“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they might invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
— Luke 14:12–14
THE BUSINESS ETHICS OF DOING GOOD
My friend Geoff always challenges me about the purpose of doing good. He will ask, “Is it ethical to do good with the thought of being repaid?” If to do good is our only purpose, then it would seem that to think of being repaid isn’t ethical. However, Dr. Kate Ott, a leading Christian ethicist, will say that any act of doing good is doing good. Further she will reply that our early church fathers believed that all acts of doing good, regardless of intent, lead to an improvement in our character. The ethics of doing good are a complicated issue; both intent and the act of doing good are vital when we consider our motives.
Why do we invite people to dinner? Is it for camaraderie? Is it to solicit business? But will we also have dinner with those in need?
“But will we also have dinner with or do good for the less fortunate?”
Certainly a large number of dinners are designed to build community. Certainly there are those moments when the goal of an invitation is to establish a closer business relationship. But will we also have dinner with or do good for the less fortunate? This is the question from Jesus in today’s verse.
“Jesus is saying be careful with our motives when we do good.”
Jesus isn’t saying to us not to have dinner with friends or family. Jesus is saying be careful with our motives when we do good. Further, if we desire our actions to be rewarded, then he asks us simply to pursue the course of helping, because that action will result in the reward, the blessing, of a strengthening of our character and an invitation to stand alongside the righteous.
“The ethics of doing good are part of our life journey.”
The ethics of doing good are part of our life journey. Perhaps it starts with doing good for the wrong reasons, but that is still good. Perhaps over time our actions change in intent from what we want to do to what we ought to do.
When we think about ethics as a journey on which different people are at different places along the way, the concept becomes less judgmental. While it will always be about why we do good, Jesus is asserting that we should strive to do good for the right reasons.
While any act of good is still good, the movement to “why we do good” is a journey within our hearts that strengthens our ethics.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
Whom do we have for dinner, and why?
Do we talk with people to gain something or to listen?
What does the word “ought” mean to us?