On the Corner

by Robert Docter – 

Motives intrigue me.

Why do people behave in particular ways? What is their incentive? What drives them to certain behaviors?

I’ve noticed that some people are extremely generous in the way they behave towards others. Often, they can’t seem to do enough or give enough for someone. Their desire to help is absolutely genuine, and they communicate that genuineness in substantial ways.

On the other hand, I’ve observed that other people actually give a great deal and do significant things, but the spirit of generosity is missing. They seem motivated to give for reasons other than generosity. I wonder if God looks on their gift with the same favor as he bestows on the gift of the generous giver?

A Bible verse that gets a big play in printed mottoes and wall plaques says: God loves a CHEERFUL giver. It’s not shown that way on the plaques or mottoes, and neither is it printed that way in the Bible, but I think emphasizing CHEERFUL is a good idea.

People are motivated to behave for different reasons. Some do things in order to build their ego strength–to make themselves feel better–to help them see themselves as “better” people–to achieve something. Others do things for social reasons–because everyone around them is doing the same thing, and they want to be like them. Still others do things for the reward expected at the end of the line. Some people are just plain curious. They wonder what something tastes like, or how it feels, or what happens if you do something–or if you don’t.

I know some people who are motivated by guilt. They’re trying to make up for something–to make it “better.” Or, they fear the possibility of guilt and want to avoid it. Therefore, they behave in a manner designed to accomplish a guilt-free life. Some do things from a sense of obligation. Doing one’s duty is important to them–even if they don’t particularly enjoy what that duty requires. I guess some people do things simply out of habit. That’s the way they’ve always done it, and that’s the way they’ll continue to do it.

I know I’ve used all of these motives in my life, and I suspect that you have, too.

Is it wrong to go to the corps out of a sense of duty? Is obligation an inappropriate motive to use when one tithes? Is it somehow un-Christian to think of my eternal reward when I do things here on earth? Does the habit of my Sunday school attendance inhibit my relationship with God?

No! None of these questions are answered, “yes.”

However, I believe God is concerned about our reason for doing things, and that he hopes we behave out of a sense of compassion and love. He wants us to have empathy with one another–to feel with a person in distress–so much that we generously put ourselves out in order to help.

We enter now a season of self-denial, and turn our hearts and minds to those less fortunate than we are.

As we look at the difficulties of human existence around the world in comparison to our own affluence, we must conclude that the means for basic survival and spiritual renewal are not equally distributed. We have more than others.

Paul said to another affluent society in Corinth:

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality. (II Cor. 8:13-15).

We assist with the physical and spiritual needs of those in lands less fortunate than ours, and they give to us the opportunity to empathize. Thus we grow in spirit.

As we continue to engage in acts of love even out of a sense of duty, or obligation, or habit, or curiosity, or for reward, these behaviors lead us in the direction God hopes for us: that we will learn the joy of cheerful giving, motivated out of love.

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