Do you recall the Quaker Oats commercial from a few years back? Wilford Brumley, mustachioed and rugged looking in his jeans and cowboy hat, lauds the virtues of oatmeal. Listening to him, you’d think oatmeal was a panacea for all ills, an ambrosia sent down from Olympus to cure mankind. And he’d always finish his spiel by saying, “It’s the right thing to do.” I like that slogan. It’s like Nike’s “Just do it.” I wish some Christian group had come up with it first.
I guess I like “It’s the right thing to do” so much because in very succinct terms it captures the essence of so much spiritual truth. Much of the Christian life could be summed up in this phrase. There are commands and instructions and obligations that God gives us in His word and expects us to do. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. We should obey and do these things not because they make sense to us, not because they are easy, not because we enjoy doing them, and most certainly not because everyone else is doing them. (In fact, most of time others are not doing them.) We should do them because God says so… and Father really does know best! However, I have observed that there is a tendency among Christian believers to willfully disobey God’s clear instructions, and then justify their disobedience with excuses that seem reasonable, at least to them. Allow me to illustrate with a few real life situations.
A good while back, several years in fact, we had someone come by our church in Pennsylvania seeking a handout. If you were to hang around any church for a time you would become accustomed to this experience. Needy people (or sometimes people pretending to be needy) are commonplace. And churches are a ready source of help. However, this particular fellow was not a model example of someone you would want to help. He seemed to think we owed him something. He was a tad surly, and not very pleasant. Yet, despite his demeanor, in Christian charity we still tried to help him. One of things he asked for was food. We prepared several sandwiches for him. He requested a soda (or “pop” in Pennsylvanese). The only thing we had available were some cans of Sprite, but we got together what we had. However, when we gave him the sandwiches and the soft drinks, you could tell by the expression on his face he was not happy with our offerings. He left huffily, grumbling as he went. Then as he went around the corner of the building, we saw him throw the sandwiches in the bushes and drop the bag of pop in the dirt.
You can imagine our irritation. We were right in the middle of busy project for the church. Time was pressing. But we sacrificed our time and energy (and food) to help this man in need. And that sacrifice, given in compassion, was spurned and disdained. It was enough to make you want to ignore the next charity case that would come along. In such a situation, your own flesh rises up and says forget this charity stuff. It’s not worth it.
Another illustration comes from a conversation I had with someone a few years back. I remember we were talking about the Decalogue’s injunction to “Honor your father and your mother.” The person I was talking with is a knowledgeable and sound Bible teacher. But he was curious about some of the material he was using as a reference source. This material, although stating the plain sense of the command, spent quite a bit of time emphasizing the need for parents to be honorable. The author of this material focused much of his teaching on parental responsibility towards their children. He stressed how important it was for parents to have such integrity and character that their children will want to honor them. Considering America’s many instances of child abuse, the huge number of dysfunctional families we have, and the explosive statistics showing that our families are in real crisis, it seems that this author has a valid point. Perhaps we should reread the Ten Commandments, especially number 5, with a view to the current social and domestic realities. Can children really be expected to honor their parents when their parents are not in the least honorable?
The third situation comes out of another conversation with a Christian businessman. This occurred many years ago, but it is still fresh in my mind. I remember this man discussing the side jobs he did in addition to his regular work. He bragged about the fact he was paid for these jobs in cash, and never reported them on his income tax. His justification seemed reasonable. After all, isn’t our government corrupt, run by immoral politicians who only abuse their office? And doesn’t the government spend our taxes on things that we object to as Christian believers? Doesn’t the state fund abortion? And immoral sex education programs? And welfare programs that only foster laziness? And trade with godless regimes, such as Red China? In view of such gross abuse of public funds, it would appear that to withhold tax revenue from Washington is really a righteous act. Isn’t it?
Three situations. Three suggested solutions. Forget helping the needy, the church is only exploited by ungrateful people. Honor your parents, but only when they are honorable. Forget paying your taxes, the government doesn’t deserve them.
Sound godly? Seem righteous?
It’s not. It is the height of hypocritical, disobedient rebellion. It is sin.
God did not say, give to those are sophisticated, noble and polished. He did not even say give to those who are grateful and appreciative. He did say, “Do not forget the poor!”
God did not say for us to honor our parents when they seem to us to be deserving of honor. Instead he said something very simple and straightforward: “Honor your parents.”
God did not say to pay taxes when the government is pure and holy. He did say, “Provide things honest in the sight of all men,” and “Give taxes to whom taxes are due.”
That is His word. These are His commands. They are not conditional expectations, they are the forthright, plain mandates of God to His children. He doesn’t expect us to engage in sanctimonious casuistry, or seek philosophical justifications for why we should or should not heed certain commands. He just expects us to obey.
Why should we obey? Mainly because God has commanded these things. He is God, the Almighty, the Lord, and what He says goes. ’Nuff said. That’s it.
Also, I should obey because THE FATHER really does know best. When He straightforwardly mandates an action for me to do, a behavior He expects from me, I can count on it not only fulfilling His righteous commands but that it is the best possible course of action for me personally. I always benefit when I obey Him. What He expects of me is always for my good, as well as doing right by and for others. You can’t go wrong doing what God asks you to do.
But yet, there is a further reason. I should obey because I am His child. If I am truly born again, truly regenerated, and truly changed by a personal encounter with the living Jesus Christ, then I am to live and act accordingly. I do what is right because of who I now am in Jesus. I obey because I am His. And since I belong to Him, He expects me to do His will.
Let’s apply this concept to our three situations. The ungrateful man who trashed the food we gave him: Should I refuse to give to others because they also might be ungrateful? No. I don’t give to them because they are appreciative of my compassion. I give to them because I am an obedient child of God. Should parents be people of integrity and worthy of honor? Certainly. But I don’t honor my parents because they are worthy of honor. I honor them because I am told to do so, and to obey this command is to make me an honorable person. Is the government too often corrupt and evil? Yes, indeed. But the character of the government is not at issue when it comes to paying taxes. God tells His children to yield to civil authority and to show honor to authorities, specifically in the matter of finances (see Romans 13:1-7). I pay taxes not because politicians are men of character, but because I am a person of character.
I must treat my neighbor, my parents, my leaders in a certain way because God says so. And I do so not because of who they are, but because of who I am. I do this, I obey His commands, because it is the right thing to do!