MOTIVES THAT LEAD TO OBEDIENCE

 Chapter 8

There are four motives, or four considerations, that lead people to try to do God’s will. There are hope of reward, fear, duty, and love. The quality and content of the obedience depend upon which of these considerations prevails in the mind. There may be times when more than one of these is involved, but usually at least one of them has a preponderant influence. We shall, therefore, notice each in turn, together with the results produced or the kind of obedience rendered when people are moved by these considerations.

The First Motive for Obedience Considered

We shall notice: first, hope of reward. There is a reward in serving God. There is a reward that follows obedience to his will. It is not wrong to consider the reward of serving. It is not wrong to look ahead to the end of the way, and consider what is there. To do so: cheers the soul while on many a weary mile of life’s pathway. It brightens many “dark places”. It helps us bear many a heavy burden, and nerves us to endure many a hardness. It helps us to ignore many things that if noticed might keep us back, and causes hope to spring eternal in the human breast.

God offers us a reward, and holds it before our vision in order to encourage our faltering footsteps, but hope for a reward is based wholly upon self-interest. Service and obedience rendered to God that is moved by the hope of a reward, which may come to us from that service and obedience, are essentially selfish. There are many professed Christians whose chief motive for trying to serve God is the hope of getting to heaven. When Christ was upon earth some people followed him for the loaves and fishes. They followed him because they were fed---not because they loved him; not because they desired to become like him; not because they wished to be ennobled in their characters; not because they wished to do him honor; but that they might be fed. Service based upon the hope of reward, or obedience for what we can get out of it, is utterly unworthy. This can never rise to the dignity of true service, or to the loyalty required for true obedience. This motive dwells ever in the plain. It can never climb to the height. There is no loftiness or grandeur in service so inspired. One in this condition cannot have the content of rich joy and satisfying pleasure nor the divine approbation that comes to those who serve from a higher motive.

It is perfectly proper for us to enjoy in anticipation the things laid up in store, at the end of the race, for the Christian. It is perfectly proper for us to look forward to them with joyful eagerness. But this hope for reward, this self-interest, must be secondary to love as a motive if our service is ever to rise above the plain of selfishness. We must hold the attitude of rendering service for love alone, just as if there were no reward. This is a fair test of our service. If we should suddenly receive a revelation from heaven that God had changed his plan, and that no particular reward would be given for services rendered, would we continue our service with the same earnestness and zeal that we give to it now? Or, losing our hope of reward, would we at once lose our zeal, our interest in God’s will, and our purpose to obey it? The Book of Job tells us that Satan asked God, “Doth Job fear God for naught?” (Job 1:9). In other words, ‘Is job’s obedience and worship actuated by an unselfish motive? Is it not true that he serves thee because of the blessings that reward him for such service?’ The trial proved that Job’s service had a higher motive behind it than that of self-interest. Service whose only motive is hope of reward has in it no element of acceptability to God because it does not consider God or his interest. It overlooks all unselfish considerations that would lead to true service and obedience. In reality such service is not directed toward God, but toward ourselves.

Even slaves are commanded to serve their masters from an unselfish motive. They are to serve, “not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Eph.6:6, 7). Here the common, every-day service that is to be rendered to our fellow men is to be based upon good-will and to be done from the same standpoint as though it were service rendered to God. If human service is to be put upon such a plane, certainly divine service should not be upon such a plane; certainly divine service should not be upon a lower one. If God takes note of service rendered to our fellow men from this higher motive, as verse eight declares he does, how much more will he take note of such service rendered to himself!

A reward is offered to stimulate service. It is alright to anticipate our reward and rejoice in it, as God said, “Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” But the rendering of acceptable service must be the primary, and the reward for serving the secondary consideration in order for us to render a high type of service, or any service which is worthy to be remunerated with such a reward as God offers. Selfish service is worthy of only a fraction of the reward that is merited by unselfish and loving service. So while the promised reward cheers our hearts, lightens our burdens, speeds our feet onward, and thus adds to the zest of our service, yet we should look beyond this reward and serve God for what he is and obey him because he deserves to be obeyed, because he is worthy to be obeyed, and with a feeling in our hearts that we should serve him just as freely and earnestly as though no reward had been promised to us.

The Second Motive for Obedience Considered

The second motive for obedience is fear. A realization of God’s greatness, of his love of holiness, and of his abhorrence of sin, and of his expressed disposition to punish those worthy of punishment because of their evil-doing, tends to excite fear in the heart. Fear tends to produce obedience in order to avoid the penalty of disobedience. The service that comes from fear is essentially selfish. This consideration in the mind, leading to obedience, is prompted by self-interest and self-preservation. Fear moves to obedience where there is no love, or but little love. Where there is a heart of filial affection which looks up and says, “Our Father,” there is no slavish fear which brings bondage and torment. Fear and love are opposites. He who obeys God because he is afraid of him, because of the sword of vengeance which God holds, can never render to God the sort of service that comes from love. The fear of hell keeps many people from doing things that they otherwise would do, and it causes them to do many things that they otherwise would not do. Thus, it has a salutary effect, from a moral standpoint. But service to God that is rendered because we fear he will cast us into hell if we do not serve and obey him is a low, selfish, degrading service. It degrades both God and man. It is a dark, irksome, repelling service. It has neither present nor future reward.

Fear torments the soul, but sincere and whole-hearted love casts out selfish fear and leaves only that fear which is filial reverence. Love never questions God’s faithfulness, his justice, love, kindness, tenderness, etc. It draws near in full assurance of faith, while selfish fear shrinks and trembles and would fain flee away from the majesty of God, whom it considers the severe Judge and austere Master. Fear questions and distrusts. The farther away from its Lord’s presence it feels safe in going, the better it feels. Love, however, draws near to the throne, and though it desires that its service should be more perfect, it prefers to perform its tasks under the eye of its beloved Master rather than apart from him, for it has the consciousness that its service is the outpouring of itself. Love ever craves the presence of its beloved, but selfish fear cannot abide to draw near to God. Its obedience is a compelled obedience, not a willing service.

The Third Motive for Obedience Considered

The third motive for obedience, duty, may be no higher than those motives already considered, or it may rise to a considerably higher plain, depending upon the consideration from which the sense of duty arises. A lively sense of duty may come from fear, or be the effect of fear. One may feel under strong obligation to obey God, and he may obey him as the moral ruler of the universe to whom he is bound as a slave to his master, a citizen to his sovereign, or a moral being to his Creator. A sense of duty may also arise from man’s moral sense of justice. He may feel that because God has done certain things for him, he owes to God a binding obligation of obedience. He is in duty bound to serve him. Or, again, the sense of duty may arise from a feeling of gratitude and appreciation of God’s kindness, and his other noble qualities. It is proper that we should feel that service is a duty, but duty-service is still a lower type of service than that which is taught in the Bible.

The sense of duty that arises from fear drives one with the lash of the taskmaster. Its compulsion ever goads the conscience. It often is a thing that one would gladly evade did he dare do so. We must often nerve ourselves with stern resolution and compel our will with iron determination. Such service, from its very nature, can never be easy and joyful service. A Catholic priest, in a sermon published in the press some time since, expressed to his congregation the results of this kind of service, in the following words: “Your religion does not make you happy. Your faces show you are not happy.” This could be just as truly said of a multitude of Protestants---their religion is not a joyous religion; there is no glow of warmth or fervor, there is no joyous, spontaneous praise. The whole situation is summed up in saying, “Their religion does not make them happy. They have a hard row to hoe.” Take away their fear of hell, and they would lose all their religion in a day, except that which goes to make them respectable in the sight of men. They serve God in order to placate him, as the heathen attempts to placate their gods whom they fear and the demons that terrorize them. How different in its nature is the service that makes the ‘faces of the people to shine’! When the minister who is preaching the will of God to his congregation looks down into their happy faces and sees them responsive and glowing with satisfaction, he knows that their service comes from a higher motive than this low sense of duty which has its origin in fear.

What does service to his god bring to the heathen? It brings something…and something very real, if not something satisfying to the full desire of his heart. It brings an allayment of his fears, and a consciousness that he has done what he supposes to be his duty. It brings a temporary respite to his conscience, but it can produce no love for, or delight in, the object of his devotion and service. The heathen would fight to the death for his god, but he cannot love it. There is nothing, in his view of the character of his god, or of his relations with it, that can draw out love. He serves his god because he fears it, but that he does not love it is indicated by the fact that many times men punish their gods. Sometimes when the heathen’s prayers are not answered he will shut up his god in a dark closet in order to punish it, or he may even beat it.

The Christian who serves his God through this type of fear and the sense of duty arising from it, will defend his God against the atheist and infidel, and fight for dogmas and doctrines with ardor and determination. He must preserve his God and his religion, because he fears for himself. His service may be reluctant and forced, but he dare not discontinue it nor suffer it to be abused by others. From this service of fear has flowed: the bitter persecutions of past ages. All the wranglings, strife, and hatred between religious partisans have been the fruits of this kind of religion. Those who love God do not hare their fellow men. Those whose service is animated by love do not try to bind a compulsory service on others. It is a religion based on fear and duty that eventuates in using forceful methods other than that compelling power---love, which constrains the heart to serve.

The feeling of duty which issues from the sense of God’s desert is a far higher thing than that which comes from fear. It possesses elements of nobility. It may have many good qualities. It may produce a considerable degree of willingness in service. It may remove much of the hardness that is found in the service of fear. It may react so as to produce a degree of happiness and self-satisfaction. This is because God, not self, is mostly in view, and because the feeling of duty arises from a consideration of God’s worthiness, and does not have in it the consideration of self-interest. But no matter how high this duty-service may rise, it must still come far short of being the highest type of service.

The sense of duty that arises from appreciation of God’s goodness and of gratitude to him is the highest form of duty-service. But still this is far below the New Testament standard of service, both in character and effects. It is still duty-service, and so has in it, at least, the sense of moral compulsion. This sense of moral compulsion robs it of the richest quality of free service. “Ought” pushes to action, but vitiates in its reaction any inner sense of satisfaction and true joy. It may bring an approving conscience and a sense of satisfaction because of duty performed, but never the sweet fruition that comes from service which proceeds from an overflowing affection.

The Fourth Motive for Obedience Considered

The greatest and highest incentive to obedience is love. It rises to a lofty height, far above all other motives for service. Hope of reward, fear, or duty can never inspire to obedience and service as love inspires. God’s greatest appeal is to our love. What we will not do from fear or from a sense of duty, or for a reward, we will do from love. “Thou shalt” prefaced many of the commands of the Old Testament because from the very nature of the case God could not appeal to the highest motive. Few people in that day had learned to love God. Few, therefore, could serve him from the highest motive. And since the whole nation of Israel were to be his servants, as a people, the “thou shalts” were necessary, and even then they often failed in their purpose to produce obedience.

In the New Testament we do not find the multiplied “thou shalt’s.” The emphasis is here laid upon love. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, and only he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God. So Jesus could say, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” He could make no stronger appeal. No “thou shalt” is necessary to love. So it is said, “He that loveth hath fulfilled the law.” Jesus said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words”; so if there is love, there is obedience. The one who loves, obeys not because he must, but because all his heart’s desire is bound up in doing what will please his Lord. The language of his heart is, “I delight to do thy will.” Love’s service arises to that sublime altitude where fear is forgotten, and the sense of duty fades. Love yields transcendent service, because within itself it is transcendent devotion, and the object of its affection fills its horizon. Only a divided love is double-minded in service. Only a divided love finds service irksome or compulsory. When we love God with all our hearts, his service is the delight of our hearts. Love to our fellow creatures does not divide our love to God. It is simply that love, overrunning. The higher the flood-tide of love, rises God-ward, the more it overflows to mankind. Because of this, the Bible teaches that if we love God we shall love our brethren also.

There is no selfish fear in love; so he who loves serves not from fear. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” and then it follows that “him only shalt thou serve”; not because it is a thing commanded, but because it is the gushing forth of love’s pent-up fountain. “Love not the world,” is not so much a command as the condition of possible service to God. God’s “thou shalt not’s” are not meant to imprison us, to shut us up behind iron bars and to limit our activities, but they are meant to be walls of protection for us. They are not meant arbitrarily to limit us, but to enclose the waters of our activity so that they will run deeply in the channel of his will and accomplish something effectual instead of spreading out by the pull of gravitation of our lower selves “to run ever in shallows or be swallowed up in the sand.”

The love of God in the heart is like the gas in the balloon. Through this love we rise above the mire and mist of sin, above the low levels of moral darkness, into the azure heights, there to breathe the pure, life-giving air, while the landscape of sin below us seems almost a part of another world to which we do not belong and with which we have nothing in common. When love has thus raised us up into the heavenly places, we can truly realize that we are not of this world, and that we do not have its spirit, nor desire what it desires. We are not inclined to walk in “its ways,” for the sweet fruition of love is so much more satisfying that our souls have no inclination to descend in order to feed upon earthly vanities. If we obey God only because we hope for a reward, or from fear or from a sense of duty, such language as “joy unspeakable and full of glory” will be a foreign tongue to our souls. It will have a strange sound in our ears and be void of meaningful content. The spirit of grace and of glory rests alone on those who by love, serve. The joy-bells of heaven ring only in the souls that love.

One characteristic of loving service is, the more we love, the more imperfect will our service seem; the less adequate it will appear to fill the measure of what we feel should be the service that is deserved by our beloved. We may be conscious that we are doing our best, but when we have done our best, we shall feel that our best is not good enough. The more we love, the more our spirits cry out, “Oh, that I might serve him more worthily!” The man or woman who feels that he or she is giving to God the full measure of service that God deserves to have given to him, is looking so much to self that God is lost sight of.

The service of love is a humble service. The heart cries out, “How great is my Master; how worthy is he!” When the heart begins to feel, or say, “How great am I!” it proves that self-love waxes and love to God, wanes. We may have an inner satisfaction that we are pleasing God, that our service is acceptable to him; we may have the testimony of his Spirit that we are well-pleasing in his sight, and yet if we love him fervently, despite all this, we shall not be satisfied with the service that we are rendering, for love ever spurs on to more devotion. It ever incites to greater and more perfect service. He who is thoroughly satisfied with the service he is rendering to God is thoroughly self-righteous. Love loses sight of self in the adoration of its object. It can never satisfy itself in service, and service is never hard where the heart truly loves. Love is the highest of all motives of service; it produces the highest type of service, the greatest service; it ennobles him who serves and glorifies him who is served.