Numbers 1:1-3 “The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, ‘Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company.’”
1 Chronicles 21:1-2 “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, ‘Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number.’”
High school and college graduations occurred, most recently, a couple months ago. One of the questions often asked of a graduate is this one: “So what are your plans?” But when you think about it, that question could be asked of each and every one of us. What are our plans – for today, tomorrow, and the day after that? But a second related and perhaps more important question that each graduate, and each of us, should be thinking is: “Why is that our plan?” For you see the motives for what we do are as important, if not more important, than the things we do in and of themselves.
An example of this is demonstrated in the Scriptures above. In the first passage, Moses was specifically commanded by God to take a census of all the men over 20, i.e., men who were able to go to war. To obey that command was to honor and glorify the God Who gave the command. Moses was to obey regardless of whether he understood why God had asked this of him. He was to do as God said, and to do so by strictly adhering to all the instructions God had given. Why God asked this of Moses, I’m not entirely sure. The Bible doesn’t really tell us. However, what we are told about this gives us insight into some wonderful things.
For example, when it was all done, the total number was 603,550 men. Surely, then, because this census was limited to a subset of all the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years after God had freed them from Pharaoh, the total number had to be perhaps three or four times greater. This incredible number, perhaps over 2 million people, God sustained with manna from heaven and water from rocks for over 40 years. What an awesome testament to the power and faithfulness of God.
On the other hand, in the second Scripture above, we are told how King David did precisely the same thing, numbering the fighting men of his Israelite army, yet his motive was entirely different. He was tempted to do this by Satan, not God, so, it is obvious the motives and results had nothing to do with the glory of God. In fact, it was just the opposite – for David’s motives were likely a result of his pride, and the glory was self-focused, not God-focused, as he personally gloried in his military might. As a result, David was punished by God by a great pestilence that ultimately resulted in the death of 70,000 men (1 Chronicles 21:14).
In these accounts, the importance of motives is spelled out for us loud and clear, for we see how one can do the same thing, with very different motives, i.e., a motive to obey and glorify God, or some other motive that does anything but. This issue is so insidious that it has great ramifications even to worship and matters of faith.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointed this out by teaching us that something like prayer can be done for both good motives and bad. God has clearly instructed us to pray through such commands as “Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17),” and “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6).” But then Jesus points out how this very command of God, if done with the wrong motives, can be an act of disobedience rather than obedience. Notice these words: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward (Matthew 6:5).” As with David in his ill-advised census, there can be ill-advised praying – whenever that praying is done to bring glory to ourselves rather than glory to God.
To protect us from such sin, Jesus went on further to say “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:6).” In both cases Jesus spoke of rewards. In the first, the self-glorifying prayer, the reward is just that, self-glory – a glory that is short-lived and that will surely pass away with us. In the second, Jesus speaks of rewards that come from our Father in heaven. In this case, i.e., in any case where what we do is motivated by the glory of God, God Himself will reward us with eternal rewards, wonderful blessings beyond our ability to even comprehend.
Everything we do is like this. We have been commanded by God that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).” That’s pretty basic, for what’s more basic than eating and drinking. But we can do those things to our own glory, satisfaction, and pleasure or for God’s. The Bible speaks of those whose “god is their belly . . . with minds set on earthly things (Philippians 3:19).” It’s this attitude that is so prevalent in our world, i.e., the attitude that “if it feels good, do it.” This thought pattern has ourselves as the focus – our pleasure, our desires, our glory. However, it is the God-centered motive that glorifies God, and if that is truly our motive, all of life becomes an opportunity to bring glory to the One Who created us, sustains our every breath, and is alone worthy of all our praise. So, what about you? Like those whose minds might be on graduation ceremonies, what are your plans? But more than that, so much more, why are your plans those plans? Is your motive to glorify and please yourself, or is your motive to glorify and please God? If your answer is to do the first, please know that it is the opposite of the second – and the rewards of each have eternal consequences. May God help us to do what we do for the right reasons – i.e., to glorify the One who is worthy of our praise – for it is this One who laid down His very life motivated for only one reason – His love for us!