It’s a simple question, just three letters and a question mark. It’s something that my son has started to ask more frequently (he’s two, by the way). Why? In a way, it’s a question that cuts to the heart of almost everything. We tend to be curious. We want to know the reasons behind our realities.
We want to know the motives.
Why do people do what they do?
Of course, if we don’t like something, we will assume they have some nefarious motivation, some evil purpose behind their decisions. Even if we agree but don’t like the person, we assume they’re doing the right things for all the wrong reasons. Motives matter to us. Though assumptions make us a… well, you know.
But what motivates you?
Paul wanted Timothy to have his motive in the right place. Yes, Timothy had lost something in his work at Ephesus. Things weren’t clicking like they once had, and Timothy seemed to be shrinking away. He needed to rekindle the flame, but he had to do it with the right motive.
“Don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me his prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8, CSB).
You see it, don’t you? Right there, almost in the middle of that thought: For the gospel.
A follower of Jesus is an ambassador of heaven, a citizen of a different realm, a stranger living in a foreign land, but not simply passing through that strange land. We’re to be people who see the world differently and see others uniquely.
The world is, yes, broken and marred by sin. Yet, everything in it belongs to Jesus. He has already declared ownership of every atom and quark through his death, resurrection, and ascension. Now, he is reclaiming it inch by inch for the ultimate purpose of one day making all things new, wiping away every tear, and healing every hurt. He does this, though, for his people and from a love more amazing than we could ever imagine.
The Bible reminds us that every person we encounter is an image-bearer of God, born with a purpose to know him, love him, and love others. They just don’t know it. We who do know it and have experienced the lavish mercy and amazing grace of God’s love are the ones meant to shine the light of that good news into the darkness around us.
This is why Jesus doesn’t immediately pull his people from this world, even amid hardship and trials, or suffering, as Paul wrote. Instead, in the face of possible hatred, Jesus sends us straight into the world just as the Father sent him (John 17:14-18).
We are a people on a mission for the gospel.
We watch the news, but we don’t fear what we see. We don’t live dwelling on signs and portents, wondering how bad it’s going to get. No, we go about our days—live, work, play—and we do so, trying to find ways to connect people to the gospel.
The priests were those in the Old Testament charged with going to God on behalf of the people (prayers and offerings), and going to the people on behalf of God (telling them what God required). We are a priesthood of believers. That is now our role: Praying to God for the eternal lives of those around us, and speaking to others about the eternal joys in Jesus. We each have this calling. Doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, pastor, missionary, farmer, factory worker, and the list goes on—we each have the calling of an apologist, to make known the reason for the hope within us, to do all things for the gospel.
We need to unhitch our minds from the false belief that evangelism and discipleship are the task of someone special or well-trained. Education and training have their place, but God wants to use all his people, from the least to the greatest, to make Jesus known.
A little porcelain donkey that sits on my desk reminds me of this reality. It’s something I picked up from Os Guinness, who wrote:
Balaam’s ass is the patron saint of the apologist… Our role is always humble and all too often inadequate and somewhat ridiculous. Christian advocates who understand their calling should never be too big for their boots. The task is not about us. It’s all about him, and he may be trusted to do what matters (Fools Talk, InterVaristy Press, 2015, p. 60).
Jesus will save. You don’t have to be somebody special to make that known. If God can use a donkey, he can use me and you. We just have to have the right motive. The world needs the shining light of hope and love. The world needs the gospel. What motivates you?
Mike Bergman is the pastor of a very normative church in small-town America. He is passionate about the weather, his family, foster care, and Jesus.