Examples of Wrong Motives in the Bible

The Bible contains many examples of people acting with wrong or impure motives. As Christians, it is important that we examine our own hearts and intentions to ensure we are acting out of love and obedience to God, rather than selfishness, greed, or other sinful desires. This blog post will examine several biblical examples of wrong motives and what we can learn from them.


Our motives matter greatly to God. Proverbs 16:2 says “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 4:5 tells us God will expose the motives of our hearts. Jesus himself warned against acting out of wrong motives like greed and seeking man’s praise rather than God’s glory (Luke 16:15, Matthew 6:1-4).

As we study examples of wrong motives in Scripture, we must ask God to search our own hearts and purify our motivations. We should strive to live according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:37-39 – loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

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Key Takeaways:

  • God cares deeply about our motivations and will judge them
  • We must ask God to purify our motives to be centered on loving and obeying Him
  • Biblical examples of wrong motives serve as cautions for us
  • Selfishness, greed, and desire for man’s praise can corrupt our motivations
  • We must surrender our will to Christ and seek His righteousness
Examples of Wrong Motives in the Bible

Cain and Abel

The first biblical example of wrong motives is found in Genesis 4 with the account of Cain and Abel. Both brothers brought offerings to the Lord, but God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s. Hebrews 11:4 tells us that the difference was their motives – Abel offered his sacrifice by faith, while Cain did not.

1 John 3:12 gives insight into Cain’s wrong motive: “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.” Cain acted out of jealousy, envy, anger, and hatred because his motive was to compete with his brother rather than purely worship God. His offering was not given by faith, but rather out of obligation and self-righteousness.

We must examine our own motivations in serving and giving to God. Do we serve Him with pure hearts, or are we trying to prove ourselves better than others? Do we give out of joyful gratitude, or religious duty? God desires truth in our inner motives more than outward actions.


In Genesis 12, God called Abraham (Abram) to leave his homeland and family and go where God would show him. Hebrews 11:8 tells us “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” Abraham is commended for his faith and obedience.

But later in Genesis 16, Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands to try to fulfill God’s promise of a son. Sarah gave her servant Hagar to Abraham as a surrogate wife to have a child. This was a custom of the day, but the motive was wrong. Rather than waiting patiently on God, they acted out of self-reliance and human reasoning to ‘help’ God keep His promise. The consequences were disastrous.

Though we may have noble goals, we must be careful to ensure we are acting according to God’s principles and by faith in His timing. Purity of motives is just as important as purity of actions.


King Saul was told by the prophet Samuel to wait seven days for Samuel to arrive and make an offering before going to battle against the Philistines. But Saul grew impatient and anxious, and rather than waiting on the Lord’s timing, took matters into his own hands and made the burnt offering himself (1 Samuel 13:8-14).

Because of this disobedience rooted in wrong motives, Saul’s kingdom was taken away from him. Saul’s key mistake was acting out of fear and impatience rather than faith in God’s instructions.

Do we wait patiently on God’s timing, or try to make things happen in our own strength? Only actions born in faith and obedience from a pure heart are pleasing to God.


Throughout the Gospels, Jesus condemns the Pharisees for hopeless wrong motives. They acted to receive prestige and praise from men rather than from God (Matthew 6:1-4, 23:5-7). Their obsessive rule-following and outward piety was offered from pride and self-righteousness, not genuine love for God (Matthew 23:23-24). They sought to control and oppress people, putting unnecessary burdens on them for their own gain (Matthew 23:4).

We must ensure we do not serve or obey God out of compulsion, formalism or to boost our reputation. Our motives must be centered on bringing glory to God and serving others in Christ’s love.

Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, provides one of the clearest examples of acting from wrong motives. Judas was motivated by greed, as he regularly stole money from the money bag he kept for the disciples (John 12:6).

He ultimately agreed to betray Jesus for 30 silver coins (Matthew 26:14-16). 2 Peter 2:3 describes false teachers motivated by greed, and Judas exemplified this. He hypocritically followed Jesus for years while harboring secret sinful desires for wealth in his heart.

This sobering example reminds us to search our hearts for hidden attitudes of greed, dishonesty or deception that can corrode our motivations. We must serve God instead out of pure love and devotion to Christ.

Ananias and Sapphira

In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property and brought part of the proceeds to the apostles while falsely claiming they had given the full amount. However, Peter confronted them saying, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?” (Acts 5:3).

This couple’s sin was secretly keeping back money for themselves while pretending to give everything. They sought prestige and praise from other believers rather than honesty before God. Their judgment was severe because of their blatant deception and hypocrisy.

We must transparently examine our own motivations to ensure we are not trying to impress others while inwardly harboring sinful desires like greed. Only actions motivated by sincere love and devotion are acceptable to God.

Key principles:

These various examples demonstrate some key principles:

  • We must ensure our service and obedience to God flows from faith, patience and reliance on His power, not self-effort Impatience, fear, and timing things our own way often stems from wrong motives.
  • Greed, deception, and hypocrisy provide clear signals that our hearts are not right before God. Any hint of seeking man’s praise versus God’s glory reveals wrong motivations.
  • Even doing ‘good’ things like giving or serving if done from pride, envy, anger or competition are wrong in God’s eyes.
  • Judging others’ motives is not our job. But we must humbly ask God to search our own hearts and purify our desires.


The Bible provides sobering examples of obeying God from wrong motives. As we have seen, coveting honor from others, self-righteous pride, greed, jealousy, impatience and self-reliance can easily corrupt our motivations. This grieves God, with serious consequences.

But by God’s grace, as we grow in love and obedience to Christ, our motivations can become increasingly selfless, sincere and centered on eternal treasure rather than earthly desires.

May we echo the prayer of the Psalmist, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24) Our motivation in all things should be singular – to love God with everything we are, and to let His Kingdom purposes guide our actions.

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