“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17 ESV)
As a young boy I imagine that I was a lot like most young boys. I find it funny how I never really heard what my parents told me to do, but I always seemed to pay attention to the things I was told not to do, because what was not expressly forbidden might as well have been approved. Right?
Somehow, as adults, we don’t always throw off that attitude. We search for loopholes to every rule. We want to get away with as much as we can without compromising our position–be it our jobs, our relationships, or our standing in the community.
It’s not difficult to understand that selfishness is at the root of this attitude. And selfishness is really behind our scripture in James.
If we’re honest, we all would “do the right thing” if it was somehow to our benefit. Why wouldn’t we? The real problem comes, however, when doing the right thing either doesn’t benefit us, or even worse, costs us something. This attitude is the reason, or at the very least a reason, for God’s message to us in our text.
That attitude is childish. Paul tells us that when we mature we put off childish attitudes and actions (1 Corinthians 13:11).
In 2 Samuel 24 we see two men demonstrating the way we should be, doing the right thing (or at least being willing to do the right thing) even if it costs us something. The prophet Gad told King David to build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of a man named Araunah. When David approached him, Araunah offered to give David not only the threshing floor, but his oxen for the offering and the yokes of the oxen for the firewood!
David responded to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24 ESV). Doing the right thing often has a cost. David knew what Dietrich Bonhöffer later wrote about in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
Here’s the bottom line, as Christians we should focus not on what we can get away with, but rather giving what we can get away with. Failure to do the right thing is just as bad as doing the wrong thing. Selah.
Blessings on your day!