When I was in the 8th grade, we had to take American history. I enjoyed the class because I liked learning about my country but our teacher (we’ll call him “Mr. Smith”) gave us a challenging assignment. Or rather, a series of assignments.
Each week we had to write a paper on an American president. We started with George Washington and by the end of the school year, we’d covered all who served in that office.
Sometime during the year, one of my classmates (let’s call him “Tom”) began to suspect that Mr. Smith wasn’t reading our papers. His comments and grades didn’t jibe with the quality or content of the reports.
So Tom conducted an experiment.
He turned in his paper with extra zeal that week, looking forward to getting it back all marked up. A few days later, when our teacher was handing out the graded reports, Tom chuckled, “I knew it!”
In the midst of the biographical details he had written about some 19th century president, Tom had inserted a paragraph about Godzilla.
No connection to presidential history, not an illustration of any political principle; just a test to see if Mr. Smith would catch it. He didn’t!
I don’t believe we ever told our teacher about Godzilla. Most of us liked Mr. Smith, but our respect for him went down a notch.
Cutting corners doesn’t always cut it.
Why didn’t he read our papers? I was too young at the time to consider the question of motive, but as I look at the situation now, it’s a good place to start. How come Mr. Smith failed to do his job?
Was his wife sick? Did he have to spend so much time caring for her that he had little left to devote to the class?
Was he close enough to retiring that he no longer cared about homework?
Did our papers bore him? If Mr. Smith had repeated this assignment throughout his tenure as a history teacher, he would have read hundreds of presidential reports. Maybe he maxed out!
Was he lazy? Could he have felt so secure in his position that no matter what he did, it wouldn’t affect his job?
I don’t have the answer. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I’ve learned that why we do things is more important than what we do. And only God can judge the motives of the heart.
“All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” – Proverbs 16:2
We can observe behavior, but God delves deeper.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” – Hebrews 4:12-13
Mr. Smith administered exams and quizzes throughout the course but he himself got tested without knowing it. If you were you in his shoes, how would you feel if you discovered you’d been found out?
Who can withstand God’s scrutiny?
“If You, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? 4But with You there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve You.” – Psalm 130:3-4
Let’s be honest, we’ve all shirked our responsibilities, let other people down, and kept quiet about it. If God tests us, we won’t pass.
But the good news is that Jesus offers forgiveness. He not only deals with our misdeeds, He also purifies our motives. And having been released from our failures, we’re free to serve the Lord and others with passion and energy.
No more deceptions, no more half-hearted efforts, and no fear of judgment. Only an open and honest desire to glorify the God who loves and liberates us.
“For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4
Learn the lesson and pass the test!