Sunday, October 19, 2008

Good Works

It is surprising how often "good works" are mentioned in the little book of Titus (1:16; 2:7,14; 3:1,8,14). I believe that many Christians who hold firmly to justification by faith shy away from the subject of works out of fear of compromising this foundational doctrine. But such "shying away" is unbiblical in itself. Paul was clearly concerned that Cretan Christians not live for themselves, but that they, on the foundation of God's grace (2:11) and kindness (3:4) be earnestly involved in good works. The following study seeks to show that the theme of good works is prevalent not only in Titus, but throughout the New Testament.

The following are Bible verses and notes containing some form of the phrase "good works" in the New Testament. These references are taken from the ESV. The list is broken into parts due to either different words used for "good" in Greek, or because of word order (in English, our adjectives normally precede nouns, e.g., good works; but in many other languages, including Greek, the word order is flexible.

"Good (kalos) Work"

Matt. 5:16
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Note: These “salt and light” good works, distinctive in a tasteless and dark world, emanate from transformed, distinctive lives, as evidenced by the shocking qualities of the Beatitudes.

Mark 14:6
But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.

Note: Devotion, even wasteful devotion, to Jesus, is a good work. Good works are not judged on their worldly profitability, but in honoring that which has eternal value.

Heb. 10:24
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,

Note: this goes back to our study on zeal: it can be “provoked,” or “stirred.” We must be sure that our appeals to zeal are built on the foundation fo grace, not obligation, guilt, or even merely human enterprise.

Note: we tend toward apathy and laziness. We tend toward self-centeredness and self-indulgence. The community of believers needs one another to stay active, not passive. We need good examples, and we need our good examples to serve, not alone, but by drawing others into their activities.

1Pet. 2:12
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Note: we have abandoned the Biblical balance on this issue, and promoted evangelism above service, words above works. In a world where words are cheap, we must prepare the way for them with good deeds.

work good (kalos)

1Tim. 5:10
and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.

Note: here we are given some specifics. While service opportunities are multiplied for those who circulate outside the home setting, this passaged certainly provides a helpful outline. Care and attention to the young; offering hospitality; giving attention to basic needs of life; coming alongside those who are suffering – all of us see all of these things on a regular basis.

1Tim. 5:25
So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.

Note: good deeds are not chosen for their marketing value. They are done because they are good, and, according to Mt 6, we should seriously avoid the motivation to attract attention. Does this mean that promoting “good works” programs are almost instantly flawed?

1Tim. 6:18
They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,

Note: a great text that offers specifics.

James 3:13
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

Note: “Meekness of wisdom” is to characterize our works, even as “gentleness and respect” are to characterize our witness (1 Pet 3:15,16).

work good (agathos)

Acts 9:36
Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity.

Note: we can suppose here the truth of the last reference. She did not aim to create a reputation, but the reputation followed nonetheless.

2Cor. 9:8
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Note: we begin the first of 3 or 4 references where we are taught that good works arise from a divine foundation; they are not a ladder to get to God. Our abounding is evidence of new life that was raised from our deadness by the grace of God.

Eph. 2:10
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Note: We always want to read ourselves into the center of the text. But the center is God, His grace, demonstrated and communicated through Christ to us. The argument of this passage is not talking about our activities or good works. It is talking about God’s good works. I think this is a poor translation that is almost universal, “for good works.” The Gr. text reads “upon good works.” We walk in God’s good works in Christ Jesus. Our good works (discussed in chapters 4 and 5 of Ephesians, not in chapters 1-3) are built on the foundation of God’s good works.

Phil. 1:6
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Note: I believe that this reference supports my interpretation of Eph 2:10.

Col. 1:10
so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Note: And even here, our “bearing fruit” may be due to our proper connection the the life-giving vine (Jn 15), so that our role may not be so much in the foundational good work done by Christ, but in the expression, or fruit, of that living work.

2Th. 2:17
comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

Note: And again, “every good work and word,” in context, may be referring to God’s grace and gospel. These, if authentic, will certainly bear fruit. But again, it is not primarily about us and what we can do.

1Tim. 2:10
but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.

Note: the ability to participate in the worthwhile work of God will not be accomplished through human persuasiveness (2:8), attractiveness or sexiness (2:9), or assertiveness (2:11). How much to our evangelistic efforts resort to these “human” trends, as though we cannot trust God to accomplish the good work that is truly His? And may this not explain some of the miserable results, whether in the lack of professions, or, more importantly, in the lack of true conversions?

2Tim. 2:21
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

Note: Good works from a dirty life are incongruous.

2Tim. 3:17
that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Note: Good works, apart from Scriptural guidance and correction, cease to be good.

Titus 3:1
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,

Note: Good works done out of rebellion are generally unhelpful.

1 comment:

Craig Colas said...

This is a very thorough and helpful summary and explanation of this term. I found the explanation of Ephesians 2:10 to be different from how it is normally interpreted.