The Principle Principle

The Principle Principle
J. B. Hixson, Ph.D.

Whether it is pleasing or displeasing, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we send you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God. (Jeremiah 42:6)

Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a football player at a large university in the south. He was a wide receiver, and widely considered to be one of the best in the country at his position. This young man was also a born-again believer who had grown up in a Christian home and learned to value his principles over personal pleasure.

On one particular occasion this wide receiver caught a touchdown pass at a pivotal moment during one of the biggest games of the season in front of the home crowd. The fans went wild; his teammates rushed up to him with cheers and high-fives; the photo journalists that surrounded the end zone began snapping pictures that would splash across the front pages of local newspapers and magazines. While fans and players were celebrating, however, the referees quickly huddled up. Although the back judge had signaled “Touchdown!” the field judge was not sure. Was it a legal catch? Had he really caught the ball?

To the amazement of everyone, including his coach, this Christian young man walked over to the referees and confessed that he had trapped the ball as he attempted a diving catch. The referees were stunned by the player’s honesty. The touchdown was waved off, and the team went on to lose the game. During a postgame interview, when asked about his decision to come clean about the non-catch, the young man said, “I cannot take credit for a catch I did not make.”

Displays of such integrity are rare these days. People often compromise their principles for the sake of personal pleasure. It is easy to embrace blessing and reward at the expense of character. Character is who you are when no one is looking. The Christian football player could have accepted the credit and glory that came with winning the game. No one would have been the wiser. No one, that is, except God, and the young man’s character would not withstand such dishonor.

Standing on principle is not easy. It takes hard work. We have all been guilty of taking a few shortcuts on the pathway to success. One of my more infamous examples involves a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, a hammer, an unassembled swing set, and a ten-page set of assembly instructions that I refused to read prior to beginning the project. You can fill in the rest of the details, but needless to say, my attempts to rush through the assembly without taking the time to read all of the directions cost me an extra two hours, three scratched knuckles, and a rip in my sweatshirt! We like quick fixes and fast-tracked fame, but few of us are willing to do the hard things that bring lasting honor.

In Jeremiah, the Bible records a refreshing statement made by the children of Israel. At the time, they were being held captive in Babylon. They asked Jeremiah for a word from the Lord so that they might be encouraged in the midst of their plight. Before he agreed to give it to them, Jeremiah insisted that the people commit to obeying God’s directions regardless of whether they liked them or not. In response to Jeremiah’s challenge, the people proclaim, “Whether it is pleasing or displeasing, we will obey the voice of the Lord!” (Jeremiah 42:6)

It did not matter to them whether what God asked them to do was easy or hard; they would do it. It did not matter whether it was painful or pain-free; they would do it. They understood that the end-all of life is not about personal pain versus personal pleasure. To them, the ultimate goal in life is to obey God. They knew if they would obey God, everything else would fall in place. Now certainly anyone remotely familiar with the history of the children of Israel knows that they did not always have that attitude. Yet, at that moment, during the Babylonian captivity, the remnant chose to obey God regardless of the cost.

What we need is a return to that type of relationship with God—the kind of relationship where God is directly involved in all aspects of our lives, not just when it is convenient. We need to get back to the basics where principle is placed above pleasure. When is the last time you intentionally chose the hard way because you knew it was the right thing to do? Humanistic reasoning fcouses on what Sigmund Freud called the pleasure principle. Christians should focus instead on the principle principle.

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