Good? What do we mean when we say a thing is good? Good for me? Good for you? Good for the kingdom of God? Or, as our title suggests, "good for nothing"?
Is it possible that something good can end up being "good for nothing"? And, if it is good for nothing, can we say that it is any longer good?
There are many things that are obviously good in themselves. But the question is, "Are they good for me if I do them for the wrong reasons?" If my "interior" reason for doing "exterior" good is "ulterior," ... have I not forfeited the blessing doing good brings?
Good is Good
Now don't get me wrong. Good is good, even if it is done for the wrong reasons. We must not stop doing good, even if "it profiteth me nothing." But I confess to a selfish concern. I want to get "credit" for the good that I do ... and I have to face the grim truth that it's no "credit" to me if I do good for the wrong reasons.
Let me illustrate. I give generously to a worthy cause, but find a way for everyone to know what a good guy I am. The cause profited greatly, and maybe I even got a plaque. But "up there," where it counts, it was "good for nothing" so far as I am concerned!
I go on a guilt trip every time we are asked to give to a charitable organization. I give to them, but I cannot say that I am motivated in my giving by any deep compassion for the poor. Actually, you could call it a "cop out"... a way of avoiding the inconvenience of personally ministering to those in need while appearing to say, "I care!" This salving of my conscience by giving certainly helps the poor, but since my "profit motive" is faulty, I get nothing out of it!
You see, I could give all my goods to feed the poor, and it would be good ... very good. But if I only did it as a write-off on my income tax ... or to be known as the most generous giver in the church ... I would end up on the short end of the deal. The poor would profit, but I wouldn't. Good for nothing! Makes one think, doesn't it?
Don't Stop Doing Good
But we must not stop doing good. God expects it of us. So the question is not, "Should we do good?" but "What is the good that we should do, and for whom should we do it?" That is a question that has haunted me all my missionary ministry.
Recently I was in Bangladesh ... one of the poorest nations in the world from an economic standpoint. Beggars were everywhere, and the affluent American stuck out like a sore thumb! I was "targeted" and besieged, and I confess that I was on a constant guilt trip. I had the "goods" ... and by comparison, they had none. Do I give all my goods to feed the poor? And if I do, do I do it to salve my conscience or, more to the point, to get the beggars off my back? I rationalized. Even if I gave all... until I had nothing left ... it still wouldn't be a drop in a bucket toward meeting the need. Then, too, were they valid needs?
I found myself looking away from their pleading faces and pretending they weren't there. Where was my compassion? Where was my love? I knew then that, even though I gave everything I had to feed the poor, it would be "good for nothing" if love was absent!
There are so many pressing needs ... physical, intellectual, social, political, and spiritual. I only have twelve to twenty hours in a day in which to do good. I have much more of this world's "goods" than many others. Yet, even my material goods are limited compared to the need. And now I am getting old, and I don't have the stamina I used to have. Where should I spend my time, my money, and my energy?
I've reached this conclusion. The spiritual need of the lost must have the priority. If I neglect anything, it will have to be the physical, the intellectual, and the material needs because, if I fail to prepare the lost for eternity, I only delay their day of damnation by supplying their other needs.
But still I dare not become callous to physical and social needs. They are visible and they are pressing. I must not "shut up my bowels of compassion" against them. Again and again I will have to make up my mind as to whether to respond to these very real needs. How then should I determine what needs should get my time and attention?
I think 1 John 3:17-21 gives us the "how to" of responding to need. It puts the onus on the "haves" rather than on the "have-nots" to decide between a need and a want.
Wants are endless, and the believer is not asked to provide the "wants" of those who ask. But "need" is another thing. If we see our brother has need, then we have an obligation, and 1 John 3:20-22 clearly indicates that, if we don't obey what our heart tells us to do, our prayers will be hindered.
Our conscience must be our guide, because God, who is greater than our hearts, speaks through our consciences. God knows a real need when He sees one! To harden our hearts is to cause our prayers to go unanswered. So we'd better be very careful as to how we respond when our hearts tell us it is a real need!
There is another thing about compassion I need to mention. Compassion is at its best when it is on a one-to-one basis. It then becomes an effective Christian witness. The moment we institutionalize compassion, we rob it of its personal touch. Then, too, institutions can only reach a limited number of needs. One-to-one compassion, on the other hand, spread over the whole of the Christian community, multiplies compassion's scope, and enhances its power as a soul-saving ministry.
I am not against institutionalized compassion ... and sometimes that's the only way to do it. But what I am against is the believer passing the needy of the world by, like the priest and the Levite, and leaving it to institutional Samaritans to do what the believer should be doing himself on a one-to-one basis.
Christ's ministry was one-on-one. If all believers everywhere were to do as Christ did, we'd come one hundred times closer to meeting the needs of the poor than we do by leaving compassion to institutions. But maybe that's asking too much. We believers are too busy doing our own thing. We'd rather support institutions to do our work for us!
Enough said! May God help me to put the kingdom of God first while at the same time responding on a one-to-one basis to the valid needs about me. And please, God, help me do it out of a heart of compassion so that my "good" will not end up being "good for nothing"!