Message Delivered on September 6, 2015
Proverb s 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 “Quid Pro Quo or Not”
Today’s reading in Proverbs opens with the admonition that “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,” meaning that a good reputation is a valuable asset. Considered a portion of “wisdom literature,” Proverbs emphasizes repeatedly that one’s place in society and before God directly reflects the degree of a person’s wisdom: wise persons are held in esteem by others and are honored by God; shame is for the foolish, immoral and indolent. Riches are not despised in Proverbs, but they are prioritized and coveting them has often proved to be the undoing of otherwise sensible people.
There is a cartoon of a man and a woman eating dinner in a seafood restaurant. The man said to the woman, “I will give you a bite of my calamari for one of your stuffed shrimp.” The caption below said, “Squid pro quo.” That is easier to explain that the Latin phrase, “Something for something” or you do something for me and I will do something for you. You scratch my back and I will scratch yours, “Quid pro quo.” ” Quid pro quo” is essentially the basis of commerce. Think of it this way: I pull up at McDonalds, drive through, order, pay money and get a bag of food in return. Some organizations use “Quid pro quo” as a fundraising tool: give a contribution and get a coffee mug, t-shirt or cap with the organization’s logo. If you give a big enough gift, they might name a building or wing after you. Morally and ethically speaking, “Quid pro quo” itself is neutral but can be positive or negative.
Proverbs 22:9 speaks of doing good and loving God, “Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.” No “Quid pro quo.” Some are blessed but not in any you-do-it-for-me-because-I-did-it-for-you way. The “payback,” if that is the correct word, for sharing bread with the poor is exactly that…sharing with the poor. Giving is its own reward. The point of the proverb is that serving God has no “Quid pro quo”; serving God is its own reward. Jesus implied the same thing with what we call the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31). My brother and I would say, “Do it to others before they do it to you.” In reality, Jesus was calling for a standard of behavior that is its own reward: Do to others as you would have them do to you, whether or not they actually treat you that way. It is not simply “Do your Christian duty to others even if you never receive any appreciation from the recipients.” It is more…doing good for others is a way of loving God.
Author Gary Chapman has written about love languages with God. Participating in services of worship is not the only way to tell God of your love. Another exciting way to show love for God is by doing things for the kingdom. I have had life insurance through a Christian company most of my life. Last months’ newsletter printed a list of ways to serve God in the kingdom–to do mission in the community. Mission is tri-fold. It can be giving of time, talent or money. In an age where everyone is asking/ needing money, it was refreshing to see a list of ways to show love to God by serving others. As the holidays approach, form a team and ring the bell for the Salvation Army–it will give you joy to know you are helping others when maybe you cannot afford to write a check, but can throw a handful of change into the red kettle and ring the bell until your arm aches and your heart swells. Other things: adopt a neighbor, become a volunteer, support the homeless, pass along clothing for special occasions (those bridesmaid’s dresses that groups ask to give teens to wear to the prom who cannot afford a dress), volunteer at a public library, send notes to heroes, support the arts in your town, plant a tree, give up your seat, reach out to an old friend, mentor a child, give away stuff you do not need, and offer the gift of babysitting.
When we spend time in service, the time for worship comes and we realize we have been in God’s presence all along. This is the kind of blessing the text is talking about and is pictured on the bulletin cover today: those who are generous are blessed” (Proverbs 22:9).
It can be argued that some folks claim the reward for doing a good deed is being “turned on” (I want to think they are turned on for serving God). In an old television “Friends” episode, Phoebe and Joey discuss the merits of doing good deeds. Joey insists that since such actions make the doer feel good, the deeds are, in fact, selfish. He says that selfless good deeds do not exit; the good feeling is the “reward.”
Phoebe sets out to prove him wrong by purposely doing good things from which she receives no enjoyment–but she cannot escape some inner satisfaction from the good she did. The point is for those of us who try to follow Jesus, “What we will get out of it” ought not to be the motivating factor in helping someone. Both the proverb and the Golden Rule call us to do the right deed without consideration of personal benefit.
Jesus never condemned the idea of being rewarded for doing good He told us not to seek a reward by doing good. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). Act without seeking a reward here, wait for the reward in heaven. Jesus seems to acknowledge that things people do come with a motive, so let us aim for the highest motive possible: pleasing God. Whatever motives may be behind our good works, the mainspring of them is to do the will of God.
How do we get beyond “Quid pro quo” and as Christians, move to “Quid pro”…NO! ? Christ calls us to service. How do we move beyond “What is in it for me” thinking? In Acts 4:13 Peter and John spoke of what they had experienced when with Jesus, which enabled them to do what the situation called for. We can all act without “Quid pro quo” by spending time with Jesus. We can draw our motivation from participation in worship, Bible study, prayer and other spiritual disciplines influencing our daily thoughts and conversation, causing us to prepare ourselves for right actions. Such actions serve as a tribute to our upbringing, increase the number of our friends, help us to experience self-worth, have pride, meaningfulness and happiness.
Like Peter and John, we can live with courage. “Quid pro quo” becomes “Quid pro No” when we act to please God…and then those around us can flourish because of it. Amen.