Robert Jeffress - Do The Next Right Thing
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Many Christians argue that doing good works isn't really that important, and while we aren't saved by our good works, the Bible makes it abundantly clear we are saved in order to do good works. Today I'm going to show you why doing all the good we can while we can and where we can is absolutely essential to our survival as Christians who live in a hostile world. My message is titled "Survival tip #10: Do The Next Right Thing," as we continue our series "Courageous" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Vice admiral James Stockdale had a brush with fame as Texas billionaire H. Ross Perrot's running mate on the independent reform ticket, remember that? On October the 13th, 1992, Stockdale's first words during the nationally televised vice-presidential debate were, "Who I am? What am I doing here"? Those questions meant to introduce himself instead made him a laughingstock in the media, who portrayed Stockdale as a weak, doddering old man. Don't you remember those Saturday night live routines about James Stockdale? Stockdale may have been from a bygone era, but he was anything from doddering. A graduate of the us naval academy, Stockdale was an accomplished fighter pilot.
In 1965, the 41-year-old father of four was shot down over Vietnam. As he ejected from his A-4 Skyhawk and floated to the ground, he said to himself, "Five years". That's how long he thought he would be held in captivity. As it turned out, he spent almost eight years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison. For four of those years, Stockdale was in solitary confinement. For two years, he was forced to wear leg irons. He was tortured at least 15 times. Stockdale was the highest-ranking officer among the hundreds of us prisoners of war in the prison camp. Despite his solitary confinement, Stockdale organized a system of wall taps, hand signals and hidden notes for the prisoners to communicate with one another. He also developed a set of rules governing prisoner behavior. These rules gave his fellow American prisoners a sense of purpose and hope.
Later, he said, "When a person is alone in a cell and sees the door open only once or twice a day for a bowl of soup, he has to build some sort of ritual into his life if he wants to avoid becoming an animal". Stockdale led the prisoners' resistance against the Vietnamese attempts to use them as propaganda or informants on fellow soldiers. To Stockdale, integrity was the most important thing to maintain for a prisoner of war. More important than food, avoiding torture, or even life itself. Stockdale wrote, "I came to realize that if you don't lose your integrity, you can't be had and you can't be hurt".
To live as honorable prisoners, Stockdale instructed the American soldiers that it was okay to divulge useless information along with their name, rank, and serial number and birth date. One pilot, under torture, gave his captors the names of comicbook heroes when he was asked to name their top flyers. When the Vietnamese saw how determined Stockdale was to resist and how his resistance emboldened his fellow soldiers, they ceased torturing American pows and improved conditions in the prison. In 1973, during operation homecoming, James Stockdale, along with the other prisoners in the Hanoi Hilton, was finally released. His courage and heroism became widely known, and, in 1976, president Gerald Ford awarded Stockdale the congressional medal of honor.
In our series "Courageous" we're looking at 10 strategies for thriving in a hostile world. C.S. Lewis described the world in which we live as "Enemy-occupied territory" for Christians. How do we survive and thrive in that kind of environment? Well, today we're going to look at the 10th and the final principle for thriving in a hostile world, and it's one that James Stockdale embodied. And the principle is simply this. Do the next right thing. Whatever situation you're in, no matter how difficult it is, do the next right thing.
When Stockdale's airplane was hit with a missile, he didn't start wondering what he did wrong to have placed himself in that kind of situation. When he was in prison, he didn't have a pity party and blame his captors for his situation. Instead, he concentrated on doing the next right thing. He didn't have an elaborate plan for the next eight years, but he wanted to do, "What can I do next to improve the situation for myself and my fellow soldiers"?
You know, you may not be in a literal prison. But perhaps some of you this morning listening to this message, you're in a prison of regret over something you've done from the past, or the regret of a missed opportunity. Some of you feel like you're in the rut of a dead-end job or a dead-end marriage. Perhaps your difficult situation is you feel like you're being attacked, there's incoming from all sides, because you're trying to live out your faith in a hostile world. What can you do in that kind of situation? You may not be able to change your situation, but you can always do the next right thing. In the Bible, doing the next right thing is called doing good. Very simply, doing good means do all the good you can while you can, where you can. You find the basis for doing good in the passage we read just a few moments ago.
Take your Bibles and turn to Galatians 6:9-10 perhaps you've never seen these verses before. Paul wrote, "And let us know lose heart in doing good". Underline that. "For in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good," there it is again, "To all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith". Paul says if we do good, no matter how difficult our situation, we will not grow weary. How does doing good keep us from growing weary? That word translated, growing weary, doesn't mean just a little fatigued. It means exhausted to the point of giving up.
Have you ever been in that kind of situation? The word in Greek literally refers to a bowstring like you might find on a violin down in that orchestra pit. A bowstring that becomes unstrung. When it is limp, lose, it can't produce music. It's only when it's taut that it produces music. In the same way, if we grow weary to the point of giving up, we are no longer useful to God. It is by doing good that we do not give up. Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:58. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord".
You know, doing good may be caring for a friend who's recovering from an operation. It may mean taking a meal to a new neighbor in town. It may mean volunteering for the choir or volunteering for the nursery. It could mean sharing the Gospel with somebody who needs to know Christ as Savior. The Bible says doing good, doing the next right thing keeps us from giving up, growing weary. You say, well, exactly why should we do good? Let me mention the main reason we're supposed to do good, to do all that we can, while we can, where we can. Simply put, we were saved in order to do good.
Now listen to me. We are not saved by doing good things, but we are saved in order to do good things. Baptists and other evangelicals get this mixed up. They wanna say good works aren't important. No, good works, doing good is very important. Doing good is what we were saved for, but it's not what we are saved by. In Ephesians 2:8-10 Paul makes this distinction, he says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it's a gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast". We are not saved by doing good, by good works, but we stop there. We don't go to the next verse which is crucial to understand. Paul says, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should work in them".
You see that? The reason God saved you was in order that you would do good works, you would do good. You know, if I have an apple tree in my backyard and I ask you to look at my apple tree and it's the spring time and there are no apples on that apple tree, you would rightly conclude, "Pastor, there's something wrong with your apple tree. It's dead". And no matter how much I argued with you that that tree was alive, that argument would fall flat because if an apple tree is alive, it produces apples.
Now listen, apples on an apple tree do not make the tree alive, but they prove that the tree is alive. It's the same way in a Christian's life. Good works are not what saves a Christian, but it proves that a Christian has been saved. Isn't that what James said when he said faith without works is, what? Dead, nonexistent, useless. We have been saved for good works, that's why we are to do good. Well, when should we do good? We're to do all the good we can while we can, when we can. When should we do good? Well, look again at Galatians 6:10. "So then, while we have opportunity," underline that, "Let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith".
We're to good while we have the chance to do good. Paul uses that word opportunity also in Ephesians 5:16. He says, "Make the most of every opportunity". Literally redeem or bide back the time. You see, your opportunity to do good won't last forever, it has an expiration date on it. There's only a limited amount of time you can do good. You know, when I think about expiration date, I think of something that happened a couple of weeks ago. I was going through my change drawer and I found a coupon to the CVS store, the pharmacy store right up on the corner of where we live. And it was a coupon for $10 off on Gillette razor blades. And I was so excited about finding that coupon because razor blades cost a small fortune. Have you seen that? I mean, they cost a lot of money.
So I was really excited, so I proudly got in the car and took my $10 coupon up there, and I went and got a pack of the Mach3 Turbo razors, and I went up to the cash register and I proudly presented that coupon, and she put the little thing over it to scan it and it went... she shook her head, she said, "I'm sorry. This expired last week". I was so disappointed. I mean, I had an opportunity to do good, to save some money, but that opportunity had expired. Listen, there's an expiration date for your opportunity to do good. That expiration date is the date of your death or the date that Jesus Christ returns again, whichever comes first. But you won't have that opportunity forever, that's why we're to make the most of every opportunity right now.
How do you maximize your opportunity to do good? Let's look and see what the Word of God says. First of all, if you're gonna do good, look beyond yourself. Doing good means having a focus that is not on yourself. We looked at this in depth a few weeks ago when we looked at Philippians 2:3-4, remember Paul's words? He said, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than themselves". Now get this. "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others". My friend Bob Biel has a great saying. He says, "Every life exists for one of two purposes. Either to meet a need, or to fill a greed". Your life is either focused on meeting other people's needs, or living according to your own greed. Your life is others and God-focused, or it's self-focused, it can't be both.
If you're really gonna have a life that is marked by doing good, it begins with looking beyond yourself. Secondly, ask God to create opportunities to do good. In Colossians 4:3, Paul said, "I am praying and we should be praying that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ". Paul was saying we're praying that God gives us an opportunity to share the Gospel. Friends, that's a prayer God will always answer. Whenever you pray that God would give you an opportunity to share Christ, or that he would give you an opportunity to do good to others, to glorify your father who is in heaven, know for sure God's gonna answer that prayer. But he may not answer it in the way you think. And those opportunities don't always come at the most convenient time.
Look at the life of Jesus. Remember he was on his way to some place important and a woman started tugging at him? And he stopped, and she had that issue of blood, and he stopped, he interrupted what he was doing to heal her. Or remember that time he was in somebody's house? Large group there, he was preaching an important message when he heard all this racket up on the roof and saw dust coming down and the roof opened up and some men lowered a friend of theirs on a pallet right down from the roof in front of Jesus in order that the paralytic might be healed. Jesus interrupted his sermon, he healed the paralytic, and preached one of the most important messages he ever preached on the subject of forgiveness. Sometimes, opportunities to do good come disguised as interruptions in your schedule. Sometimes, they don't come at the most opportune time according to your calendar. And I even hate to say this, but I guess they say confession is good for the soul.
Friday night I was in the major metropolitan city of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. I'd never been to Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, but I was there to preach for a men's conference, and they had like 700 or 800 men. It was a great, great conference. And so many of them were listeners and viewers of "Pathway to Victory," and they were so blessed by our church and appreciative of our church reaching out like we do now seven days a week through the devotionals and the programs. But anyway, I preached that night, did two messages, and then afterwards was meeting the people and standing there and shaking hands and signing stuff.
And this man came up and he said, "I know you don't have time to talk right now, but I have something I wanna give you to read. I'm going through a difficult time. Would you read my letter and email me or call me when you can"? And so I took it and I said, "Well, I'll certainly try to do that". And it was a lengthy letter. And so I put it in my coat pocket. I went back to the motel, went to sleep, got up. And I was thinking about my sermon on Sunday, everything I was gonna be doing and so forth, and I thought, "I am so tired. I can't read this letter. If I tried to answer every letter that people sent to me, if I tried to answer every email, if I tried to answer every telephone call, that's all I would do, and I'm the pastor of a church, I've got a responsibility".
I came up with all these excuses, and then I thought about my sermon I was preaching today. An opportunity to do good. And I said to myself, "Self, are you so tired that it's actually going to kill you to make that telephone call? Are you gonna drop over dead from fatigue"? Well, no, probably not. Well, why don't you do something good and help this person? So I opened up the letter and I read it. I called the guy on the telephone, we talked for about 10 or 15 minutes, and I was able to share with him some things from God's word that were what he needed to hear at that moment. I had an opportunity to do good that I almost passed up because it wasn't convenient for my schedule.
The Bible says we ought to ask God to create opportunities. And then, thirdly, when those opportunities come, seize the opportunities that God creates for us. Seize the opportunities that God creates. Now look, there are all kind of needs around you. That doesn't mean you're the one necessarily to meet those needs. You can't meet every need in the world, but you ought to meet the needs that God gives you the opportunity to meet. How do you know if it's an opportunity, if there's a need somewhere that you should be the one to meet it? Ask yourself, do I have the ability to meet that need, the giftedness, the ability to meet that need? Secondly, has God opened a door of opportunity for me to meet that need as well?
You know, I think about the apostle Paul. In acts 16, we find that Paul was on his second missionary journey, and he really wanted to take the Gospel to Bithynia, remember? That's present day turkey. And so he was on his way, he thought, to Bithynia. But in verses 9-10 of acts 16, Luke says, "And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to Paul, and saying, 'come over to Macedonia and help us'. And when we had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them".
God closed the door to going to Bithynia. As much as he tried, Paul wasn't able to go there. He opened a door to come to Macedonia. Did Bithynia had a need to hear the Gospel? You bet they did. But Paul wasn't the one to meet that need. He had another plan for Paul. And God will do the same for you, he'll create unique opportunities for you to meet. If you're gonna do good, seize the opportunities that God creates for you. You know, when I think of doing the next right thing, even when you can't see the whole picture, I think of one woman in the Bible who illustrates that principle the best. In fact, she has a whole book that's attributed to her name. Her name is Esther.