpose to see whether we do it for Him or for some other reason” (St.-Maximos-the-Confessor 1981, Kindle Loc 10305).
The Lord said, “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil” (OSB Luke 6:35). In other words, our motivation for doing good and lending should not be our own gain in this world. But our goal should be the Kingdom of God and to be called “children of God.”
Worship, Serve, and Love for Their Own Sake
In this vein, we might ask, what do we gain from our worship attendance? If we participate in services merely for what we get out of them, we will drift from place to place and group to group trying to find something that will satisfy us. But worship is its own purpose. It needs no other. Likewise, we should find joy in serving just as we should attain fulfillment in loving. We should love and serve for their own sake. Indeed, we should do everything that we do “in the Name of the Lord” (Colossians 3:17) and for the glory of God, not for earthly gain.
St.-Maximos-the-Confessor. 1981. “The Philokalia: the Complete Text” In St. Maximos the Confessor: Forty Texts on Love New York: Farber and Farber.