Titus: Living at Large (8)

Zealous for Good Works

According to physics, you only perform work if you apply force to an object and move it. By this definition, the high school student collecting shopping carts from the grocery store parking lot performs far more work than the CEO who employs him. Once again, science confirms what we always suspected! When it comes to the subject of good works, is the Bible similarly restrictive? That’s the question I want to explore in this article.

What are Good Works?

Paul’s letter to Titus is a good place to start looking for an answer. Good works are mentioned six times in this short letter, making it, by frequency, the NT book most concerned with the subject of good works.

In the last article we saw how chapter 2:14 repeats a negative-positive contrast first given in 2:12. The parallelism between the two positive statements suggests that good works in 2:14 are to be equated with the “self-controlled, upright, and godly” living of 2:12. And the relationship of 2:11-14 to the earlier part of the chapter suggests that the Holy Spirit is including all the behaviors of 2:1-10 under the category of good works.

In the past I’ve tended to restrict my definition of good works to special acts of kindness done without charge for the needy – cleaning out eaves for the elderly or writing a check to the local food bank, for example. Titus 2, however, speaks of the concept more broadly to include our Christian behavior in general. Every time we exercise self-control, resist the temptation to slander, or act kindly, we are doing good works.

If this seems too basic, consider the words “good” and “works.” A work is an activity of any kind, a deed or action.[1] Everything we do is a “work,” and these works may be either good or bad. Psalm 34:14 tells us to “turn away from evil and do good.” A good work is the opposite of an evil work. It’s as basic as that. According to Ephesians 2:10, the good works which we are now to walk in are simply the opposite of our former trespasses and sins (2:1-2). The verb “walk” is repeated in the practical section of the letter (4:1, 17, 5:2, 8, 15). These good works God prepared beforehand that we should walk in are the good works or conduct, given in chapters 4–6, that proceed from salvation.”[2] Good works are Christian behavior.[3]

In Every Sphere

A good work is any time we act rightly; it’s any action done by faith out of love for God and others. With such an expansive definition, it’s no wonder we find the Bible calling us to perform good works in every sphere of life. When the younger women of Titus 2:4-5 love their husbands and children and manage their home, they are doing good works (see also 1Tim 5:10). So are the actions of employees at their workplace (Titus 2:9-10, cf. Eph 6:8, Col 3:22-25). The work of shepherding in the local church is called “a good work” (1Tim 3:1, KJV), and when Paul reminds Timothy that the Scriptures equip the man of God for “every good work” (2Tim 3:17, ESV), he is including the task of preaching, as the verses following indicate. To the spheres of home, work, and church we can add that of civic life: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1, ESV; cf. Rom 13:3, 1Peter 2:12-17). A believer finishes serving a customer, heads home for a meal, then drives to the weekly prayer meeting, slowing down for construction workers along the way. Just a typical day of “bearing fruit in every good work” (Col 1:10, ESV).

None of this undermines our responsibility for the acts of charity normally associated with the term good works. We are to “help cases of urgent need” (Titus 3:14, ESV) and be rich in generosity (1Tim 6:18, 2Cor 9:8), like Dorcas who, “full of good works,” made clothing for the widows in need (Acts 9:36, 39). In fact, one of the purposes for gathering together is to provoke one another out of our comfort zones to such risky good works as partnering with persecuted believers and visiting them in prison (Heb 10:24, 32-34). But realizing that even the “normal” activities of the believer can count as “fruits of righteousness” (Phil 1:11, KJV), seen and appreciated by the Lord (1Tim 5:25), should fill us with a zeal for doing good.

Zealous for Good Works

Christ didn’t die to make us a people who grudgingly do what is good; He wants a people “who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14 ESV, cf. 2Thes 3:13). Let’s prayerfully load our hearts with the following truths until we are filled with a holy excitement for doing good. First, our salvation rests on God’s mercy, not our works (Titus 3:5), but we were saved for good works (2:14), and the genuineness of our salvation is revealed by our works (1:16). Indeed, we were created for good works (Eph 2:10). Second, every good work we do, from the smallest (Matt 10:42) to the greatest (Matt 26:10), was planned beforehand by God (Eph 2:10), and He will reward us for them (Eph 6:8). And finally, any good we can do for man or God pales in comparison to the good God has done for us. The Father gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16). The Son “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38, KJV, cf. Luke 24:19) and then “gave Himself for us” (Titus 2:14, KJV). He who was rich became poor, even homeless, in order that we might be made rich for eternity (2Cor 8:9, Luke 9:58). With undying zeal, He devoted Himself to doing all the works His Father had pre-planned for Him (Psa 40:8, John 5:36, 17:4).

Let us “be on the watch for opportunities of usefulness; let us go about the world with our ears and our eyes open, ready to avail ourselves of every occasion for doing good; let us … make this the main design and ambition of our lives.”[4] And let’s do so “that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16, ESV cf. 1Peter 2:12).

[1] BDAG lexicon.

[2] Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 349.

[3] See also 2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Peter 3:8-13, and Revelation 2:2-6.

[4] Quoted by Matt Perman, What’s Best Next, 91.