Motivation For Gain: What Really is the Motivation of Our Hearts?

I was thinking the other day as I was preparing a short family devotional, “Where is my heart really at with this.” The “This” I am referring to is a subject we are all familiar with because we all have to deal with it on a daily basis: Finances and Gain. As I was preparing my devotional concerning finances, I felt that the first thing to address was the condition of the heart or motivation for for gain in the heart and life of believers (including myself). That is what this article is about. It is not about money, but rather a believers motivation for obtaining wealth and/or material possessions.


James wrote his letter to the early church because the believers were exhibiting signs of spiritual immaturity and correction was needed. James specifically addressed numerous issues that these believers should have been over and beyond in terms of spiritual maturity. Briefly over viewed, their issues were:


  1. Lack of wisdom and double-mindedness (1:5-8)
  2. Hearing and not doing the Word of God; hypocrisy (1:22-25, 2:14-26)
  3. Favoritism of the rich (2:1-9)
  4. Inability to control the tongue (3:1-12)
  5. Worldly wisdom (3:13-18)
  6. Evil desires, covetousness (4:1-6)
  7. Presumption (4:13-17)
  8. Trust in riches (5:1-5)


These were just some of the glaring problems found in the early church in Jerusalem. The passage of scripture I wish to deal with is James 4:1-6. James is addressing believers who, among other things, were experiencing contention, strife and infighting (verse 1).


Our passage today deals with the contention and strife among believers that stems from covetousness and inordinate desires for gain. In verse 1, James asks the believers, “From whence [come] wars and fightings among you? [come they] not hence, [even] of your lusts that war in your members?” (4:1) James tells them that he knows what’s going on in their midst; desiring, fighting and killing. [Under the new covenant, wishing someone were dead is the same as actually killing them (Matt 5:21-22)]. I can well imagine the old saying, “If looks could kill” as being fitting in this situation. The point is that these believers were having strife, conflict and contention due to selfish, greedy lusts, and desires for material possessions and resources which were limited. In spite of their continual striving for gain, it seems they could not obtain enough to be satisfied. James then says something very interesting, “Ye have not because ye ask not. Ye ask and receive not because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it on your lusts (4:3).”


I would like to examine what James says a little more closely. Basically, James is saying the reason the believers were fighting amongst themselves is the fact that they strongly desired personal gain but were frustrated in their pursuits. They failed to ask God for the things they wanted and when they did ask God for what they wanted, they didn’t get it. James goes on to explain why they did not get what they asked for. “That ye may consume it upon your own lusts (4:3).” In other words, God wasn’t going to give them the material possessions they fought, strove and contended for because they would use those things only for their own selfish pleasures. God would get none of the Glory and none of the use out of these things the believers were lusting after. The believer’s motivation for gain was all wrong.


In fact, the next verse gives us insight as to what exactly was wrong symptomatically: Worldliness. James asks them, “Know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (4:4)” He further drives home the point by stating, “Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God (4:4).” WOW! The people’s evil lusts, contentions, striving, arguing and fighting over riches is equated here with worldliness. Worldliness IS enmity with God.


There are five basic principles by which the world’s system operates. They are: Force, Greed, Selfishness, Ambition, and Pleasure (L. Larson, Classroom Instruction 3/29/09). If a person finds themselves operating with this motivation for gain or from one or more of these principles employed as means to gain, he or she is at best worldly in their approach to life, at worst, not even saved.


Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not wrong to have material blessings. It’s not even wrong to want material blessings, but each one of us must be honest before God and ask ourselves the question, “Why do I want this?” If you want and desire things because others have them, and you have thoughts such as, “ Everyone on my block has a new car, I need one too.” or, “All my friends wear the latest fashions, I’ve got to have them, too.” Then your motivation for desiring something is all wrong. It’s worldly. Any attitude, mentality, or thought process concerning material wealth that has a, “Keeping up with the Jones’” flavor is worldliness.


But if your desire for blessings directly corresponds to your desire to serve God and minister to people, I believe that’s a valid motivation. For example, if God has given you the gift of hospitality, and you genuinely want to exercise that gift, then desiring a suitable home for that purpose isn’t wrong. There is a fine line and it’s easy to get this truth twisted. I’ve heard more than one word of faith preacher falsely tell people words to the effect of, “If you don’t have the finest clothes, nicest cars, and plenty of money, then no one will listed to you share the gospel.” That, my friends, is a LIE. People should be attracted to you not because of your money or looks or the car you drive, but because your countenance reflects that of Jesus Christ. They should be drawn to the Spirit of God in you and not the wealth that you possess.


Like I said, having wealth or material blessings is not wrong, in and of itself. But we must, as a people living in a fallen, sin cursed earth, always be aware of our heart’s motivations. We need to let the Holy Spirit show us the real motivation of our hearts. We need to be willing to repent and allow God to change our hearts when they are not right concerning these matters. Take it to the Cross. When we humble ourselves before God, He will provide the grace we need to have a pure heart before Him (James 4:10).


Carl J. Leyerle