Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 13

35.  Many human activities, good in themselves, are not good because of the motive for which they are done. For example, fasting and vigils, prayer and psalmody, acts of charity and hospitality are by nature good, but when performed for the sake of self-esteem they are not good.

This text relates a simple point that I think is often overlooked or misunderstood, sometimes in odd ways. There are Christian groups today that, for fear of doing something from the wrong motive, actually do very little at all for worship. We are ensouled bodies (for lack of a better way of saying), but some treat it as wrong to worship in bodily ways. But our problem has often been less a matter of what we do or don’t do, but the motives behind our action and inaction. Yes, it is possible to act in evil ways, but for most of us much of what we do each day is at least somewhat positive or good. But even an act which would otherwise be good, when done from evil motives, becomes twisted. I would say that doing good things from evil motives is still better than simply doing evil things. Nevertheless, acting from evil motives will rarely shape us in better ways. Such a life will not draw us closer to God or turn us into people who want God.

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