The Right ‘Kind’ of Good
September 01, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Jeremiah 2:4-13 Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 Luke 14:1, 7-14
Have you ever spoken with someone, and although you were both speaking English, somehow it seemed as if you were not speaking the same language?
Sometimes when we speak to others, there is a failure to communicate because the meaning that we have assigned to certain words varies, either within the scope of the English language or within our personal experience and the way that we have learned those words and choose to use them. For example, although you can order it on the menu in many restaurants, and although it is a staple in the southern part of our United States, as far as I am concerned, “grits” is not food. So, if you were to say to me, “I am having grits for breakfast.” I will likely have trouble understanding what you mean by that just as if you said, “I am going to eat aquarium gravel for breakfast.” It might not be harmful… but why?
Likewise, many of us have had times, often with our mothers, when we were clearly not speaking the same language. Our mothers would encourage us at bedtime by promising that they would be preparing something especially “good” for breakfast and we went to bed dreaming and drooling with the prospect of eating freshly baked cinnamon buns hot our of the oven, only to discover upon awakening that Mom had made oatmeal or some other hot cereal because it was… “good” for you. Although our conversations were all in English, how we defined the word “good” as it related to breakfast was very, very different than how our mothers were defining the same word.
These sorts of misunderstandings can be funny, or slightly traumatic, but the real trouble lies when we have these same sorts of misunderstandings with God. In the time of Jeremiah, the people did what God’s people have often done, and still do today. They accepted the blessings and gifts of God, and eventually began to believe that the things that they had came about because of their own hard work, or because they were entitled to them, or because they were the gifts of other gods. (Jeremiah 2:4-13)
4 Hear the word of the Lord, you descendants of Jacob,
all you clans of Israel.
5 This is what the Lord says:
“What fault did your ancestors find in me,
that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols
and became worthless themselves.
6 They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord,
who brought us up out of Egypt
and led us through the barren wilderness,
through a land of deserts and ravines,
a land of drought and utter darkness,
a land where no one travels and no one lives?’
7 I brought you into a fertile land
to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land
and made my inheritance detestable.
8 The priests did not ask,
‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who deal with the law did not know me;
the leaders rebelled against me.
The prophets prophesied by Baal,
following worthless idols.
9 “Therefore I bring charges against you again,”
declares the Lord.
“And I will bring charges against your children’s children.
10 Cross over to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
send to Kedar and observe closely;
see if there has ever been anything like this:
11 Has a nation ever changed its gods?
(Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their glorious God
for worthless idols.
12 Be appalled at this, you heavens,
and shudder with great horror,”
declares the Lord.
13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
God asks his people how he had wronged them and wonders why they had left him. God created a home for them that had abundant food and many resources, he blessed them in many ways, he performed miracles so that they would never forget him, and still they forgot. They wanted to believe that God didn’t exist, or that they were responsible for all the good that had happened to them, or perhaps it was other gods who asked less of them. And as a result, they turned their backs on God, they walked away from an eternal spring and exchanged the life that was in it for a dry hole in the ground and a death of their own creation.
But despite the warnings of the prophets and the punishments and corrections of God, hundreds of years later, Jesus sees the same kind of arrogance in the leaders of Israel. (Luke 14:1, 7-14)
14:1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Jesus pointed out something that we all know and understand. It’s good to be invited to dinner. We like being remembered, we like being invited, and most of us usually like dinner. I know that social activities like that for an introvert can be taxing, but the act of being invited is affirming and feels good even if you really don’t want to spend an evening socializing.
But Jesus says that although having a dinner party and inviting your friends is good…
…it’s the wrong kind of good.
As an example, Jesus tells a story about how a little humility can save a lot of embarrassment. If you sit at the humble end of the table and the host moves you to a more important place, that feels a whole lot better than if the host needs to publicly move you to a less important place because there was a bigger big-shot than you in the room. Likewise, if you want to do good, if you want to do the right kind of good, the kind of good that God appreciates and blesses, then instead of having a dinner party and inviting your friends, business associates, and people who can do something for you in return (which was the way that the system worked even then), try holding the same party, and going to the same expense and preparation, and inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, the widows and the orphans, and other people who never get invited anywhere. These are the people that, on the rare occasion that anyone gives them anything, they are given leftovers, cast-offs, or some other kind of second best. Imagine if, instead of using paper plates and preparing chicken, if at our next community meal, we served food from Longhorn Steakhouse on real china. Doing something good, for people who have no hope of doing anything for you in return, is the right kind of good. It’s the kind of good that God notices, appreciates, and blesses.
But what else can we do? How else can we do the right kind of good?
If we look, we find that the author of the book of Hebrews touches on this same idea (Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16).
13:1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
6 So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”
7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
The author says that the people of the church should start by remembering to love one another as brothers and sisters but also, in line with what Jesus had said about doing things for people who can’t repay you, we are encouraged to show hospitality to strangers as well as those in prison, and people who have been mistreated. In other words, not just do good, but do the right kind of good. But in addition to that, there are things that you can do with your own life that God appreciates. Stay pure. Love people more than money. Be content with what you have so that you don’t start loving money, envying others, coveting what they have, and treating people poorly to get ahead. Be confident after whom you are patterning your life. Follow God and not humans and look to Jesus and those who have lived good and godly lives for your role models.
There is real danger when we begin to think too much of ourselves. It might begin as education and self-improvement, and those things are good, but not when we allow our new educated and self-improved persons to think that we did it all ourselves and we don’t need God anymore. There are good things, but those things might be different than the right kind of good. If we want to do good, the kind of good that God appreciates and blesses, then we need to do the right kind of good. We need to love the people who might not love us back, do things for people who can’t do anything in return, love one another, live lives of purity, follow God and not human beings, and model our lives after Jesus and other people who have proven themselves to be godly men and women.
We all want to do good, and there all kinds of good things that we could do. Churches, and their people, regularly do all kinds of good things.
But let’s be sure that among the good things that we do, we also do…
…the right kind of good.
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