Good Works

Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside were used to religious hawkers, would-be prophets and charlatans. But Jesus was so different. As He taught and performed miracles, no one talked like Him, and no one could do what He did. Jesus captured their attention with more than charisma, and His works didn’t end with a sales pitch to join His cult or drop a denarius in Judas’ bag. Instead, He changed lives and moved with genuine divine love and care to satisfy all of their needs. All His works were good! Reflecting on this time, the apostle Peter later preached, “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Act 10:38).[1]

As His disciples learned about the man they followed, it became clear that Jesus expected them to be more than an army of mindless minions. Those He rescued were expected to live His teachings and display the caring, kind and loving character of the one they professed. The followers of The Way were to practice good works in a dark and evil world. Jesus declared, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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” (Mat 5:14-16).

What the Lord Jesus expected from His first followers, the apostle Paul rekindled years later in a young shepherd named Titus. Paul’s letter to Titus is a quick read; you could wrap up its three chapters in under 20 minutes. As you do that, take note of how often the apostle exhorts Titus to teach good works. He mentions the subject about eight times in 45 verses; that’s almost 20% of the book! Titus underscores that believers in local church fellowship must be characterized by good works to one another and the world around them.

Good Works for Believers – Give Light to All in the House

Titus was told to teach healthy doctrine to the churches under his care, and that good works and unassailable character were on the agenda for each one in the fellowship (2:1). Older women were to teach what is good with reverence (v3). Young men were to be models of good works, and in their teaching show integrity, dignity and sound speech that cannot be condemned (vv7-8). No doubt the good works they modeled were first shown by older shepherds in word and deed.

Examples of believers’ good works to one another are found throughout the NT. In fact, Titus was with Paul when they distributed funds to needy believers throughout West Asia and the Aegean Peninsula (2Co 8:6,16-21). Acts 4:32-6:7 indicates that the church in Jerusalem supplied food, medicine, finances and Bible teaching to widows and those dependent on the goodwill of others. Paul commended the churches in Galatia and Macedonia for their financial support of one another and acknowledged the gifts he had received also (1Co 16:1; 2Co 8:1-2).

While each local church must be characterized by good works, it is the exercise of its members that sparks these actions. Titus doesn’t envision believers smiling and waving as they drive away on Sunday with no intention to meet again until next week. Individual believers were characterized by their consistent good works toward others: Phoebe was kind and helped many in the fellowship at Cenchrea in tough times, Tabitha dressed the saints in Lydda, and Epaphroditus traveled over 700 miles to deliver a gift from the church at Philippi. Their love for the Lord Jesus and those in His church was powerful fuel. They epitomized commitment to the one who “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).

Good Works for the World – Let Your Light Shine Before Others

As Titus encouraged the believers to be good to one another, he was also to emphasize a good attitude toward others. “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (3:1-2). All people? Paul himself called the Cretans liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons (1:12). Surely they weren’t worthy of perfect courtesy! It may seem difficult, but regardless of their demeanor, the Christians had to be ready for every good work toward those who didn’t know their Savior too.

Our attitude toward the liars, the lazy and those we’d rather not befriend must be to show them good works with humility, for that is what Christ has done for us. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (3:4-5). Crete is not large, and it was through the believers’ good works, illuminating the goodness of God to all, that the island churches would truly shine in bright testimony to the surrounding population.

Devoted to Good Works – So That They May See

As he finishes the letter, Paul’s intensity grows. “I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people” (v8). Do the people in our communities know we value them like Jesus does? Do we insist on seeking the best for our neighbors with food, medicine, finances and Bible teaching? “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (v14). What are the urgent needs where you live?

Learning this devotion to a life of good works won’t come naturally, and it seems that Paul expected Titus to have a plan for those in Crete to practice their good works. Like the apostle and those believers on the island of Crete, do you share a vision of believers in your local church consistently working together, meeting others’ needs with Christlike care and living out the good news as fruitful followers of the Lord Jesus?

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the ESV.