by Nathan Brown

About why

It has been an interesting week in politics in Australia, which would take much longer to explain than this paragraph. In short, the former prime minister and outgoing foreign minister—Kevin Rudd—challenged the current prime minister for her leadership of their party and the Australian government. On a party vote of about 100 members, Australia could have seen a change in prime minister—after all, it happened the other way around less than two years ago. But the challenge failed and Rudd has lost his leadership roles in the government.

As the dust settles on this most recent leadership vote in the Australian government and before Rudd disappears into obscurity, it is worth remembering what may have been his most significant yet overlooked achievement as Australia’s foreign minister.

Last year, under Rudd’s leadership, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs conducted a major review of Australia’s overseas aid for development and poverty alleviation. In line with the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, Australia has become a world leader in moving toward dedicating 0.5 per cent of the country’s Gross National Income to these goals.

But more important was the profound change in the rationale for Australia’s contribution to the least developed countries and poorest peoples of the world. Instead of the previously stated goal of furthering Australia’s national interests through strategically helping the poor, “the fundamental purpose of Australian aid”—the new policy reads—“is to help people in developing countries overcome poverty.”

In many instances, the work done under this new policy may not look radically different from that of the previous policy but the question of motivation is significant—in all that we do, as nations, as churches and as individuals. An apparently identical act or idea is rendered profoundly differently by its why.

The Bible says there are some things we should do because they are the right things to do. As Jesus said, part of living humbly as His disciples is to be “hungry and thirsty for justice” (Matthew 5:6, NLT), to seek goodness in all its forms, including working for more goodness in the world beyond ourselves as agents of God’s kingdom here and now. In theory, it’s so straightforward. In practice, it’s more complicated. And our motivations get so easily muddled and muddied.

That’s why we can applaud initiatives, statements and policies that move our national, corporate, congregational and individual actions beyond self-interest toward doing things that are right and good simply because they are right and good. Whether this new Australian aid and development policy really changes priorities, whether it survives the loss of its political champion, and whether Australia is truly a more generous and altruistic nation on the world stage, remain to be seen but we can be encouraged by this impulse.

We should also take the opportunity to consider our own motivations in the good we try to do in various facets of our lives. We should also ask some of these same questions about initiatives and actions that the church undertakes. We might find ourselves doing some things different and doing other things kind of the same but with radically different motives. That will be good for us, as well as for those—and for Him—we seek to serve.