By: Steve Sherman
About halfway between Sumbawanga and our home there was a woman walking on the edge of the dirt road. She was holding the hand of a 3-4 year old who was walking beside her, an infant was strapped to her back, and she was carrying a large suitcase on her head. As we passed her I noticed that she kept her face straight forward and that there were tears streaming down her face. Feeling compassion I stopped to inquire about her situation. She said that her legs hurt, she was hungry, and that she had the daunting task of walking 400 kilometers back to her home town. For five years her husband had beat her regularly and today she had had enough. She had no money, no food, only the thought that she needed to go home. I decided to help her. We didn’t have room in the truck, but we made room. In fact, I took her an extra thirty kilometers past our house to the nearest main road where she could get a bus, gave her some travel money, and prayed with her.
What motivated me to help her? I like to think that my motives were pure. I want to believe that her situation was inherently worthy of my help and that is why I helped her. Equally good in my thinking is that I was motivated out of simple obedience to God to help those in need. But the human heart is very complex, capable of multiple motivations simultaneously. Often when I am obedient to God I am motivated by the idea of getting some blessing in return. Maybe I also wanted to impress the passengers in my car so that they would praise my name and think that I was a good person. Perhaps because some of them were my pastoral students I was motivated to use this as a teaching moment as I mentored them in how a Christian leader should live.
What motivates you? More to the point – what motivates you to serve God? What motivates you to worship God and to live in obedience to Him? Sometimes God asks you to sacrifice for Him. What motivates you to willingly endure hardship for His sake? Such reflections are worthy of consideration. Maybe right now you are not living for God in every way that He desires. Maybe you just don’t feel motivated. Maybe you are motivated but you have noticed that your pace is slowing and you need a new motivation.
The Bible speaks of many different means that God uses to motivate His children to live the Christian life such as: fear of the Lord, gratitude to God, love for God, the promise of discipline, the promise of blessing, and the promise of future reward. All of these (and others) are effective in motivating us to live as God wants us to. Most of the time multiple motivations are at work but usually one of them, at different times, will be primary.
At this stage in my life Jesus’ worthiness is a major motivating factor in my life. Having worked as a missionary for twenty-six years in Tanzania, and now finding myself in transition to a new ministry, has caused me to ask myself the question, “Why do I do what I do?” I have found both Christian and ministry life to be difficult at times. Living in Africa has required certain sacrifices from me and my family. As I contemplate this shift to a new ministry I am asking God to renew my motivation to give my all to Him. One way that He has done this is by impressing upon my heart, through His word, the idea that I should live in a manner worthy of Christ because Christ is worthy of giving Him my all.
This thought process began one day when I was studying Philippians 1:27 where Paul gives the exhortation to, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” My heart, which was searching for a renewed motivation, latched on to this idea of worthiness. I decided to do a word study. I found that the Greek word for worthy in this sentence is the word axios. This word, and its derivatives, is found fifty-nine times in the New Testament. In forty-five of those occurrences the NASB translates it using the words worthy or unworthy, eight times as deserving, and in a few incidences words such as appropriate, in keeping with, or fitting. At its root axios refers to the relationship between two things that are weighed on a scale. It means to weigh as much as, to have an equivalent value, or to be worth as much as the second thing that it is being compared to.
Five times in the New Testament God (2x) or Jesus (3x) are declared to be worthy when the object of comparison is honor and glory (e.g. Rev. 4:11; 5:12). In another thirty-five instances of axios, man’s relationship to God is either directly or indirectly in view. In the majority of these, man’s worthiness is being measured in comparison to God (4x) or Jesus (9x) or something else related to God such as being worthy of the gospel message (5x), God’s calling (2x), or some future eschatological event such as eternal life, the resurrection or the kingdom of God (5x) among other things. Interestingly in forty percent of these thirty-five instances human suffering, sacrifice, or endurance are in the immediate or near context, demonstrating that Jesus is always worthy of even the most difficult aspects of being a Christian.
Here is one example. Colossians 1:10 says, “so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Paul was praying for the Colossians that their knowledge of the Lord’s will would increase (vs. 9) so that they would walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. In this case the believers walk is being measured against the value of Christ Himself. The clear meaning is that there is a worthy manner to walk and an unworthy manner. Christ’s worth (either inherent or attributed because of His gracious and loving acts towards us) is the value that rests on one end of the scale. It measures the believer’s life on the other end of the scale which in this verse encompasses all things which are pleasing to God, including conduct (i.e. bearing fruit), and what fills our minds (i.e. an increasing knowledge of God). Living in a manner worthy of God is ultimately living in a manner which shows that God is worthy of all honor and glory. It is living in a manner that demonstrates God’s value.
More often than not we are motivated by God’s promises that speak to our personal benefit. These are legitimate motivations. God does desire to motivate by promising both present blessings and future rewards to those who live for Him in obedience. Though these forms of motivation are Biblical they do have a significant drawback. With each new decision the Christian faces the question, “In this instance is it worth it to me?” Of course the answer should always be “yes”, but in reality we often answer “no” when weighing present personal desires and comfort against God’s desires and the promise of blessing.
There is a better biblical motivation that never leaves our decision making in the balance. Instead of, “Is it worth it to me?” we should ask, “Is Jesus worthy?” This was the perspective of Helen Roseveare who suffered significantly at the hands of Congolese revolutionaries when she served as a missionary in the sixties. Though she was beaten and raped multiple times, her testimony is a resounding, “Jesus is worthy!” This is the point of the many passages that motivate the Christian to live in a manner worthy of God, Jesus, the Gospel, our calling, or even of the saints. If the choice is between following God or not and if the answer depends on Jesus’ value or worthiness, the answer will always be YES. No matter how hard obedience is in a particular situation, Jesus is worthy. If following God stretches our faith, Jesus is worthy. Whatever God asks of us, Jesus is always worthy.
As my wife and I open a new chapter in living our lives for God we are challenged and motivated to live a life worthy of His name because as Revelations 5:12 says, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” How about you? Are you motivated to live for Him? Maybe it is time for you to stop and reflect on Jesus’ worthiness as well.