Integrity is a foundational pillar of our military. We are taught that we should not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate those who do. And we all know we shouldn’t break the 10 commandments.
Good Intentions…Or lack of Insight?
But what about our motives? Can we do the right things and yet do them for the wrong reasons? The 1950’s movie The Bridge over the River Kwai is a stark reminder of how easy it is to do the right things for the wrong reasons. Alec Guinness stars as Lt Col Nicholson, a POW commanding officer in a Japanese camp in Burma. Like all good commanders, he has two concerns, the men’s plummeting morale and a lack of commitment to excellence.
To solve these problems, he directs his men to build a bridge that would make the British proud. Regrettably, he lost sight of the big picture and used his talents to build the bridge for the enemy. Only in the end does he realize his horrific mistake.
Doing the right things for the wrong reasons is something we all do from time to time. At work we avoid making a scene even when we know there are unethical things taking place. In social situations, we defend or ignore our peers’ questionable actions, because we don’t want to be excluded or get them in trouble. Even at home, we do chores for our spouse because we know we can use it later to get what we want.
Where do our wrong motivations come from? Jeremiah 17:9 says that our motivations come from hearts that are “more deceitful than all else and desperately sick”. We like to think of ourselves as good people that make some mistakes; not with criminal intent on doing harm at every turn.
So, is Jeremiah right in saying we are really that bad? He uses the word “deceitful” to describe a heart that is like rough ground (think deployed locations!). He uses the word “sick” to describe a heart that has an incurable disease. Jeremiah is telling us that our hearts have a permanent default setting toward choosing wrong motives even with our good actions.
Author and pastor Paul Tripp calls the process of doing right things for the wrong reasons “fruit stapling”. He explains that it is like a person who purchases a bag of apples and then staples them to a tree that isn’t producing any fruit on its own. The fruit may look and taste good, but it will not last. The only way to produce right fruit (doing right things with right motives) is to be connected to the right tree, and Jesus promises to be that tree (John 15:1-11).
Motives are important to God, and they can’t change until we have a vital and real relationship with Him. The book of Hebrews tells us that God’s Word is given to us to help us as well, as we try to discern and judge our motives. The Word cuts deep into our hearts to help us see and change “why” we do the things we do (Hebrews 4:12). Ask God to help you understand why you do what you do, and then be ready for Him to do transformative work deep in your soul.