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.

Doing the Right Thing – Motivated by Love for God

Another motivation for doing the right thing is our desire to show our love for God.  Love is not always something easily explained or measured.  It is not always easy to measure how deep and unconditional our love can go.  But God has given us some clear guidelines in His Word for how our love for Him informs our actions.  Here are a few:

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15).  There can’t be a much clearer connection between our walk, our actions, and how they demonstrate our love for God.  “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love Him, and disclose Myself to him” (Jn 14:21).  Not only do we have the motivation that if we love God, we will keep His commandments, but we also have the promise of the blessing of being loved by God and having Him disclose more of Himself to us.  And finally, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love” (Jn 15:10).  Loving God and obeying His commandments go hand in hand.

Continuing the theme, being obedient to the “one anothers” of the New Testament demonstrates our love for God, especially the command to love one another.  “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (I Jn 3:17-18).  “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (I Jn 4:20-21).  We demonstrate our love for God by loving each other.

Coming full circle on the theme of obeying God out of our love for Him, we arrive at I John chapter 5.  “By this we know we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (I Jn 5:2-3).  When we have a love relationship with God, the Father, His commands are not burdensome.  Instead, there is peace, comfort, and joy in obeying the Love of our life.

Doing the Right Thing – Motivated by Gratitude to God

God has given new covenant believers many positive motivations for doing the right thing. One of these is obeying God out of a sense of gratitude, walking in a worthy manner out of thanksgiving to God.  Being thankful for God’s love, mercy, salvation, blessing, guidance, and protection motivates us to want to please God by our actions.

One of the attitudes that shines through in Paul’s writings in the New Testament is his thanksgiving.  The apostle expresses his gratefulness for fellow believers (I Thess 1:2), for God’s leading (II Cor 2:14), for our future victory over death (I Cor 15:57), for our present victory over sin’s power (Rom 6:17), for the message being accepted (I Thess 2:13), and finally cries out, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (II Cor 9:15).  Paul also encourages us to follow his example of thanksgiving by “giving thanks in everything” (I Thess 5:18).

Right actions follow from our thanksgiving.  “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude” (Col 2:6-7).  Our “overflowing gratitude” energizes our “walk in Him”.

Continuing this thought in the book of Hebrews, we read, “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe” (Heb 12:28).  We show our gratitude to God when we offer to God our acceptable or reasonable service; our obedience to all He commands.

Do the Right Thing

What motivates new covenant believers to do the right thing?  That is, without the fear of the Law, what causes us to walk the straight and narrow?  What motivates us to fly right?  Can the same grace that secured our initial salvation also inform our actions?  Is grace just a theological concept or does it also empower us to righteous living?

Grace and godly living go hand-in-hand.  “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people of His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14).

Somehow, God’s grace not only paid the penalty for our sin, but “in the present age” is “redeeming us from every lawless deed”.  That is, His grace is currently setting us free from sin’s power and instead of leaving us to practice lawlessness is actually making us “zealous for good deeds”.  God’s grace is instructing us in godly living.

Part of God’s grace in reaching out to us is the fact that God has given us all kinds of motivation to do the right thing in His Word.  God has not left us with instructions to obey “because I told you to”.  Instead, God, in His gracious interaction with His children, has given us many, many words of encouragement and admonition as to why we should obey Him.  It is a picture of God’s grace that we are not left in the dark regarding what obedience looks like or why we should do it.

When our children were very young, I used to think when we faced various discipline challenges that this would be much easier when they can speak in clear sentences, string thoughts together, and we can reason and discuss what is happening here.  Was I in for a surprise.  The discipline actually became harder when they learned how to debate and argue and ask why and logically explain why their upcoming discipline was not warranted.  I still remember one of them wanting to discuss the benefits of grounding instead of what was about to happen and I couldn’t figure out when they had even heard the term at such a young age.

But God is not put off by our “why?”.  He welcomes our inquiry.  By His grace, as a tender Father encouraging His children, He has given us explanation and positive motivation to obey Him.  Over the next several weeks, we will look at some of the high motives for action given in the Bible.  These are not only for our own encouragement, but are excellent Scriptures to teach your children as motivation for doing the right thing.