Doing the Right Thing
How can we choose to do what’s right? By following the standard found in God’s Word.
Within hours of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s midgame cardiac arrest in January, sports writers, reporters, and analysts around the country prefaced their remarks with “our thoughts and prayers are with Damar and his family.” Then football analyst Dan Orlovsky of ESPN said something out of character for his network on NFL Live:
“I heard the Buffalo Bills organization say that we believe in prayer. Maybe this is not the right thing to do, but it’s just on my heart; and I want to pray for Damar Hamlin right now. I’m going to do it out loud, I’m going to close my eyes and bow my head, and I’m just going to pray for him,” Orlovsky said. Then, bowing his head and closing his eyes, he prayed, all the while wondering if he was doing the right thing.
Measuring right from wrong is based on a standard, a moral code operating like a compass pointing us to righteous behavior. Different groups have different standards, but the standard that counts is God’s; and He gave us His standard in the Bible. In it, He has taught us how to live through His instructions, such as commands not to lie, steal, or covet and to honor our parents. Jesus provided the two most important examples: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37, 39).
So, how can we follow this code?
Through the Law
Aaron Feuerstein was an Orthodox Jewish businessman living in Massachusetts. He owned Malden Mills, a textile plant that, in 1995, suffered a catastrophic fire that destroyed his plant. Gone were 1,400 jobs. The property was insured for more than $300 million.
Feuerstein could have used the opportunity to move to a less expensive area and hire cheaper labor. He certainly could have kept the money for himself. Instead, he called a press conference to announce his intentions.
Among the thousands in attendance were several politicians, including senators and congressmen. Feuerstein not only pledged to rebuild his plant in Massachusetts but also promised to pay all his employees their full salary during that time.
Instantly, Feuerstein became a sensation, garnering international interest. President Bill Clinton invited him to the State of the Union address and sat him next to the First Lady. In a 60 Minutes interview, Morley Safer noted that Feuerstein was 70 years old and could have easily kept the insurance money and retired. Why didn’t he?
Feuerstein replied, “What would I do with it? Eat more? Buy another suit? Retire and die?” Rather, he was guided by the Torah: “You are not permitted to oppress the working man, because he’s poor and he’s needy, amongst your brethren and amongst the non-Jew in your community [cf. Dt. 24:14]. I did it because it was the right thing to do,” he said.1
Feuerstein was governed by a moral standard: Scripture. He did not think of himself but of his employees and their families. No wonder he was called “The Mensch (good person) of Malden Mills.” He chose to obey God’s Law.
Through Christian Living
Chick-fil-A is an immensely popular fast-food restaurant. Its founder, Samuel Truett Cathy, was guided by the Bible. Like Feuerstein, Cathy’s moral code was Scripture; though, unlike Feuerstein, he believed the New Testament too. Directed by that code, Cathy decided to close on Sundays, opting to honor God by providing his employees a day of rest. His policy remains in place to this day. Cathy’s daughter, Trudy, said,
My dad built this business based on biblical principles. He felt like his business decisions kind of go hand in hand with biblical principles. That’s no secret. There’s a lot of things that we are taught in God’s Word, and we’ve been able to put it into practice in our business. We’re in business to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that’s been trusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.2
Like her father, Trudy adopted the Bible as her code: “One of the things that my parents taught us is that the important things can’t be bought with dollars and cents,” she said. “The important things in life are . . . joy, peace, and hope; and you won’t find those things for sale or in a store. Those things you will find in the truth of God’s Word and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”3
To this day, the leaders of Chick-fil-A make their business decisions based on God’s Word and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Through the Bible
People don’t always do the right thing—not even God’s people. Jonah, God’s prophet, was reluctant to do the right thing.
In the book of Jonah, God described the ancient Ninevites as those “who cannot discern between their right hand and their left” (4:11). They were ignorant of the scriptural standard because they did not have God’s Word. Not only did they not know God, but they were enemies of His people Israel, who did have God’s Word.
For this reason, the Hebrew prophet Jonah hated them. He believed they deserved God’s judgment. So when the Lord commanded him to “go to Nineveh . . . and cry out against . . . their wickedness” (1:2), Jonah did not do the right thing, choosing rather to flee in the opposite direction.
In response, the sovereign, merciful, and compassionate God interceded in Jonah’s life using a storm and a great fish to direct the disobedient prophet to do the right thing. Though Jonah finally went to Nineveh, he maintained his bad attitude. The previously ignorant Ninevites heard the message; and they did the right thing by repenting, thus preventing judgment.
Each of these decisions was based on a standard—God’s standard. Did they do the right thing?
Orlovsky prayed, believing that actually praying to God was better than talking about it. A fan of NFL Live commented on the YouTube clip, “How incredible that God could providentially use such a terrible tragedy for His name to be glorified on a TV station that hates Him.” Aaron Feuerstein obeyed the Torah and performed a noble act by paying his employees, who could not work until the mill was rebuilt. Samuel Truett Cathy publicly identified as a follower of Christ and ran his business to glorify Him. Since he rested and worshiped on Sunday, he decided to provide the same opportunity to all of his employees.
Doing the right thing is not always easy. As believers, we desire to take bold action like Orlovsky or respond in obedience like Feuerstein and Cathy. Yet sometimes we identify more with Jonah and allow our flesh to get in the way. But we know that when we do the right thing, God will bless us.
As inspiring as these examples are, none of them compare to the ultimate right thing God did for us. He wrote the code (the Bible). He became the code incarnate: “The Word became flesh” (Jn. 1:14). Then He lived and fulfilled the code. Though He would have been right to condemn all of us because of our sin (Prov. 14:12; Isa. 59:2; Heb. 9:27), instead, through His birth, death, burial, and resurrection, He demonstrated “His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
- Rebecca Lueng, “The Mensch of Malden Mills,” cbsnews.com, July 3, 2003 (tinyurl.com/MaldenMills).
- Christian Ellis, “Chick-fil-A Founder’s Daughter: ‘We’re in Business to Glorify God,’” cbnnews.com, February 21, 2019 (tinyurl.com/TrudyCathy).