Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. --Psalm 86:11

Friday, September 7, 2012

Doing Good for Goodness Sake

Why do we do good? So often it’s to get something, some reward. This is the way the world works. From the age of two, we are persuaded (or not, as the case may be) to do what others want us to do by means of a carrot and a stick. At home, in school, on sports teams, even in church. It’s not rocket science to figure out why people do this: it works. People respond to rewards and punishments.

But the question haunts me: does it work in the long run? What kind of people does it create? How do we become people who do the right thing, just because it’s the right thing, even when the reward is neither immediate nor tangible

Jesus encourages us to righteousness because it will lead to “reward” or “treasure” in heaven. I have neither space nor expertise to deal with the theological question about heavenly rewards. But Jesus is clearly not thinking about a piece of candy I can eat right now nor a gold star I can put on today’s behavior board nor a good grade on an assignment. (Nor, when Jesus speaks about punishment, is he thinking of losing my cell phone or being grounded for the next week.) The reward (and punishment) is out there in the uncertain future, and, although I have some scripturally-informed ideas about what it is, Jesus never comes right out and tells us precisely what “treasure in heaven” is. So we don’t know exactly what reward we’re working for or when we’ll receive it. Very different from all those years at home and in school. 

The question for me is: How do I raise my children to desire and pursue that reward even when it means forgoing some more instant gratification? Where’s the balance between using carrots and sticks sometimes to motivate my kids, and other times saying, just do this because it’s right. The question for you is: Will you trust Jesus when he tells you the kingdom is worth selling all you have and righteousness is worth seeking as your highest goal? Even when there’s no immediate or tangible reward, will you be good for goodness sake? Isn’t that, after all, a reward in itself?

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