right thing, wrong reason

right thing, wrong reason


Matthew 5:17-20
But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven! (Matthew 5:20).


Read Psalm 12:2, Isaiah 29:13-14, Matthew 15:7-9, and Luke 11:39-42 for other examples of “right” things done from wrong motives.


In what area of your life are you most tempted to do the right thing for the wrong reason? How is love the ultimate remedy?

I was preaching one evening when a mentally ill man walked down the church aisle, slapped me in the face, pushed over the pulpit, and sent the congregation into a panic. In a protective act, a church member named Gary stepped toward the man as he lunged towards Gary and his wife.

I sent an email to Gary the next day, commending his bravery. “I wasn’t trying to protect anyone,” he replied. “I was scared, tried to run away, and accidentally ran into him.” What had looked like courage had, in fact, been cowardice.

Seeming “good” deeds can have bad motives. It’s possible to do the “right” thing for the wrong reason. Jesus warned of it.

The Pharisees were experts at good deeds. They were trying to keep 248 commandments and 365 restrictions within the expanded Jewish law. But their expertise was in outward conformity rather than purity of heart. They didn’t murder, but they did hate (Matthew 5:21-22,43-44). They didn’t commit adultery but they did lust (Matthew 5:27-28). They gave to the poor, but they did so to look good (Matthew 6:1-2). They did the right things for the wrong reasons.

Jesus called His people to a righteousness “better” than this. Deeds matter, but motives matter more. The God who looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7) wants love for Him and others to be our only motive (Matthew 22:37-40).

This calls for some careful reflection, for we can be just as pharisaical today. Instead of freely giving to someone, we can help them in order to get something in return. We can oppose homosexuality out of bigotry rather than true concern for another’s wellbeing. We can donate to charity simply to improve our public image.

The greatest treason is “to do the right thing for the wrong reason,” wrote T. S. Elliot. According to Jesus, love is the remedy.

NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Acts 20:13-38

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8 Responses to “right thing, wrong reason”

  1. Gene says:

    The whole forgiving others thing when we are wronged or treated unfairly is a tough thing for me to do with the right motives. Sometimes I just want to keep the peace and say, “I’m sorry,” although my heart is not in the right place. I believe true forgiveness is impossible without love and understanding that Christ loved and forgave us first.

    • It’s good you already have this insight, Gene, and know the problem to address. Peace keeping and peace making are not the same things, as I’m sure you already know. Sometimes we apologise to avoid the (necessary) conflict that might be entailed along the path towards proper peace making.

  2. deevotion1 says:

    A member of my family was the victim of a violent crime. I struggled with forgiveness for the perpetrator until I came to understand that forgiving him did not mean that he was absolved of his sin/crime. It just meant that I let go of my anger toward him and gave it up to God. The perp will have to answer to the higher power and that freed me of my anger thus allowing me to forgive him. Essentially the forgiveness benefited me more than the perpetrator who, if he is not sorry for taking the life of another human, will have to suffer those consequences for eternity.

    • tom felten says:

      deevotion1, I’m so sorry for the loss of your family member. What you shared, in how God helped you deal with your pain and anger, is profound. By releasing the perpetrator to God—the Righteous Judge—you found peace from festering anger and pain, and you left justice in God’s holy hands. Thanks so much for sharing these insights with all of us!

      • deevotion1 says:

        It was not easy to get to that place of forgiveness, It took some time, lots of prayer, therapy and support from good friends. It was a journey I would not wish upon anyone, but I am glad to have come through it stronger and more faithful than ever before.

        • tom felten says:

          What a great prescription for dealing with an incredibly hard thing: time, prayer, good counsel, and good friends. It would have been so easy for you to stay in isolation and private pain. Praise God that you didn’t!

  3. alli says:

    I totally agree about the homosexual thing..ppl feel it too. You know when someonecreally hates you but has no concern for your soul. Thats why ppl dont win them. I know from personal experience most ppl in that life are hurting but christians many times make it about a Christian club type of thing as opposed to being concerned folks are goingvto hell..itcwill change the message if its about the peoplecand not the platform

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