THE SIN OF DOING NOTHING
- Read James 4:2, 17 and Matthew 7:21.
- Christianity is a religion of doing:
- God has always expected and required His people to perform, to work, labor, and practice.
- Passages which impress this lesson (Ephesians 6:6; James 1:25; Acts 10:34).
- In relation to man (Galatians 6:10).
- In relation to civil government (Romans 13:3).
- Do the work of an evangelist (II Timothy 4:5).
- What marked Jesus above others was His doing.
- He went about doing good.
- He came to do his Father's will (John 8:29).
- The things that Jesus began both to do and to teach (Acts 1:1).
- Different classifications of sin:
- Transgression, missing the mark, lawlessness, etc.
- Not doing, neglect (James 4:17; Hebrews 2:2–3; Matthew 22:1–4).
- Bible examples that point up this truth:
- The good Samaritan (Luke 10:35–37).
- The rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31).
- The ten virgins (Matthew 25:1–13).
- The talents (Matthew 25:14–30).
- The sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31–46)
- No man should entertain the idea that the Lord will bless him merely because he does no evil.
- Positive goodness required (Psalm 1).
- “If you do these things ...” (II Peter 1:10).
- “But he who does the will of God ...” (I John 2:17).
- The great question is: “What must I do?”
THE SIN OF DOING NOTHING
“Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
The word that is translated do is poieo. In the New Testament it is found 576 times, which points up the fact that Christianity is a religion of doing. One acquainted with the word of God knows that He has always required His people to do. There are several other words which, in action, are related. The word energeo, from which we get our English words energy and energize, is used 30 times in the New Testament. The word ergon is used more than 200 times in the New Testament. These words primarily mean to work, labor, perform, practice, and do.
IN OUR RELATIONSHIP TO GOD
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1). The purpose of hiring these men was that they might work. There was an agreement on the work to be done and the wages to be paid. When the offer was made and the stipulations were named and the laborers acquiesced, then it was their obligation to go into the vineyard to work. If they did not do what they were assigned and required to do, the land owner owed them nothing at the close of the day. This is not difficult to understand and no man has any quarrel with this arrangement. For the laborer to collect his pay at the end of the day when he had rendered no service would be dishonest. This is what James calls sin!
To drive this lesson home, so to speak, Jesus told them a parable: “.A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? They said to Him, ‘The first&rsquo ” (Matthew 21:28–31). There are two important lessons to be learned here: A change of mind and doing. Unless one changes his heart and does an about face, the doing of anything would be pretty
mechanical. But, on the other hand, to say you are going to do something and then neglect to do it implicates one in lying and disobedience.
DOING THE WILL OF GOD
God never proposed that we do His will if our hearts were not in it. He wants your voluntary service; and He wants it to be a service rendered out of love. To do anything for Him machine–like is not acceptable obedience, but this does not say that the doing of God's will is not important.
“... Be obedient to those who are your masters ... not with eye service, as men pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (Ephesians 6:5–6). Doing the will of God is important, but it is empty and meaningingless, and even hypocritical, if it is not performed and delivered from the heart.
One of the most powerful lessons to be found anywhere upon this subject of doing is found in the words and illustrations of James: “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:23–25).
Great stress is laid on the business of doing God's will by the inspired writers of the New Testament. John relates what the (former) blind man said to the Jewish religious leaders who were hurling insults at him: “Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him” (John 9:31). Peter said to those gathered at the house of Cornelius to hear what God had commanded him to say: “Then Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him’ ” (Acts 10:34–35).
Jesus said to those who followed Him: “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). Christianity is in no way a legalistic system. There is not some formula
which, if one complies with it, he earns and therefore deserves the blessings of salvation. The commands of God to us and the service we render Him are not some conventionalized, superficial, and impersonal assemblage of procedures which will guarantee us forgiveness if we follow them to the letter. It is not counting beads and saying so many prayers with our faces turned in the right direction, or circumambulating the Kaaba of the Great Mosque at Mecca, that protects us from danger, indemnifies us against loses, and assures us life in another world.
At the same time, I am not trying to say that salvation here and hereafter is a matter of God's grace extended to us without reference to our response to it and our acceptance of it. God does not foist Himself upon us. He does not force unwanted and uninvited entrance into our lives. He does not intrude Himself into our hearts.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).
It must be understood that God made us free moral agents with the power and right to decide to choose. Becoming and being a Christian is volitional. We do it freely, intentionally, and willingly. It is an elective with us. He makes the overture; He proffers the offer; He makes it beautifully attractive; and He stipulates the conditions. We accept or refuse according to our own disposition and will.
Nor do I wish to leave the impression that the individual does not need to comply with God's will. I have pointed out already that doing is found 256 times in the New Testament.
No thought is more often repeated and none is given greater emphasis than that we must obey God in everything He requires of us. While there are a number of words in the New Testament that are translated obey, there are two which are outstanding because of their repeated use and their particular meanings.
One of the words, peitho, means “to persuade, or be persuaded.”We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The word used most frequently for obey is our word hear. When the New Testament talks about our hearing, generally it
is in the sense of obeying. The word is hupakouo. There are four thoughts connected with this word which we need to learn and keep in our hearts: (1) to hear audibly; (2) hear understandingly; (3) hear receptively; and (4) hear retentively. When one hears in these senses, he is an obedient child of God. “You obeyed for the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered” (Romans 6:17). this is the kind of doing that pleases God and results in salvation of the soul.
In Relation to Man
A beautiful and solid principle that is practical in every age of man's existence is found in the words of Paul to the Galatians: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” This instruction us to do good to all men.
Instead of doing nothing or reciprocating evil for evil, the Christian is to do good. This is the spirit of Christ. This is being like God. Jesus put this in His divine constitution at the first of His ministry among men. It was repeated by His followers and those who wrote down these special orders He had given while He was yet with them. “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all” (I Thessalonians 5:15).
This kind of injunction is utterly incompatible with how people in the world treat each other, and it is inconceivable to the man of the world until he takes on the mind of Christ. Too many of us feel that as long as we are passive toward our fellow man—that is, we have the spirit of do nothing against them—we are inert and neutral. I do not steal from him. I would not do him bodily harm. Never would I be guilty of adultery with his wife. To bear false witness against him is furthest from my mind. There must be no further obligations I have to my neighbor!
But we have missed the truth Jesus and the apostles taught. In fact, Paul said in this charge to the Galatian Christians: “While you have opportunity. ...” Not if you have opportunity, but while. He is here telling us that in relation to our fellow man, our position cannot be one of non–commitment, abstention from evil toward him, and indifference to his needs, but we must be
actively seeking out and making opportunities to do him good. That is what Christianity is—that is, in our horizontal relationship to others. The religion of the Lord Jesus Christ is not a passive system of evasion, but a positive teaching, a doctrine, and an ethic of always doing good to others. Jesus spoke of doing good to the poor. We always have the poor around. The opportunity is ever present. In the judgment, doing good to others will be an important factor in determining where we will spend eternity. “I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me” (Matthew 25:35–36).
There are other needs our fellow man has than physical. Jesus never implied in this context of the judgment that all we have to do to be saved is to attend to the bodily requirements of those around us who are poor or have problems. Other passages compel us to look to his spiritual needs, teaching him the truth and leading him to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
To be concerned only with physical needs is to miss the point of His ministry among men; neither did he intend, however, for us to ignore them. These are musts and if we pass the physical needs by with indifference, in all likelihood we will not be very deeply concerned the spiritual needs.
Feed the body where need exists and where the recipient is worthy of such help, but then we are also to do the work of an evangelist (II Timothy 4:5). That means that we must share the good news of the gospel. This is not a duty imposed by divine mandate merely upon preachers, but upon each one who has named the name of Christ. I like what Jesus said about Mary who had poured an expensive container of perfume upon Him in anticipation of His burial: “She has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). It is an act of loving service, voluntarily and unselfishly rendered. This is the kind of doing that meets with God's approval and calls down His blessings upon us in return.
The principle that should run as a thread through the life of the Christian in all of his encounters with others is: “Do what is good and you will have praise from the same” (Romans 13:3).
Doing Marked the Life of Jesus
If we were called upon to name what characterized Jesus above all else in His dealings with men, it would be His doing. He went about doing good. “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John 4:34). “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). “I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29).
Luke said he had written a former treatise “of all that Jesus began both to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). Not till He died on the cross was His work finished on earth. It was there in the shadow of death, only moments before he expired, that he uttered the words: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Early in His ministry He had said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). “It is finished,” has reference to more than the fulfilling of the law and its abrogation. There is no doubt He had finished all that the Father had sent Him to do!
Different Classifications of Sin
In another chapter in this study we have learned that there are different classifications of sin. There are sins of transgression which are overpassing a line and infracting the law of God (I Timothy 2:14). There are sins of lawlessness. Men endeavor to live without law, having no respect for the establishment (I John 3:4). We read of presumptuous sins and secret sins. But the sin with which we are concerned in this lesson is that of not doing.
“Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Not many people feel that not doing something constitutes wrong, but this passage says it is. Not doing is tantamount to neglect. Some neglect is an oversight and other is intentional rebellion. Neglect may mean, “I do not care,” or it may mean, “I am doing something else.”
The writer of the Hebrew letter asked the question: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation ...” (Hebrews 2:3–4)? He was asking, “How shall we escape if we do not care?” Jesus said that certain invited guests to the wedding feast of the king's son “made light of it” (Matthew 22:1–5). The did not care and so neglected to go.
The Good Samaritan
But what about those who do nothing? In the story that Jesus told of the good Samaritan, Luke 10:25–37, the sin of the priest and the Levite was in doing nothing. They passed by on the other side. Here was a man who had fallen into the hands of robbers and murderers, who beat him, stripped him of his clothing, and cast him into the gutter, leaving him half dead. The priest and the Levite did not further his misery by kicking him more, or seeking from him other articles of worth they might steal, or even by ridiculing him. They did nothing. Perhaps there are several lessons Jesus taught in this brief narrative, but one is for sure: when people do nothing where something must be done, they will be damned, as though they committed the crime.
The Samaritan is commended to us because of his compassion and kindness and his love in action. He did something. He went where he was, he had compassion on him, he poured oil and wine into his wounds, bound up his wounds, and he put him on his own beast of burden while he, himself, walked instead of riding. He took him to an inn, cared for him, paid his keep, and promised to pay any additional expense incurred.
This is the kind of doing Christianity calls for. If we do not meet this challenge and do this required duty, we shall be caught up in the sin of neglect or of not doing! James makes it clear that this is sin. It is well known that neglect can be the most heinous of offenses.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores ...” (Matthew 16:29-31)
The fault of the rich man consisted not in cruelty to this beggar at his gate, but in his neglect to minister to the needs of this unfortunate beggar. The text indicates that he petitioned this wealthy man as he went in and out of his home each day.
The word used for desiring in verse 21 is a very strong one. It may be a little surprising to you that it is the same word Jesus used in His sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her [with a view to desire her] has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I mention this to show how strong was the desire and, I believe, the request for food. I do not doubt that as he was laid there by someone else that he reached forth his hands supplicating and beseeching the rich man to help him in his need.
Here was an opportunity for this man who had great plenty to show compassion and to reach out to someone less fortunate than himself and satisfy his want and deprivation. He did not even have to make the opportunity; it was there daily as he passed in and out that gate.
Let us look at another approach that could have been made. The rich man could have been mean and wicked in his treatment of this undesirable that cluttered the scene at the entrance of his home. He could have had him removed from the gate and thrown on the trash heap. He could have set the dogs on him and ended this nuisance, or instructed his servants to mistreat him. You can imagine, and I think, rightly so, that there was a disgusting annoyance to him, and he must have considered him a bothersome pest. But the story does not indicate that he took any kind of overt action against him or even any covert behavior or proceeding towards him.
The sin of the rich man was in not doing the good that was in his power to do. He could have satisfied his hunger and relieved his suffering. He did neither. He simply passed by, evidently heedlessly. the opportunity to feed, clothe, attend to his sickness, and care for him. As far as we are able to ell, Lazarus did not even get the crumbs he desired. And you know where the rich man ended up for his neglect.
How often we neglect to give someone whose moral and spiritual condition is as helpless and desperate as this poor beggar, the bread of life which is so readily and copiously available. This is not just a lesson in supplying the physical needs of the hungry and sick. The spiritual needs are greater than the physical needs and they are of even greater value because they pertain to the eternal welfare of men.
The Ten Virgins
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!&rsquo Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out’ ...” (Matthew 25:1–13).
It is true that this is a lesson in preparation, but in making that preparation some doing was not only vital, but indispensable. The case in this story Jesus told was of not doing what was necessary and what was expected of them. Though listed as friends of the bridegroom, the five foolish virgins were barred from entering into the marriage because they had not prepared themselves for the occasion. One is hesitant to condemn these five virgins because it seems so innocent. The person who does not prepare his heart and life in harmony with God's will, and helps others to do so, will find himself confined in the darkness of despair and eternal perdition. This is a serious matter—this business of not doing.
Immediately following Jesus' story of the Ten Virgins, He spoke to them another parable. This time the subject was the talents. The central theme, however, is much the same—that of doing, serving, performing, achieving, accomplishing, and fulfilling.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money ...” (Matthew 25:14–30).
Please observe several lessons in this story: a talent was the equivalent of a lifetime of work. Some people have such ability to exercise and multiply their talents that they accomplish ten times as much as the average person.
This man of considerable means who entrusted his goods to his servants went away on a journey. This suggests that he trusted them and left them with a personal responsibility. He didn't stay and stand over them and continually remind them that they should apply themselves to their task. He seemed to have also left them with the option of using their talents where they believed they would pay the greatest dividends. The servant with the five talents and the servant with the two talents went immediately and put their goods to work. They were, doubtless, proficient, energetic, ambitious, and determined. They worked at the job and they attained.
The third servant was not a criminal. He did not steal or cheat, except in the sense that he cheated his master. He had not even been wasteful. He buried his talent. He may have even thought he was preserving it by protecting it. But it had been entrusted to him for his care and use and development. The failure to put it into circulation so that he and others, including his master, could have benefited from it was his sin. It was the sin of doing nothing! And this is monstrous evil. It is not only deplorable, it is flagrant and foolish. Jesus said so. The master, in this story, said to the servant, “You wicked and lazy servant ... and cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Do you mean to say that a man is wicked and worthless who is lazy, and who does nothing? That is what Jesus said. In fact, He said a great deal more: He said he is worthy of severe punishment. In the eyes of the Lord, there are few things, if any, that are more reprehensible and, I suppose you would say, disgusting than a servant of His who does nothing.
We have a great many people in the church today who would never steal, lie, murder, or commit adultery, but they do nothing. They may warm a church pew on Sunday mornings and nights, but they do nothing! They have never taught a person about God or talked with him about Jesus and salvation, instructed him about the church for which Christ gave His life, or helped him solve moral, spiritual, physical, or earthly problems.
They have just done nothing. James and Jesus and others in the New Testament tell us that is sin.
The Sheep and the Goats
Please read the rather long story in Matthew 25:31–46 that tells us about two classes of people in the judgment—those who have done and those who have done nothing. You will see as you read this narrative that the people on the right side of the judgment throne were blessed because of the deeds of love and the service they had rendered from their hearts. The people on the left were lost because they had not rendered service. “Inasmuch as you did not do it ...” No man should entertain the idea that the Lord will bless him ultimately and eternally merely because he does no evil. Positive goodness is required of him (Psalm 1).
Peter gave instruction to Christians to “supply” Christian virtues in their lives; and then he concluded, “If you do these things you will never stumble” (II Peter 1:10).
The apostle John, taking up this same subject, apprised the Christians he addressed in his letter: “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:17).
Important questions we should ask every day are: “What must I do?” And “What must we do to work the works of Him?"