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"What's Your Motive?"

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.


Motive: Definition

According to most dictionaries, a motive is defined as a desire that causes a person to act in a certain way. It can also be defined as a reason for doing something.

A motive can be positive or negative. It depends on the underlying reason for the action that is performed.

Positive motives drive people to help others, to make a difference in the world, and to please God.

Negative motives include anger, entitlement, pride, revenge, or a strong desire for approval.


There are at least eight motives a person might have for doing something.

  1. An incentive motive is when a person strives to perform a task for a potential reward. His ultimate motive is to get paid for doing something.
  2. An achievement motive occurs when a person is driven to achieve a goal. He is more concerned about winning than about getting an award.
  3. A power motive happens when a person tries his best to be in control of a situation, his own life, and also the lives of others.
  4. A fear motive is one that compels someone to take action to avoid unpleasant experiences, such as being on time to keep from being fired from a job
  5. A social or affiliation motive is one that encourages people to interact with others. People who want to belong might have this type of motive for joining a social club.
  6. A competence motive is one that pushes people to become professional and highly proficient at what they do. Those professionals might include neurosurgeons, engineers, and others who use their competence where it will make the biggest difference.
  7. An attitude motive is one that drives a person to try to change other people's minds about something.
  8. An expectancy motive happens when a person expects to receive a desired result for something he will do.

What the Bible Says About Motives

The Bible has scriptures about motives in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

  • “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD” (Proverbs 16:2).
  • Jeremiah 17:9 says the human heart is very deceitful. Some people can fool themselves about their own motives. They pretend they are serving God while they do what they do for selfish reasons to impress others.
  • According to Hebrews 4:12, God always knows the condition of our hearts. He is not fooled by our selfishness and wrong motive. God is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
  • God is not pleased with any motivation that comes from a deceitful heart, according to Romans 8:8. We should always evaluate our own motives and be honest about the reason we do certain things.
  • First Thessalonians 2:4 says, “Our purpose is to please God, not people. God alone can examine the motives of our heart.” In fact, He is more interested in our motives than He is interested in our actions. God sees what no one else sees. He knows why we do what we do.
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Many years ago, I taught religion courses at a private Christian school. A very pleasant senior was not in any of my classes, but we both arrived in the parking lot at the same time almost every day. We chatted briefly as we walked together into the building.

At the end of the school year just before this young man's graduation, I was led to give him a gift. I didn't want to give him anything personal. Therefore, I gave him a $25 check for him to purchase his own gift or use it as he liked. I felt really good about giving him the money. He thanked me and said he would purchase some of the items he needed for college.

The very next day, I was called into the headmaster's office. I had no idea why he wanted an unexpected meeting with him. When I arrived in the office, I was introduced to the young man's mother. She said she found it strange that I would give her son a check.

Then she asked me, "What's your motive?"

I was sincere when I told the mother that I had only a pure motive. I explained to her that her son had been exceptionally nice to me during the entire school year. Therefore, I wanted to express my appreciation for his kind gestures.

Then the mother said and did something quite unexpected. She said she didn't believe me because I must have had an ulterior motive. She started to hand the check back to me, but she quickly changed her mind. She ripped up the check and put the shreds in the waste paper basket.

After reflecting on what had just happened, I took the situation to the Lord. God revealed to me that I had done nothing wrong. The mother reacted to my generosity based on her past experience with others. God assured me that I was not the target. However, I was the trigger. Even though the mother ripped up the check, my action was still recorded on my ledger sheet in heaven.

At the time, I was a 60-year-old ordained minister. What possible motive could I have for giving a 17-year-old student a graduation present other than the one I shared with his mother? I never saw or heard from the young man or his mother again. After many years, I still have an extra $25 in my checking account as a reminder that we are often judged unfairly not by our pure motives but by impure motives and evil actions of others.

I still give to others out of the goodness of my heart. God knows that my motives are pure. While I expect nothing in return, I remain "a cheerful giver." And God has made all grace abound to me, so that in all things at all times, having all that I need, I am abounding in every good work (2 Corinthians 9:7-8).

For More Information

8 Types of Motivation To Help You Achieve Your Goals

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