Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And they were seeking to kill him.
-- Acts 21:30-31, ESV
Thomas Aquinas wrote: "No evil deed is unpunished, by God the just judge, (and) no good deed is unrewarded" (Summa Theologiae, 1274).
Other figures have taken his wisdom and turned it upside down. Oscar Wilde is the first credited with saying, "No good deed goes unpunished." It has been echoed often, from the young witch Elphaba, "No good deed goes unpunished. Sure, I meant well -- well, look at what well-meant did" (from "Wicked"), to the latest release from rascal rock and roller Van Morrison, "No good deed goes unpunished, When it starts to unravel on you, No good deed goes unpunished, No matter what good you try to do."
The Apostle Paul might have sided with Van the Man in the spring of AD 57. He had done a lot of good around the world and hoped his return to Jerusalem would be a sort of triumphal entry. Unlike Jesus, he didn't get one. But like the Lord, severe punishment awaited him once inside the old city. It must have seemed to Paul that no good deed goes unpunished.
Paul brought a large offering to relieve the Christian Jews in Jerusalem, where persecution against Christians, which he had helped to start, still remained. The epistles Paul wrote during this same time period confirm that collection plates were passed. Learn from Paul here: If you ever have the chance to right a wrong, do it.
Paul sought respect and reconciliation among Jews and Gentiles. He, of course, was Jewish, and went to the Jews first on his many missionary stops. But Christianity was quickly becoming a Gentile sport. This created a tension between Jew and Gentile, inside and outside the church, and the strife was not unlike that between Blacks and whites in certain sections of America.
Racial tension is as old as the Scriptures and as relevant as today's newspaper. The best way to break it is to be a missionary-minded Christian, like Paul, and to see people as souls, not skin colors. The Gospel demands repentance from sins, like racism. The Gospel demands belief in the person and work of Christ, where the ground is level at the foot of the cross.
Paul did good. He came to Jerusalem to give, seek reconciliation, and preach the Gospel. These are good things. Above all, Paul came to love, which, as he wrote to the Corinthians, is the best thing. So what did Paul get for all his good deeds?
The text graphically illustrates how Paul's good deeds did not go unpunished. The Christ-centered, missionary-minded, colorblind Apostle was "seized," "dragged," and took a "beating" as "they were seeking to kill him." When the police finally showed up, instead of handcuffing the perps punishing Paul, "They arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains." As they did, his tormentors chanted, "Away with him," an eerily similar chorus to the one made by the Jews at the crucifixion of Christ.
Such chains and chants would hover over Paul and cover over his good deeds for the rest of his life. He did so much good. Yet he was punished so severely. No good deed went unpunished, or so it seemed.
We could say the same thing about Simon Peter, the sons of Zebedee James (already a martyr) and John (eventually tortured and imprisoned), and all of the Apostles. Christians, especially missionaries, have been martyred in every century, punished for bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to the four corners of the earth.
I could tell you of much good I have done for the Lord, His church, family and friends, even strangers. I could also tell you that many of those good deeds did not go unpunished. You've got your stories, too. There are times when you stood for biblical truth, shared the Gospel with others, tried to build up the church, only to have people cut you down, slander your name, punish you for doing good.
No good deed goes unpunished in this life, perhaps, but no good deed done, by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone according to Scripture alone for the glory of God alone, will go unrewarded in the life to come. Live today for the life to come!
Can you imagine what Paul has been experiencing for the past 1,959 years? Sure, on earth no good deed went unpunished, but he's not on this earth anymore. What is his reward like? What will yours be like?
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected].