At Calvary Memorial Church, we’ve been reflecting for the past several weeks on Paul’s prayer that the Colossians live a “fully pleasing” life (Col. 1:9-14). Many of us were struck by the fact that for Paul the leading aspect of a fully pleasing life is . . . good works. Paul prays that the Colossians would be “bearing fruit in every good work” (1:10).
But what might this look like in concrete, doable terms for you and me? Well, you can read about one great example (involving some Calvary folks!) in this week’s Wednesday Journal, in a piece by Abigail Cramton’s entitled, “Pouring Love, Breaking Through: Tutoring on Chicago’s West Side Benefits Tutors and Students.” As the tag-line suggests, Ms. Cramton highlights the mutual blessing and benefit of serving others through tutoring.
Her encouraging and thoughtful piece, in turn, got me to thinking about not only what bearing fruit in every good work might look, but why bearing fruit in every good work is commanded and commended in the Bible. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Good words adorn doctrine. Doctrine, or truth, is a beautiful thing, even when naked. But what’s even more beautiful is doctrine, or truth, dressed-up, as it were, in a life of good works, conviction clothed in good deeds while tutoring somewhere on the West Side. That’s why obedience is commanded and commended: “so that in every way [we] will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10).
- Good works encourage others to think highly of who God is. Good works point – ultimately not to themselves or to the doer, but to the One who enables and receives them. So we are told by Jesus to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Good works are beams of light that radiate out from a magnificent Source.
- Good works enliven one’s own life of faith. Ms. Cramton’s article contains a wonderful line in which she points out that the tutors she featured in her article “serve out of a conviction of faith and believe that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive.” This is an allusion to one of the only statements of Jesus outside the Gospels; it’s found in Acts 20:35, where a follower of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, says that when he was with a church in the ancient city of Ephesus, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” More blessed to give than to receive? A truly stunning and even paradoxical thought: the one who gives actually receives more than the one who receives. And yet that’s precisely the mystery – almost, you might say, the magic – of obeying and serving in Jesus’ name: it enlivens one’s own life and faith. One finds that in the act of giving, one receive far more.
- Good works meet real needs. Of course, good works are designed not only to showcase the greatness of God or enliven the faith and life of the one who does them; they’re also designed to meet real, practical, concrete needs in our communities. Which is itself a good in itself.
- Good works will be met with a real reward. One of the more terrifying and yet terrific passages in all the Bible is Matthew 25. In that chapter in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus paints a rather sobering picture of when he will one day return to earth to judge humankind according to their good works – according to whether they have fed the hungry, given a drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked and needy, cared for the sick, visited the oppressed and suffering (25:34-40). And as that passage makes clear, as do innumerable other passages in both the Old and New Testaments, these good works will be met with a very real reward: the kingdom itself. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (25:34).