It is not uncommon for us to talk about motivation with people. We’ll talk about what does or does not motivate us — what motivates our children, what we think motivates our politicians or the leaders of our churches or our schools, etc. This is because motivation is important. It is the reason we do what we do; it’s what provokes us to action; it’s what inspires our souls; it’s the cause to which we dedicate ourselves.
In Acts 17, Luke tells us what Paul’s greatest motivation is. It is his desire for the glory of God in Christ to be known throughout the world and for men, women, and children of every tribe and nation to worship the one true God. Reread verse 16 — “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” Paul was bothered, broken, burdened over the reality that the Athenians worshipped idols and not God.
His Spirit Was Provoked
Athens was great city full of its great cultural and educational establishments; yet, it was devoted wholly to the worship of false gods. Her people did not revere the God of glory from whom they received their lives and in whom they lived and had their being. This exasperated Paul and brought him to the point of tears (sorrow and anger wrapped in one) because his heart was for the people of this great city to worship God and give him glory.
Here is Paul’s motivation, not just in Athens, but in all of his life. His greatest desire was to spread the fame of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout the world. I have heard, on more than one occasion, that Paul’s greatest motivation was his desire to see people come to Christ because he loved them so. I do believe that he was motivated by his love for people; however, I do not believe that that was his primary motivation. I don’t believe that any motivation other than the spread of the fame and glory of God would have enabled him to endure the hardships of his life. To continue to minister to and love someone who doesn’t love you and is seeking to harm you requires something more than a feeling or commitment to love them. It requires a desire for the glory of God to be revealed in that person’s or that society’s life through gospel transformation. And, that was Paul’s motivation.
Motivation and Heart Transformation
This motivation was not natural to Paul. In fact, his natural motivation was the complete opposite. He wanted to destroy the Christian Church and to persecute and kill Christians while doing it. But, he had an encounter with the risen Lord. His life, which was devoted to destruction and was sure to end in eternal death was given new life and transformation of purpose by the mercy and grace of God. In this experience, he saw the glory of God, and therefore, he wanted that glory to spread across the globe through the lives of men and women.
That’s the heart of a true Christian, isn’t it? We desire to see the glory of God expand and encompass the globe because we have personally experienced the grace and glory of God in our lives. In response to him, we want to see him supremely glorified in all things.
The question that this passage leaves me with as I think through it this morning is simple. What is my motivation in life? Am I motivated to see the glory of Christ spread around the globe? Do I want to see people (even my enemies) come to Jesus so that his glory may be seen, proclaimed, and advanced through gospel transformation in their lives? Do I weep when I look at Chester and the cultural around me because of the idolatry of people’s lives that takes away from the worship and glory of God?