Thankfully, my daughter has recently come out of that age where she absolutely adored all of the Disney tween shows. I say "thankfully" because they can get a little annoying at times. For me, one of the less annoying Disney franchises is High School Musical (probably because I have been involved in a lot of theater). In the third and final film, the primary antagonist, a blond senior girl named Sharpay, who runs the theater department, puts out an advertisement for a volunteer assistant. An attractive new student with a British accent shows up at her locker, ready to take the job. This new student does an amazing job acting as assistant to the high school theater queen…right up until the assistant betrays Sharpay and announces that all of her time as Sharpay's assistant has helped her learn how to run the school and take her rightful place as the new theater queen. The plot is a little corny but capitalizes on a very human tendency to do good or nice things for very wrong reasons.
The writer of Proverbs felt compelled to warn us about this tendency in ourselves in Proverbs 21:27. The NIV reads, "The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable--how much more so when brought with evil intent." The HCSB translates "evil intent" as "ulterior motives." Acts chapter 5 gives us an example of such a sacrifice. Ananias and his wife Saphira have seen other believers sell property and donate proceeds to help fellow believers. They have seen the way the other disciples admire and respect such acts of selfless giving and they want to be looked at that way themselves. So they sell a piece of property with the intent of giving the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute as needed. But Ananias and Saphira are only interested in how they will look, not in actually giving a sacrifice and so they can't help but hold back some of the funds from the sale while pretending to give everything. They were only interested in looking sacrificial, not in being sacrificial.
Like both Sharpay's assistant and the Ananiases and Saphiras of the world, we can easily fall into the trap of doing good things for the wrong reasons. Sometimes, we just want to look good. Sometimes, we want to show people that we are better than whoever has been badmouthing us. Sometimes, we are just interested in the tax break or in the connection we can make. Sometimes, our good deed makes someone we don't like look bad. Sometimes, it scores us political points at work or church. Numerous opportunities exist to do the right things for the wrong reasons. The writer of the proverb reminds us that such sacrifices are detestable.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think there is anything wrong with getting a benefit from doing the right thing. The problem exists when our primary motivation for doing good is how the act will benefit us. And if we find ourselves lying about, over-emphasizing, or drawing attention to our good deeds, chances are we're doing the right things for the wrong reasons.
When we doubt our motives for doing good, we must ask ourselves, "Who am I doing this for?" If our primary motivation is how it will benefit ourselves, then let us be honest with ourselves and with those around us. Such honesty just might keep us from doing the right things for the wrong reasons.