Ready for Good Works (5)
And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful. Titus 3.14
The school of discipleship
In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded His apostles to make all the nations disciples (Matt. 28.18-20). He is building His Church as the forge in and the force through which this great work goes forward (Matt. 16.18). Every local church is charged with three primary tasks which help to shape it into a community of love (Eph. 4.12-16). Churches are to worship God according to the pattern of worship He has revealed in His Word. Churches are to extend the Good News of Christ and His Kingdom, by word and deed, into their community and world. And churches are to make disciples. Only disciples – true followers of Jesus Christ – can worship as God intends, encourage their fellow disciples to love and good works, and be witnesses for Jesus in their Personal Mission Field.
Disciples are learners. What they’re learning is Jesus (Eph. 4.17-24), Who was renowned in His day for good works. In our text, Paul says “let our people also learn to maintain good works”. The Greek word for “make disciples” and “let our people learn” is the same word. If we translated Titus 3.14 literally from the Greek, we could say, “let our people be discipled to maintain good works.” Doing good works – those which God has before ordained that we should walk in them (Eph. 2.10) – is the goal of the school of discipleship. All Christian teaching and preaching must aim at nurturing disciples in love for God and neighbors (1 Tim. 1.5). We are not learning to be disciples, and we will not grow as disciples of the Lord, if our focus in all we do is something other than to improve in doing good works to God and the people to whom God sends us each day.
We do not attain a life of good works without effort. We must work out our salvation in fear and trembling, because God, Who is at work within us, intends to deploy us in ways that manifest His glory and realize His pleasure in all we do (1 Cor. 10.31; Phil. 2.12, 13). By believing in Jesus and abiding in Him day by day, we may expect to be fruitful in good works (Jn. 14.12; 15.1-17). Being fruitful in good works is the mark of those who are truly abiding in Jesus, learning Jesus, and having Jesus live in His power through them.
But merely learning to do good works is not the proof of discipleship Paul intends.
Devoted and striving
Paul instructed Titus not just that the people should learn good works, but that they should learn to maintain good works. The word here, a form of the Greek προΐστασθαι, proistasthai, means “to engage in something with intense devotion – to strive for, to devote oneself to” (Louw and Nida).
Knowing which works are good is a start. We can’t do good works if we don’t know which works are good works. Beginning with the Law of God, ranging throughout all of Scripture, and staying focused on Jesus, we can train our souls – heart, mind, and conscience – to know which works are good, and to be ready to do good works when “urgent needs” arise.
But knowing is not enough. We must actually do good works. Only they who know what is good and actually do it will realize the blessing God has in store for them (Jms. 1.22-25). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that doing good works of love is the mark of those who are truly saved (Heb. 6.9, 10). If we are saved, our salvation will be accompanied by the good works we are learning from God’s Word. If the set of our soul is on doing good works, then we will be more likely to do them as the opportunities arise; and thus we will bear the fruit of abiding in Christ, and give evidence of true and lively faith (Heb. 11.1).
But Paul adds a standard for doing good that all true disciples must seek to achieve. It’s not enough to do an occasional good work. Anybody can do that. Or to do good works because you have committed to some program or church structure that channels your efforts for good in some task or other (feeding the poor, teaching the young, whatever). These are important, and we should seek out such opportunities as arenas in which we can bear the fruit of love toward God and our neighbors.
But Paul says that those who are disciples of Jesus Christ must maintain good works. As mentioned earlier, this word means “to engage in something with intense devotion – to strive for, to devote oneself to.”
In other words, for all who are saved and are disciples of Jesus Christ, doing good works must be our constant focus, daily commitment, and moment-by-moment labor as channels of God’s grace to the world.
If we are zealous for good works, we will do whatever is necessary to become equipped to do them. As we go into our Personal Mission Field ready for good works, we will be more likely to undertake the effort, make the sacrifices, and invest the energy needed to engage in good works with a devotion that marks us as true followers of Jesus Christ. Paul instructed Titus to settle for nothing less.
A contrary devotion
We live in a day when the focus of people’s attention is on themselves and their concerns above all else. A “culture of narcissism” (Christopher Lasch) has enveloped our society, and, increasingly, the question people ask about any situation, opportunity, or challenge is “What’s in it for me?”
Even Christians get caught up in this. They expect worship to do something for them. If their church doesn’t provide programs or music or worship as they like, they’ll go somewhere else. Every Bible study has to have something for them. Every sermon must leave them with a good feeling. And nothing in the church – nothing, and especially not any calls to learning or service – must be allowed to interfere with their comfort or convenience.
As long as this is true, we’ll never be the kind of people who look out for the needs of others, take the initiative of love and good works, and stay the course of doing good as channels of God’s grace. To the extent that this culture of narcissism characterizes our walk with the Lord, we must repent and seek a new heart and a new focus – on God and others. We must work hard at devoting ourselves to being filled with Jesus and emptied of self-interest so that we can engage in, be devoted to, and strive to do good works at every opportunity, in every situation, with all our soul and strength.
This kind of commitment flies in the face of our narcissistic age, and it may not always be welcomed or appreciated. But we are the people of Jesus Christ, and we are called to be His disciples, by good works, for making disciples of all nations.
1. What’s the difference between learning about good works and actually engaging in them?
2. What does it mean to abide in Jesus? How does such abiding lead to a fruitful life of good works?
3. Believers are to consider how to encourage one another in love and good works (Heb. 10.24). Whom will you encourage this week?
Next steps – Preparation: Pray for the opportunities you will have to do good today, so that you’ll be ready and zealous and fruitful in doing them. Pray the same for your Christian friends.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.