Are Good Intentions Always Good?
I am always convicted and encouraged when I read about Peter in the Gospels. I am convicted because I see my own sin through the testimony of his life. But I am also encouraged because I see the Lord’s patience and care for His children’s sanctification. Peter is known as the vocal one of the twelve. He is quick to share his thoughts and make his opinions known. On several occasions he actually has the audacity to offer instruction to Jesus. For example, in the John 13, when Jesus comes to Peter to wash his feet, Peter declares “You shall never wash my feet” (v. 8). After Jesus explains, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (v. 8), Peter responds by saying “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (v. 9). Again, Jesus corrects Peter and explains, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean…” Twice Peter impulsively speaks, and twice Jesus graciously and yet firmly instructs.
Peter’s initial remarks are well intentioned. He is ashamed that his Lord is doing a job he should be doing (foot washing). After Jesus corrects him, Peter swings the pendulum to the other side, desperately wanting to show his allegiance and desire to be with Jesus. Twice Peter speaks with good intentions and twice Jesus corrects him. While Peter’s intentions might have been good, that does not mean they were right.
Much is made today about having good intentions. And for many, good intentions drive their decisions in life and ministry. Yet, in learning from Peter, having good intentions does not justify one’s thinking and actions. It is good to have good intentions, but good intentions are just that—good intentions.
This is an important lesson for life and ministry. As good as our intentions may be, they need to be evaluated by and surrendered to the truth of God’s Word. Just because one has good intentions does not mean that such intentions result in right thinking, actions, and living. In fact, while our ideas might be well meaning, due to the corruption of the human mind and heart (Jer 17:9), they should not be trusted. Therefore, the Lord, in His kindness has given us the clarity of His Word to instruct our minds and hearts so that we truly understand what is good. In fact, to reject God’s truth and depend upon our own wisdom is a manifestation of arrogance, which reveals that our intentions actually are not nearly as good as we think.
Sadly, today there are many well-intentioned pastors and Christians who make decisions about life, the church, missions, and ministry based on their own wisdom and intentions. As well intentioned as they may be, this is at best naïve and more often it is spiritually dangerous. By such thinking, many have sought to honor the Lord in ministry but ended up doing more damage than good. Human subjectivity, perceptions, and feelings are never good litmus tests to determine what is good and right. There is a reason Jesus graciously and yet firmly corrected Peter—Peter was wrong. Likewise, there is a reason the Lord has given us His clearly revealed Word. He wants us to know what is right! It is not enough that one’s theology, philosophy of ministry, and ministry choices are well-intentioned. They need to be volitionally and intentionally surrendered to truth.
I am very grateful the Lord knows the thoughts and intentions of the heart and that He patiently shepherds with truth. Just like Jesus was patient with Peter, He patiently instructs us. Yet, may we learn from the example of Peter, that as well-intentioned as we might be, our good intentions are not always right and need to be continually surrendered to His truth. Trusting ourselves never ends well. Trusting in the Lord’s Word is always the path to what is truly good!
Justin McKitterick is one of our ten TES campus pastors, having served as the Pastor-Teacher of Grace Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida since 2011.