It is a natural predilection for people to feel that it is only fair and just that good be returned in kind. That is to say, we feel that it is only right when we do a kindness to someone, they will in turn do a kindness to us. If we lend a neighbor a rake, we suppose that he will lend us some pruning shears. When we rake/blow the leaves from their yard we kind of think they will shovel our driveway in the winter some time. It is the old Latin term “quid pro quo”. You do something for me and sometime, I’ll do something for you. You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. Of course, this gets a lot of politicians in trouble but that is fodder for another blog.
As Christians, our thinking is often directed this way. We feel it is only fair that if I do something to serve you, you will serve me at some point. If I take a meal to your home when you are sick or recovering from surgery, then you will do the same when your turn comes. If I watch your kids in the nursery, then you’ll take your turn in the nursery as well. You get the idea. And when there is a failure of someone to practice “quid pro quo”, real resentment can arise. Some might say, “I mean, they have four kids and I’ve watched them in the nursery for years and yet, I’ve never seen them one-time work in the nursery.” Or, “I always clean up after a fellowship and I’ve never once seen her/him do so.” The dynamic of “quid pro quo” is a debtor system. You owe me because I have done something for you in the past.
Some people believe this about God. They feel that if they do good for God, God will in turn do good for them. If they give faithfully, then they will have financial success. If they serve in the church the right way, then God will see to it that their kids turn out right for the Lord. If they structure their lives in such a way that “doing the right thing” is a “big thing” to them, then God will “do the right thing” and “bless my life” with health, or peace, or happiness… or some other benefit for which I long. But God will be no man’s debtor. There is much teaching to the contrary, teaching that God MUST respond to your faithfulness with whatever you deem as a blessing. But it doesn’t work that way. Not only does history debunk this notion, the Scriptures themselves deny it.
In 2 Chronicles 32:1 we read in regard to King Hezekiah, “After these things and these acts of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them for himself”. Woah… wait a minute… it sounds like the Scriptures are linking a cause and effect here… that “after all these… acts of faithfulness”, the effect is that an invasion by an Assyrian king is launched. Yep! Wouldn’t the prosperity gospel teach us that this verse should read, “After these things and these acts of faithfulness, Hezekiah was blessed with peace, prosperity, and security?” Well, yes, the prosperity gospel preachers would affirm that according to quid pro quo, Hezekiah should be in the gravy, he should be enjoying only good things. But they would have a hard time preaching that from this passage.
You see, Hezekiah was one of the best kings Judah every had. One of the “things” he did was to reopen the Temple, that had been shuttered by former kings in order to worship other gods (2 Chron. 29:3-19). In reopening the Temple, he cleansed it, both physically and ceremonially and re-consecrated all the Temple accoutrements and utensils used in sacrificial worship. Once this was done, Hezekiah, restored Temple worship (29:20-36) replete with sacrifices, music from all sorts of instruments, and singing. Then, after that, he re-instituted the Passover, which had not been observed in like, forever (30:1-27). Then, in order to perpetuate these reforms, he reorganized the priesthood and set them up for ongoing service in chapter 31. And after all these good things Hezekiah did and all these acts of faithfulness… invasion! And the text is intentional at this point to highlight that it was after all the “faithfulness” that the invasion came.
This cannot be an accident. God is trying to communicate something here. He is communicating that faithfulness and “living right” do not guarantee that pleasant things will always follow. Why? It is because God uses hardship and difficulties in our lives to sanctify us. That is why Rom 8:28 can claim that God is working in all things for our good. The “good” is sanctification; a greater measure of the image of Christ in us.
God is not bound by a “quid pro quo” dynamic. He is not in the “this for that” business. This is not to say that God does not reward… he does as he sees fit. It is just that this is not the automatic default position by which God is bound to work. He has a sovereign plan for each of our lives in order to shape us more and more into the image of Christ. Sometimes, he uses prosperity and pleasant circumstances to do that. But at other times, he might do it by means of a job loss. It might mean COVID-19. It might mean weeks and months more of restrictions on our freedoms. It might mean… that our two-year-old grandson dies in a drowning accident. Yes, my pastor friend…after all these 40 plus years of faithfulness… has had to bury his sweet little grand baby.
Because of a misconception of quid pro quo and God, many Christians come to crisis and say, “I don’t deserve this. I’ve been faithful. I’ve done the right things. I’ve done my bit.” And they get spiritually “knocked off their pins” because they just feel like God has not lived up to his end of the bargain. Trouble is, God has never made such a bargain. God does not “react” … he “acts” and always for our good, even in the “bad”. So, did you deserve getting sick with the corona virus? No more than you “deserved” any good thing God has ever planned for you. It is not a matter of deserving… it is a matter of accepting what God is intending to do in your life… for your good!