When I was a teenager, my father sent me out to the store with some money to buy toilet paper. I was instructed to buy a certain brand (might’ve been Charmin Ultra Soft, if I remember correctly!). I felt strangely honored to be entrusted with such a noble task!
When I got to the store, I found the proper aisle and the proper brand. But I noticed that at the end of the aisle there was a sale. Twice as much toilet paper, for much less the cost! I figured it was a slam-dunk. I’d buy the bigger pack, give my dad more money, and he would be proud of his son’s discernment and financial frugality.
What a surprise I got when I came home! Apparently, cheaper does not always mean superior, especially when it comes to toilet paper! In my dad’s words, “That stuff is like sandpaper to my behind!”
The lesson I learned that day: Good motives don’t excuse disobedience.
In John 16, Jesus tells the disciples that they will be excommunicated and even martyred by people who think they are offering service to God (16:2). The word Jesus uses, translated “service,” is a Greek word that Paul uses in Romans 12:1 – “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (NASB, underline is mine; ESV translates it “worship”). The word is used often for a liturgical service of worship performed before God.
In other words, the people excommunicating and killing the early Christians thought they were doing God a service! Their motives were to please the Lord by punishing the Christians. Of course, their actions were by no means pleasing to the Lord.
It’s important to realize that Jesus doesn’t excuse their sin based on their motives. It’s not a case of misdirected worship or ignorant confusion. Even though Jesus says, “And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me” (16:3), earlier He said that they are “guilty of sin” and “have no excuse for their sin” due to the works and words of Christ (15:22, 24).
Of course, an unbeliever killing an apostle and a believer sinning out of good intentions are two very different circumstances (or a teenager buy the wrong brand of toilet paper for his dad!). But in this case, what’s true for one still works for the other. It doesn’t matter than my motive is, “I really want to get home and see my wife and kids,” going 20+ over the speed limit is still sin! It doesn’t matter that “We don’t want to see babies killed!” Bombing abortion clinics is not the way to enact change.
The ends don’t justify the means. The means and ends must both align biblically. Motives matter. God isn’t honored by sacrifices given with resentful or grumpy attitudes. But actions matter too. God desires for both to be biblical and pure.
So next time you’re in the store, make sure you get the right kind of toilet paper. And next time your motives are saying “For God’s Glory!” and your actions are saying “My Way, Not God’s!”, think again about how you might ensure that both motives and actions are God-honoring.