Doing the Right Thing – Motivated by Receiving a Blessing

In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes the crowd’s expectations, “You have heard it said…Do not commit murder…Do not commit adultery…Give your wife a certificate of divorce…Keep your vows…An eye for an eye…Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” (Mt 5), and kicks it up a notch with, “But I say…Don’t be angry with your brother…Don’t lust after a woman… Don’t divorce…Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ without the necessity of a vow…Repay evil with good…Love your enemies” (Mt 5).  Jesus takes the law of consequence of the Old Testament and replaces it with the law of love.  The law of love is the new expectation for would-be followers of Jesus.

In the Luke chapter 6 version of this teaching, Jesus includes an interesting promise.  After instructing His disciples in the law of love, Jesus concludes with “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return…Be merciful…Give and it will be given to you.  They will pour into your lap a good measure – pressed down, shaken together, and running over.  For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Lk 6:35-38).

It appears from this verse that somehow our love and generosity in this life will bring us a blessing.  I say “somehow” because our experience and the rest of the New Testament message make clear that there is not a one-to-one relationship between our giving and our financial blessing.  In fact, we rightfully cringe at the prosperity teaching that runs wild with this verse in the form of “send us your money and you will experience a financial windfall.”  Unfortunately that misuse often causes us to ignore the verse altogether.  But I believe Jesus said it and I believe it means something to us, his disciples.

There are many aspects to this promised blessing for obedience.  Sometimes it is a direct financial blessing.  But with appropriate sensitivity and humility, generous believers who have experienced a financial windfall are unlikely to broadcast that fact.  But we also know from our studies in Prosperity and Adversity that direct financial blessing is not always the path of blessing that God chooses.  What are some other aspects of God’s blessing?

Sticking with the generosity angle, we also have the blessing of making eternal friends with our money.  In the parable of the unrighteous steward, Jesus emphasizes this point, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Lk 16:9).  I think this is a direct promise that we can use our wealth to bless folks in a way that they will welcome us into heaven with open arms.  This will be a blessing for us.

I could go on about how our generosity and righteous living leads to the blessing of oneness in our community, the blessing of God’s peace that passes understanding, the blessing of joy in the face of adversity, and many other blessings that God has promised us.  But I will finish with one of God’s greatest blessings; the ability to be generous, do good, love one another, and everything else He has asked us to do.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:3-4).

God has given us the ability to be “holy and blameless before Him” through the finished work of Christ on the cross.  And when we live into this new identity, there is an overflowing blessing – pressed down, shaken together, and running over – for those who obey.

Doing the Right Thing – Motivated to be a Clean Vessel for Service

Listen to what God says about how we prepare ourselves to be an instrument in His hands.  “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.  Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble.  If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (II Tim 2:19-21).  When we cleanse ourselves from worldliness and wickedness, we will be ready to be put into service for the Lord.

An illustration we often used to explain this concept to our children goes like this.  Once we become a Christian, God is prepared to use us like a homemaker uses their kitchen utensils.  We are like pots and pans; pitchers and silverware.  We are vessels for service.  Would a cook knowingly use a dirty pot or pan to prepare the meal?  Would you like to sit down to the table only to find a dirty fork with some old whatever stuck to its tines?  Of course not!

Likewise, God does not want to use a “dirty” you or me to accomplish His work.  Our II Timothy passage teaches us that sin makes us an unclean vessel while righteous living – “turn away from wickedness” – makes us a vessel fit for service.

One evening, after a Bible lesson on this very topic, our son Josh was emptying the clean dishwasher.  He came across a fork with some food still stuck to it and loudly proclaimed to all within earshot, “Hark, an ignoble fork, unfit for service!” and threw it into the sink of hand dishes.  The illustration had hit its mark.

We remain a clean vessel when we obey God’s commandments.  And the desire to be found fit for His service is another motivation to do the right thing.

Doing the Right Thing – Motivated by Future Reward

Many times in the gospels, Jesus lifts up the hope of future rewards as a legitimate motivation for good works.  And the reward theme continues in the rest of the New Testament.  Let’s see what Jesus and the apostles had to say about keeping our eye on the prize.

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:11-12).  Persecuted for your faith = REWARD.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven…when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you…when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:1,3,4,6).  Practice your righteousness with humility = REWARD.

“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great” (Lk 6:35).  Love, good works, generosity = REWARD.

“Now he who plants and he who waters are on one mission; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (I Cor 3:8).  Planting and watering = REWARD.

“For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.  For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward” (I Cor 9:16-17).  Preaching the gospel = REWARD.

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance” (Col 3:23-24).  Diligence in your work = REWARD.

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.  This is the deceiver and the antichrist.  Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you will receive a full reward” (II Jn 1:7-8).  Staying true to the gospel message = REWARD.

And finally, “Behold, I am coming quickly and My reward is with Me to render to every man according to what he has done…Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gate into the city” (Rev 22:12,14).  Heaven is our ultimate reward!

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.