Life, Hope & Truth

From the January/February 2019 issue of Discern Magazine

“No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”

Too often, doing a good deed can come with a heavy price. Is the cost of doing good worth the reward? Is there even a reward? Today’s society might say no, but Scripture shows us otherwise.

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As I began a new job, a coworker told me, “Never volunteer for anything, and don’t help anyone else do anything. If you do, you’ll end up stuck doing it forever. Or worse, you’ll make the rest of us look bad. Don’t make us look bad!”

I’d like to say this was an odd way of being greeted by coworkers, and perhaps this particular company was the exception.

I’d like to say that.

Unfortunately, as I’ve transitioned from one career to another over the years, I’ve found this mind-set is more often the rule than it is the exception.

In society today it seems that if you stand out from the crowd—if you try to do the right thing—you run the risk of being labeled a “do-gooder” or a “ladder-climber,” or one of many other derogatory terms designed to reprimand you for your good deeds.

Tall poppy syndrome

Many cultures around the world have some variation of the saying, “Don’t be the tall poppy.” The concept of the tall poppy syndrome is believed to date back to around 500 B.C. when Roman King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus instructed his son Sexton on how to manage the city of Gabii. The king struck his stick across a field of poppies, cutting down all the tall poppies. The implied meaning was to cut down anyone who seemed to stand out—to eliminate those who appeared to be a threat to the leader.

One form of the tall poppy syndrome is between an individual and his or her peers. This is seen when a person’s actions distinguish him or her from others. The person’s peers attack that person, usually due to resentment and envy, in order to make the person seem unimportant or his or her actions less notable. The person who has accomplished a good deed is belittled and mocked in order for the others to feel better about themselves.

Doing good can come with a heavy penalty. You can be mocked or insulted for doing the right thing. You can receive a reprimand from coworkers for going above and beyond.

Sometimes in our attempts to do the right thing—to do good—we end up finding ourselves looking quite a bit like the tall poppy.

So is it worth it?

Threatened by good

Jesus Christ set countless examples of doing good. Acts 10:38 tells us, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (emphasis added).

Christ had compassion upon the sick and the outcasts. He physically touched the untouchable leper and healed him. Jesus Christ cast out demons, caused the lame to stand, showed love to sinners and raised the dead to physical life.

All of these acts were acts of good! Jesus stood above the rest.

And Jesus Christ’s acts of good did not go unnoticed.

The leaders of Judea noticed His good works and highly disapproved. They felt threatened by Jesus’ good deeds, that their authority was undermined by Jesus’ focus on God’s standards of service and compassion (Matthew 12:11-14). It was as if Jesus placed a target on Himself by performing so many good deeds.

Just as it can be for those who strive to do good today, Jesus’ example of good caused Him to be despised and resented by His peers and by those who desired to remain in religious control. Because He stood out—because He was the perfect example of right and good—Jesus received the full wrath of those who wanted more than anything to cut down and belittle His example. Jesus was crucified for standing out. But God used His sacrifice for a much greater purpose.

Without this sacrifice by the Son of God, we would have no hope for our future. Our lives would have no meaning. Our sins would keep us separated from God, and eternal death would be our deserved punishment (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 6:20-23). But Jesus paid the price for our sins—our transgression of God’s law—and thereby opened the door to God for all mankind (Galatians 3:13-14).

No good deed goes unrewarded

Jesus Christ understood that His good works as a servant and a teacher of the truth would cause Him to be hated, and that those who strive to follow His example would be hated as well (John 15:18-25).

But He also knew good deeds come with a reward.

The Bible talks about both a free gift and a reward. We need to understand both.

Doing right is never the wrong decision.God the Father and the Word who became flesh, Jesus Christ, established a plan long ago. This plan was to create a family—a family of billions upon billions! Because of Christ’s goodness, the door was opened and we have an opportunity to partake in the free gift of salvation and become a part of the family of God (Ephesians 1:5). There is nothing we could ever do to earn salvation. It is an undeserved, gracious gift.

Those who have been chosen by God now will also have the opportunity to receive the reward of serving beside Jesus Christ upon His return. But this reward of a position of service with Christ isn’t just handed to us regardless of how we live our lives (Matthew 16:27).

The free gift of salvation for all mankind was made possible by Jesus Christ when He sacrificed Himself to bear our sins through His crucifixion and death. However, the reward of our position of service with Jesus Christ in the future requires our sacrifice and service now. To learn more about the events following Jesus’ return, see our online article “The Prophesied Restoration of All Things.”

We, too, have sacrifices to make. We have to stand up for what is right and just. We must do the things no one else wants to do for fear of being labeled, mocked and ridiculed. Doing good deeds—serving others and stepping up even when it comes with a price—is what’s expected of us if we’re to count ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ.

Only when we mirror Jesus’ example and turn our focus on others instead of ourselves can we begin to understand the reward. Jesus said that for the things we give up in this life we will “receive a hundredfold” in God’s Kingdom (Matthew 19:27-29).

Our reward comes through following the example of Christ—serving those in need—helping the helpless—doing good to those who may never return the favor, always with the motivation of love. We must not serve to be seen or to be praised by people now (Matthew 6:1-4).

Jesus’ actions and His own words tell us, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons [and daughters] of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35, English Standard Version).

The label “do-gooder” can be a label worth receiving if you are really doing good. Being seen as one who “rocks the boat” by going above and beyond should not be belittling. It may be disheartening to be assigned more responsibilities because you set yourself apart from your peers by doing good—but doing right is never the wrong decision. Scripture tells us there’s a reward for doing good.

At times it can be tough to stand out from the crowd as someone who is always going to strive to do good, but it’s still the right thing to do. Always!

Today, those who stand out are often cut down. Society attempts to teach us that no good deed goes unpunished.

But in the future, God promises a wonderful reward for good deeds motivated by godly love.

In the end, no good deed will go unrewarded.

About the Author

David Hicks

David Hicks

David Hicks is the managing editor, graphic designer and a contributing writer for Discern magazine. He’s also the managing editor and designer for booklets produced by Life, Hope & Truth, as well as One Accord—a newsletter for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in Allen, Texas. In addition, he provides graphics and illustrations for other areas of need within the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.

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