Leaded and Unleaded Motivation
The internal combustion engine changed the world. While the early concept was developed in the 1600s, the first practical gas engine wasn’t built until Étienne Lenoir in 1860. By the 1920s, there was a known problem with gasoline engines: knocking.
Knocking is when a pocket of gas and air gets trapped in the wrong part of the engine. This leads to a strange clattering that signals that the valves are not containing all the gasses the way they are intended to. The higher the compression ratio in the piston chamber, the more powerful an engine could be, but at the cost of a higher chance of knocking, which can eventually damage the engine.
In the twenties, an engineer at General Motors discovered that if they put tetraethyllead (TEL) in the gasoline, it stopped the engine from knocking. Notice the last word in the chemical compound: lead. By the late 1920s, most of the gas sold was “leaded” gasoline.
Even when it was introduced, lead was known as a toxic element. Over the next fifty years, a battle was waged on leaded gas. In the 1970s, leaded gas was phased out. In 1996 its public sale was banned in the United States.
What do we do with cars that run on leaded gasoline? They had to be converted. Converting a leaded gas engine to an unleaded gas engine meant some serious work. New valve seats, timing adjustments, compression ratios, and many other aspects had to be altered to convert a leaded gas engine into an unleaded one. The vast majority of leaded engines were phased out, retired, or scrapped. However, for a car enthusiast who is properly motivated, the led to unleaded conversion could be done.
What happens if you try to run an unleaded engine on leaded gas? If a person converted their engine from leaded to unleaded but then tried to run that converted engine on the old kind of gas, things would get interesting. Well, the engine would run… for a little while. Before you know it, the lead will clog the catalytic converter, which will back up the intake, foul the spark plugs, and the engine will run rough for a while until it dies altogether.
Why are we talking about this? Because inside you, there is an internal combustion engine, so to speak. Some people call it your “heart,” but I’m a man, so I prefer to avoid admitting that I have heart. I like the word “engine” better.
Every person born on the earth is given this engine. It drives you; it motivates you, it keeps you moving forward. This emotive engine pushes you to accel in your career, your hobbies, and your education. This engine is what keeps you motivated and moving.
The engine runs on leaded gasoline, metaphorically speaking. The fuel for the engine at the center of your life is Men’s (and women’s) approval. All unbelievers experience this. Amazing things have been done for the approval of others, in the name of ambition, for bragging rights. It’s just how we are designed. We need approval to keep motivated and to keep driving forward. In our leaded state, that approval comes from other people. There are times when we have it, and we are incredibly driven to achieve, and there are times when we don’t, and we struggle to keep up forward motion.
At the moment you believed in Jesus for everlasting life, your engine was converted from leaded to unleaded. It is capable of running on a new kind of gas. It’s cleaner and safer, and it’s easier to get.
The conversion was done by the Lord, and the new Gas is His approval. In the days before your conversion, your only fuel option was Men’s approval, but now you are able to be fueled by a new unleaded gasoline: Jesus’ approval.
Now, remember that a converted engine can technically run on either kind of gas, but only one is sustainable. Once the engine is converted, trying to run on the old gas will jam it up and make it run rough. When the engine runs rough, it damages the gaskets and seals, and it becomes leaky. As time goes on a converted engine running on the old gas needs more and more gas to run.
I’ve seen this in my own life. My desire for men’s approval only grows larger the more I pour in the tank. It used to be enough that my dad gave me his approval, but as my ministry grew, I needed my board to approve, then I needed other colleagues and peers, then we had a few of our videos go viral to millions of people, and that ruined my ability to ever feeling like I could get enough people’s approval to ever fill the gas tank. My engine has become so leaky, and my fuel need is so large now that I’d have to do some drastic things to ever fill it with the old gas.
I find my engine is running rough, and I never have enough gas.
You know, Paul knew other ministers that were experiencing a similar phenomenon. He said:
[They] preach Christ from selfish ambition… (Philippians 1:16)
What’s the best thing you could do with your life? Well, preaching Christ would probably top the list. But Paul makes clear that it’s possible to do the very best thing possible from selfish ambition. There are people—probably many people—who preach, minister, and serve out of selfish ambition. They are seeking the approval of others. They are using pride to drive their engine. They are chasing bragging rights. They may not outright boast, but it’s what they’re after.
I’ve been there. I’ve done ministry long enough to have a pile of projects done for the wrong reasons. Will God still use my work even though I was doing them for the sake of boasting? Absolutely, of the selfish-ambitious preachers, he said:
…The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice…. (Philippians 1:18)
There’s good news and bad news. If I do good ministry work for bad motives, God can still use it. He does use it. He is using it. But It’s rough on my engine because I’m not doing it to get Christ’s approval. I’m doing it to get other people’s. After years of this, the engine is knocking, and I’ve burned up a lot of gas. So it’s good that the gospel goes out, but it’s not good for those of us who are preaching/working/acting out of selfish ambition. Our engine has been converted to want another type of gas, and we’re fouling our parts with every gallon of the old stuff we guzzle.
What we need to put the right kind of fuel in our engine. We need clean unleaded. We need to be powered by our insatiable desire to gain Christ’s approval. Paul says as much as he heads into the second chapter of Philippians. He says:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit… (Philippians 2:3)
Your engine has been converted, now use the right kind of gas. We must take no action that is motivated by selfish ambition or vain conceit. That means that we must be analytical. We must consider our motivations. We must think before we act, or better yet, pray before we act. In the same way that you should pay attention to which gas can you pick up when fueling your engine, we must be aware of our motives.
But how? The answer comes in the second half of the verse:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, (Philippians 2:3)
Humility is the remedy for a rough-running engine. You can tell when you’ve shifted your gasoline type over to the new stuff because you will put others’ interests above your own. You will embrace humility. You will not cling to your rights and position. After all, Paul goes on to say that Jesus didn’t even though he had God-rights. He let it go and allowed himself to be killed on a cross. Then he arrives at a better type of gasoline when he says:
…hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:16)
Paul doesn’t want his work to be done in vain. He doesn’t want to be motivated by selfish ambition or vain conceit. But notice what he says will be the sign of his achieving this. He will be able to boast. But wait a minute. Didn’t we say that boasting is off the table? Didn’t we say that boasting is the wrong kind of fuel? Didn’t we say that boasting is bad?
It all depends on who you’re boasting to.
To boast to other people is wrong. However, doing the kind of work that Jesus approves and doing it to please and honor him without regard for selfish ambition will have this amazing outcome. Not only will you have his approval, but you’ll have heavenly bragging rights. Now before we get carried away, it’s worth noting that other translations have used words other than boasting because of its negative connotations, but the word literally means able to boast.
So, the more of the right kind of gas we put in, the more we will be glad we did on the day we stand before him to give an account of our life and work.
Let’s do our best to put away that old gas and reach for the new. We’ve been converted. We are capable of being motivated and running on his approval alone. It’s not what my flesh wants, but deep down it’s who I am, and it’s who you are. Let’s fill the tank with the right kind of gas and have something to be proud of on the day we stand before Christ.