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Motivation for Right Living

Sometimes the things you learn, even at the Doctor of Ministry level, surprise you.

Last week I went to Chicago to attend a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity International University. I’m actually taking my D. Min. program at Dallas Seminary, but I attended Trinity (where I did my master’s work) as a visiting student.

The course I was taking was called ‘Christ-Centered Preaching’ by Dr. Bryan Chapell, author of a book with the same name. It’s a good book, but some of the best material Dr. Chapell shared wasn’t in his book but was in his lectures.

One of the key areas he expanded on in a lecture was motivation. Specifically, what can a preacher or teacher teach that will help motivate people to do the things God desires. For example, Ephesians 6:1 says “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” But how do we motivate this obedience?

Chapel says there are basically four motivations: self-protection; self-promotion; dependence on God; and love for God. Let’s examine these briefly:

(1) Self-protection. This is essentially the fear motive ‘if you don’t obey you will be punished.’ This is not necessarily a bad motive, but it can lead quickly to rebellion or legalism. It can lead to a view of God as an ogre who is out to get us if we mess up. It’s possible to take the last four words of Ephesians 6:1, ‘for this is right’ as citing this motive. (Do right; don’t do wrong).

(2) Self-promotion. This is the reward motive, and is in fact a motive that God cites in Scripture. Ephesians 6 goes on to say “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– 3″that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” A blessing is promised as a result of obedience. Again, this is a legitimate motivator, but has the same faults – it can lead to legalism. It can also lead to a ‘what’s in it for me?’ view of righteousness – I’ll be good so you’ll give me stuff.

Excessive use of these two motives leads to what Chapell calls ‘the Killer b’s of preaching’, in which we only say “Be like; be good; be disciplined” These are deadly because ultimately they give the impression that we can satisfy God’s requirements out of our own power, in our own selves. Scripture clearly teaches us that a righteousness before God achieved by works is impossible.

(3) Dependence on God. The next motive has fewer problems. We are called in Scripture to live in utter dependence on God. As we recognize our own need and turn to him in faith, he empowers us for right living. Specifically he gives us the Holy Spirit, who strengthens us in our weakness, cries out with us in prayer, gives us His fruit and empowers witness. Even in the Old Testament God taught that doing His work was ‘not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit.’ We teach our children this motive when we show them from Scripture that they cannot ‘be good’ in themselves, but that they need God’s help and strength in order to obey him.

(4) Love for God. But Chapel would say that the best motive for Christian living and the best empowerment for Christian living is love for God; not God’s love for us, though he would acknowledge that God’s love does motivate our love. But it is our love for God that motivates us: ‘for Christ’s love compels us . . .” As Jesus himself taught “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Love motivates obedience, and every other Christian virtue. The example Chapell uses is to ask what motivates a mother to go back into a burning building after her child: it’s not fear or selfishness – it is only love that can motivate such action. And in fact the love empowers such action.

So the question I had to ask myself was ‘as a preacher and teacher, what motivations do I use?’ I think you would agree that I often use number 3, dependence on God, though I do occasionally use fear of consequences or expectation of blessings as motives. But the embarrassing thing is that I don’t think I have much used what Chapell would call the best motive, love for God, in my preaching. I’ve probably used God’s love for us more frequently, but I agree with Chapell that that lacks the power of a love that we have.

I’ve often said that the best sermon I never read was one titled ‘The expulsive power of a new affection.’ This course made it plain to me that love for God (affection, in an older version of English) has the power to change me.

I’m thinking hard on this, and I expect it will show up in my preaching.