Food for Thought-What’s My Motivation? Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

What’s My Motivation?

“What’s my motivation?” I know you’ve heard that question before. It’s often asked by actors playing pretentious actors on television and in movies. It’s not a bad question. What motivates us to get up in the morning and be the person we are called to be? Why are we disciples? Why do we follow Jesus Christ? Why do we do “this”? I also see it as the underlying question behind these few verses Paul is writing to the Thessalonians in this morning’s lectionary reading.

1) Ultimately and always everything comes back to the Good News. We have one story to tell. It’s the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have to tell it, in the words of the BBC Radio 4 program “Just a Minute” without hesitation, deviation, or repetition. We can’t put words in Jesus’ mouth. Nor can we subtract from the words he said. We can’t make him out to be an icon of the religious right or the political left. He transcends any distinction. The kingdom of God is a place which operates beyond the conventional political boundaries created by the fall of the Roman Empire and the eventual rise of parliamentary democracy in Western Europe and representative democracy in the United States of America. Do we want to conform to his story or will we continue trying to mold him to our own story? Paul’s answer is clear. Conforming to Christ’s story is the only authentic answer.

2) Here’s where a direct quote comes in to play. “We aren’t trying to please people but we are trying to please God.” Who are we trying to please? Are we trying to please what our neighbors as to what constitutes a good Christian? Are we trying to please some kind of flawed internal standard that was warped when we were children or in a youth group as to what God really wanted from us and as a consequence we’ve always been trying to please other people? Pleasing God is our first priority. It always has been and always will be.

If we were in the business of pleasing people, we are in the wrong business. We are not in this for ourselves. We should be doing something else. Was Jesus in the business of pleasing people? If you look holistically, across the board, at his life and ministry, was it about pleasing people? No. It was about pleasing God. People’s lives were made better; infinitely better, through serving and pleasing God.

Is the message of the Good News ultimately about pleasing people or doing God’s will and reflecting God’s glory in our actions? In reflecting God’s glory in our actions and doing God’s will; letting people know the Good News (the one story), we are given the tools and the stage is set for their needs to be met.

3) Paul says, “As you know, we never used flattery.” There are two basic approaches (both in Paul’s day and our own) to sharing the gospel.

a) The “You sure to have a nice car, did I tell you that Jesus loves you?”
b) Or the “You dirty filthy miserable rotten no good sinner; you’re going straight to Hell.”

Paul says he neither flattered people nor did he unnecessarily condemn people outright and try to scare them into heaven. There is, with all good things, a middle ground. Jesus showed us this.
Jesus, Paul, (and you and I) showed us how to meet people where they are. If people are rich, poor, hungry, full, living in a shack, speaking English, or Spanish, they have the same spiritual and emotional needs. Jesus got that instinctively. If they were hungry, he fed them first. If they were sick, he made them better. Everybody was the same, a person searching for a better connection with God. Roman centurions loved their kids just like poor Samaritan widows did.

These are the things Paul says motivates us to keep going and do what we do.

–Richard Bryant


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