When Good Men Do Nothing

by Wayne Greeson

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke)

So much of the history of the struggle between good and evil can be explained by Edmund Burke's observation. Time and again those who profess to be good seem to clearly outnumber those who are evil, yet those who are evil seem to prevail far too often. Seldom is it the numbers that determine the outcome, but whether those who claim to be good men are willing to stand up and fight for what they know to be right. There are numerous examples of this sad and awful scenario being played out over and over again in the scriptures.

They Get Nothing Good Done

When good men do nothing, they get nothing good done. To be good, one must do good. The Lord commands his people to do good (Luke 6:35; Eph. 2:10). Christ "gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14).

In the parable of the talents, Jesus described a man who did nothing. When he received his Lord's money, he "went and digged in the earth, and hid his Lord's money" (Matt. 25:18). When his Lord returned, he returned to the Lord just what he had been given (Matt. 25:25). Notice, the servant did not do any outright evil, such as stealing the money, but then neither did he do anything good. He did nothing and he got nothing good accomplished. Jesus said he was a "wicked and slothful servant" (Matt. 25:26).

Jesus rebuked the church at Laodicea for doing nothing. "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:15-17).

Too many Christians and too many churches do nothing. They are standing idly by, they are mere spectators. They sit on the sidelines instead of actively participating and working for the good. If good wins, they join in the celebration though they did nothing to produce the victory. If evil wins, they will complain long and loud though their own apathy helped produce the undesirable result.

When Jesus found a fig tree with "nothing thereon, but leaves only" He cursed the tree and "presently the fig tree withered away" (Matt. 21:19). What will He do with those who claim to be good and yet who do nothing? John the baptist warned, "And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matt. 3:10; John 15:2).

They Help Evil To Triumph

When good men do nothing, evil triumphs. Evil, sin and sinful men must be opposed. God commands those who are good, not just to avoid evil but actively oppose it.

Christians are to not only to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but (also) reprove them" (Eph. 5:11). Those who do nothing about sin and evil, help the sin and evil to prevail. One who is silent when there are those around him in sin becomes a partaker with them (Eph. 5:7).

In the days of Elijah, the silence of many had allowed the evil of Ahab and Jezebel to prevail throughout the land of Israel. "And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word" (1 Kings 18:21). The silence of the people spoke volumes of their indecisiveness and inaction. Their failure to stand up, speak up and speak out permitted wicked and evil men to run rampant.

Jesus told of a traveler who was robbed, beaten and left him half dead. The men who did this were wicked and did a very wicked thing. But the Levite and priest allowed this evil to continue unanswered by doing nothing as they each "passed by on the other side" (Luke 10:31-32). Fortunately for the traveler there was one man, a Samaritan, who was willing to stand up for what was right (Luke 10:33-36).

Jesus warned "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad" (Matt. 12:30). In the fight against evil there is no middle ground, no gray area, no neutrality. Those who are not actively and vigorously fighting against evil are helping evil to triumph.

They Are No Longer Good

When good men do nothing, they are no longer good. Many have the mistaken notion that good is merely the absence of doing that which is wrong. Not so! One is good not merely because he does no evil, but because he is actively working for what is good. "Let him eschew evil, and do good" (1 Pet. 3:11). James explained, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17).

The eldest of Israel, Reuben, knew his brothers' murderous plot against their younger brother Joseph was wrong. He started an attempt to deliver Joseph, but as he hesitated and vacillated, the other brothers sold Joseph into slavery. When Reuben heard what they had done, he realized his failure to act had helped to bring about this evil result.

Instead of correcting his error, Reuben sought to cover his guilt by agreeing with his brothers to lie to their father about Joseph's disappearance (Gen. 37:18-35). Reuben had "good intentions" and he was not even present when Joseph was sold into slavery, but he knew his inaction and absence made him just as guilty as the rest of his wicked brothers. This guilt continued to haunt him through the years (Gen. 42:21-22).

The prophet Obadiah severely condemned the Edomites for doing nothing when evil was befalling their brethren, the Jews. When Jerusalem was invaded by her enemies, the Edomites "stood on the other side" doing nothing but watching the slaughter as spectators. God said by their failure to act and to help their brethren "even thou wast as one of them" (Obad. 11).

Today, there are preachers and Christians who fail and refuse to meet the real foe, refute error and fight the enemy. Instead, they have turned to viciously savaging their own brethren. They are filled with bitterness and hatred and they maliciously attack, slander and misrepresent other Christians and gospel preachers.

Paul warned about such men and behavior among those professing to be Christians, "But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another" (Gal. 5:15). Those who engage in such behavior are spiritual cannibals.

While the conduct of these so-called Christians is shameful, what about those supposedly "good" men who do nothing? Those stand on the other side and do nothing but watch as their brothers are being slandered, slaughtered and devoured, they cease being innocent bystanders and idle spectators. Their failure to act not only allows evil to triumph, but makes them just as guilty as the spiritual cannibals they refuse to reprove and rebuke. In God's words, "even thou wast as one of them" (Obad. 11).

Conclusion

"Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6:7). Those who fail or refuse to do good in the face of evil are sowing some dangerous seeds. They are doing nothing good as Jesus commanded them to do; they are helping evil to win and have ceased being good and have become partakers of the evil they did nothing to stop.

Do not allow evil to triumph. Do not sit by and do nothing. Stand up and be counted, speak up against evil and speak out against evil men and their sinful deeds.

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