Doing the Right Thing – Motivated by God’s Approval

In I Timothy 2:15 we read, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.”  When God views our “work” – our lifestyle, our choices, and our actions – will we be approved or ashamed?

I can’t help but view this verse through my own vocational experience.  A significant part of my job as a geophysicist involves presenting my ideas to management.  When my work has been thorough and thoughtful and complete, my work (and to some degree myself) have been “approved”.  But I have also felt the “ashamed” of a thrown-together, poorly-thought-out presentation.  If our earthly bosses can engender these feelings of accomplishment or shame, how much more important is it that our work is approved by God?

The point of the parable of the talents in Matthew chapter 25 is that the servant who is approved by being “faithful in the small things, will be put in charge of many things” (Mt 25:21); will be given greater responsibility.  If you want to see your ministry move in a certain direction, focus less on increasing your influence and more on being faithful to serve your family, practice honesty in your business dealings, seek the good of others, and the larger influence will come in God’s timing.

The apostle Paul was entrusted with the greatest responsibility possible – sharing the Gospel message – because he was approved by God.  “Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts” (I Thess 2:4).

God’s approval is something we should seek after and it should motivate us to righteous living.  To the loyal servant He says. “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt 25:21).

Doing the Right Thing – Motivated to be an Example to Others

One of the functions of the body of Christ is the opportunity to encourage and build up each other.  And one of the best ways to do this is through our righteous living and the example it sets.  The theme of being an example and following an example is a prominent one in the New Testament.

“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil 3:17).

“You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation and with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (I Thess 1:6-7).

“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you; not because we did not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, that you might follow our example” (I Thess 3:7-9).

“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example to those who believe” (I Tim 4:12)

“In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, and sound in speech which is beyond reproach” (Titus 2:7-8).

We often sell ourselves short in the area of setting an example with a false humility that says, “I am not worthy to be an example.”  If you really feel that way, then you have some work to do.  First, knock off the bad stuff!  Does that sound blunt and insensitive?  The New Testament writers use this kind of language over and over.  “Stop… Abstain… Quit… Put off… Lay aside… the sin that trips us up.  It does not fit our new identity.”

Second, you have the power to do it.  Sin is no longer your master.  So if you feel unworthy to be an example, do something about it.  Live into your new identity and all that goes with it.  Then find someone to encourage and lift up by your example.  You will be glad you did.

Doing the Right Thing – Motivated by God’s Reputation

Another motivation to do the right thing is our desire to enhance God’s reputation.  At first glance we may to ask ourselves, “Is it really possible that the Creator of the world, the Sustainer of the world, and the Author of our salvation needs any help from us on the reputation front?”  The answer is yes.  Just as the children in a family contribute to the family’s reputation, so also, our actions either impugn or enhance God’s reputation on the earth.

The church is the body of Christ.  The church is the physical representation of Jesus to a watching world.  And when they look at us, the community of believers, what do they see?  One of our motivations for righteous living is to accurately reflect the character of our Father and His Son.

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.  Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Pet 2:11-12).

As an aside, based on my writings on Romans 7 and the end of sin’s power, I may have implied there is no longer a war within.  But fleshly lusts are waging war against our souls.  Where I depart from the traditional teaching about a civil war inside is that I believe the war has already been won by the finished work of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  The primary war is over.  We have taken the high ground.  We are dwelling in our new fortress.

Yes, fleshly lusts are still attacking the fort.  Yes, fleshly lusts are still shooting arrows over the walls.  Yes, fleshly lusts are trying to ram open the front gate.  But by the power of the new nature, we can turn back these attacks.  Victory has already come our way by virtue of the new nature, the new self, the new identity, the new heart, the new power, the new disposition, and the new Spirit within.  Rather than a civil war between sides of equal power – the old and new nature, the Bible teaches that the war has already been won.  If fact, the apostle Paul says to celebrate our victory by putting on the victory wardrobe.  “Put on the new self…and clothe yourselves with a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…and beyond all these things put on love which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:10,12,14).

Now, returning to our I Peter passage, these new clothes of righteousness (“abstaining from fleshly lusts…and keeping our behavior excellent”) is what the watching world should see when they look at us.  And when they see us in our new clothes (“our good deeds”), they should glorify the One who clothed us, God our Father.  If we are quiet about the One who clothed us, they may glorify us, not knowing that we are a product of God’s transforming power.  We must live close enough to our observing friends to redirect their compliments to God, the author of our transformation.

One of my work partners said to me, “Jay, you are the most patient and easy going person I know.  You never let our unreasonable bosses or changing expectations or not being recognized for an accomplishment upset you.”

I replied, “Cecil, that is not the whole story.  What you see as just my personality goes much deeper.  I am actually one of the most competitive people you know.  But God changed me.  He gave me a new outlook and a new direction in my life that has allowed me to put, for the most part, the mean side of my competitiveness aside.”  Please understand, reader, that I have no interest in tooting my own horn.  This is just an example of turning my good deeds to point someone to the author of those deeds.  I am embarrassed to say that on the whole, this conversation has been way too rare in my life.

There is also a negative side to how our actions affect God’s reputation.  If we continue in sin, we are basically saying to the world, “God’s promises are not true.  He cannot be trusted.”  Because God has promised us not only eternal life, but victory over sin in this life, this victory becomes a referendum on God’s trustworthiness.  When the church looks like the world – an all too common accusation – God’s reputation is harmed.  But we won’t look like the world as we learn how to live into the victory God has secured.

Let’s summarize with Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 5, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).  Brothers and sisters, doing the right thing lifts up the reputation of our Father who is in heaven.

Doing the Right Thing – Motivated by Loyalty

Serving God out of loyalty is very similar to serving God out of duty.  Our allegiance to Christ is a great motivator for doing the right thing.  In II Timothy, the apostle Paul develops the idea of a “worthy soldier” who serves the Lord out of loyalty.  “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful (or loyal) men, who will be able to teach others also.  Suffer hardship with me, as a worthy soldier of Christ Jesus.  No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (II Tim 2:2-4).

Now Paul is not forbidding us from cooking our meals, paying our bills, going to school, or other activities we may consider everyday life.  He is painting a picture, an analogy.  Just as a soldier, once enlisted, leaves behind his everyday activities to singularly focus on serving his country; so the believer, once saved, leaves behind the “sin which so easily entangles us” (Heb 12:1) and singularly serves the Lord Jesus Christ.  That singular allegiance is so strong that Jesus used the most jolting language available to Him – hating one’s parents and loved ones – to illustrate its necessity.  (See our post on Hating One’s Parents and Love in the Big Circle).

It is also important to teach our children about sticking to the things they have been asked to do out of a sense of loyalty.  I don’t know how many times I have awaken to an early alarm clock and set out on the long commute downtown out of a sense of loyalty to my employer and duty to provide for my family.  Teaching our children about loyalty in a family setting will prepare them not only for their adult responsibilities but for loyalty to God when life’s challenges come.

When our children were still at home, we had a phrase we would use, “This is what the Lehmans do.”  It was not a statement of pride or self-promotion; it was a statement of family identity.  I remember one occasion when our high-schooler asked, “Do I really have to go along with you and spend the weekend visiting my sister in college again?”  I said, “Yes, because spending this kind of time together is what the Lehmans do.”  He replied, “That’s what you always say.”  (We also practiced flexibility and this child spent plenty of weekends with friends when it was appropriate.)  But you get the idea, when the time is right, we lean on our family loyalty.

And it applied to we parents as well.  There were many evenings when I thought I was just too tired to start a time of family Bible reading before we sent the kids off to bed.  But I would tell myself the same thing that I told the kids, “This is what the Lehmans do,” and we would launch into our time together.  The result, by God’s grace, is a family that enjoys being together and is loyal to each other.

Serving God out of loyalty is similar to serving God out of duty.  It is the “right thing to do.”

Doing the Right Thing – Motivated by Duty

Jesus said, “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep.  Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’?  Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’?  Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?  So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty‘ ” (Luke 17:7-10).

The concept of initiating or finishing a task out of a sense of duty is not very common in our self-actualization culture.  By self-actualization, I mean that even in our areas of service, the focus is often on us.  We would never say it out loud, but even our service can be colored by the thought, “What is in this for me?”

Recently, a high school youth group went on a summer mission trip to participate in a very effective apartment ministry to children.  After the trip, the leadership couple and the students sensed a call to start a similar ministry at an apartment complex near their home church.  At first, there was a buzz of excitement within the youth group about this effort.  But soon the excitement waned and the adult couple and two or three students were the only ones spending Sunday afternoon at the apartments.

What happened?  As is sometimes the case in the fickleness of student’s interests, it became uncool to be spending Sunday afternoons with these underprivileged children.  Back in their familiar routines, the students found what they considered to be better things to do with their time.  And the idea of just doing something out of a sense of duty, whether popular or not, was a foreign concept to most of these teens.

But Jesus lifts up an unselfish dedication to duty, in and of itself, as a valid motivation for doing the right thing.  A mom preparing the 20,000th meal for her family, an adult child caring for her aging mother, an unemployed professional taking a lessor job to provide for his family.  These are all pictures of carrying on and doing one’s duty.

The concept of duty or loyalty to God is a great motivator for doing the right thing.  So when we have done all that God has asked us to do, we can say, “We have only done our duty”; only what is expected of us by our King.