After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god. —Acts 28:1-6
Paul was trying to serve others – he was gathering sticks for a fire to help people warm up. And what happened? He got bit. Sometimes you try to do good and it comes back to bite you.
Years ago I counseled a struggling couple for months. Many evenings I drove to their home after receiving a desperate call to intervene in a major blowout. After a couple years the wife left her husband. And who did he blame? Me. Me. All I did was try to help and it came back to bite me.
A fellow pastor spent hours and hours trying to help a different couple, and our church helped them financially. The thanks my friend got was, they left our church and told people he was a satanic high priest. He did good and it came back to bite him.
Jesus is the supreme example of suffering for doing good – he went about healing people, delivering people from demons and teaching the truth, and he wound up nailed to a Roman cross.
Two things to remember when you do good and it comes back to bite you:
Suffering does not mean we have done something wrong.
We can think, “What did I do wrong? Is God punishing me?” Suffering doesn’t mean we’ve done something wrong. Very often we’ve done something right.
Satan isn’t happy when we serve the Lord and often he resists us and afflicts us. And because we live in a fallen world, we sow good seeds but along with our crop, thorns and thistles come up. Don’t be surprised when you sow good deeds and some weeds pop up alongside.
Our reward is from God, not those we serve.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. —1 Corinthians 15:58
When we try to do good and it comes back to bite us we can think what’s the point, why bother? We feel like Solomon in Ecclesiastes: all is vanity. If this life were all there is, our labor would be in vain. But we know differently.
We know that “in the Lord” our labor is not in vain. Our reward is from God, not those we serve. That child you adopted (or your own child) may never thank you. Those neighbors you reach out to may never be saved. That man in prison you visited all those months may never appreciate it. You may never see the good your giving to the poor does. But your labor in the Lord is not in vain. Even if it feels like it.
When we do good and it comes back to bite us, we can feel like giving up. Don’t. Your suffering doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. And your reward is from the Lord, not those you serve. Do you have a viper dangling from your hand? Shake it off and keep serving. Jesus is pleased with you, even if things didn’t work out like you hoped.