Wednesday, November 9, 2011

It's Part of the Job - Work

Parking Wars by quovadis

The gospel message brings people in, the gospel message saves because God does the work.
-- Dr. Gary Cohen

Are we really getting into a discussion on good works again? Who could possibly do the work of salvation but God alone? The answer is no one. There is none righteous to save. That argument can be put to rest almost immediately. That is an easy argument to make, but a difficult one to move on from and sometimes it is impossible to recover from it.

For all of our insistence that we are not saved by our own works, doing good seems to permeate the Bible. Man has been punished for doing wrong and encouraged in doing right throughout the Old Testament. Jesus practiced good deeds while He walked this earth. The Apostles performed good works and directed others to follow suit.

How do we find a happy balance between works unto salvation and works unto the Lord? There is clearly a sense of duty attached to the privilege believers have been granted. In fact, an expansion of the original language seems to indicate that work is an enterprise which is commissioned to be done. This means that someone wants something done, and they have given the order for others to do it. That explanation sounds a lot like Titus 3:8

This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly , that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.
Note that here Paul gives the orders as though he is passing them along from somewhere else, these orders are not to be ignored and there is an over-arching purpose for maintaining these good works.

Truly, the idea that man was created to do good deeds is not a novel concept in the first century church, much less in our own day two-thousand years later. In Titus, in harmony with the body of scripture and tradition we have before us, Paul differentiates between works that Isaiah tells us are filthy rags and work which is the labor that God has commissioned of us. God made man and placed him in the garden, why? To tend it. To keep it. To work in it. Man has a specific job and this job is called work.

Granted, we are not told to till a garden. We are told to be the best example of Christ within our sphere of influence. I am told to be an example of Christ likeness while I take calls from people who have broken their computers and forgotten their passwords. That is an exercise in patience. Perhaps you work in a hospital or in the school system or in the public sector, each garden that God has placed you in needs tilling. The world needs to be domesticated and good seed must be sown. One of the most effective tools in our shed is that of good works.

Remember, this is not an option. We are called to do good. Doing good is an action that demands that we step out of the ordinary and reach for that which others have ignored. But why is that? Why should we stick our necks out for others when our personal holiness should be what others see? I would venture an answer by means of a question, why do stores advertise? Why don’t stores focus on excellent service alone and let their customers do all the talking for them? When a store provides services and prices that exceed what consumers would find at their competitor’s location, we would surely hear about it without their aid. But it does not work that way. Advertisements are the hook that draws customers in. Service does not matter, correct?

Actually, both need to work hand-in-hand for a business to survive. The company must compete and draw people in with exceptional service and prices. But they must also deliver what they promise lest they lose out on both the effectiveness of corporate ads and personal endorsements to friends and family.

The same is true of the Christian life, we are both the advertisement and the goods. We advertise by talking to others and displaying acts of charity. This is how we draw attention, not to ourselves, but to our Lord because He is working in us to make us holy. We must do this because it is now in our nature, it is who we are. We stand out because our charity has the substance of Almighty God behind it as a guarantee.

Thirdly, we have the promise of purpose. Paul tells us the reason why we maintain these good works, and it is surprising to say the least. The reason we do is because it is good to do good. We do good for goodness’ sake. Paul does not say we do good to highlight the Christian life as different from other lifestyles, because many people do good. Doing good is not a unique trait for any particular Christian. Doing good should be an ordinary act that the Christian always does. He should find himself shocked that people notice when he does good to others because in the Christian’s mind doing good should be the only option. Going the extra mile was Christ’s idea. Why do we find it difficult to carpool?

In preparation for an event, a few brothers and sisters from the assembly went around the neighborhood passing out invitations. A brother who lives near Florida International University needed a ride and asked me if I would be willing to pick him up. Reluctantly, I asked him to spend the night so I wouldn’t have to drive 8 minutes out of my way to get him. I actually felt like telling him to remember the number 4 and call a cab, but my conscience soaked me with guilt over the very thought of that and forced me to either pick him up or let him spend the night. I chose the more convenient of the two.

To others, it may have seemed like I did a gracious thing, but I know my decision was one of convenience and not of love. Still, as a result of my obedience (this one time) and getting another hand to help deliver fliers, we were able to invite the neighborhood to an event. The neighborhood came and several people made decisions for Christ. However, that was not on my mind when I made sure he was there to help pass out tracts. What was on my mind was, what does the Lord want me to do? That was a good work, even though I did it grudgingly out of the tiredness of my heart.

The task at hand is not easy, that is not something that Paul ever says in this epistle. In fact, the Greek word in 3:8 for maintain stresses the fact that we are to give attention to this area of our lives and strive to perform it. It also stresses the urgency of this matter by telling us to put it in a place of utmost priority. Good works is not a back-burner issue. It is not something that takes care of itself when we focus on personal purity. Scripture calls it work because we must labor at it. I said earlier that the common notion of good works is sometimes impossible to recover from, we sometimes get in our minds that good works simply flow from the heart of a good Christian. However, this is not correct. The good Christian may make it seem like charity is a natural outpouring of his heart but this is only because of the habits of hard work that he already has in place which allow him to maintain good works. If we think good works just happen, we stop looking for opportunities to do good. When we stop looking for opportunities we stop seeing them. When we stop seeing opportunities we have successfully quenched the Spirit and are no longer doing the work that God has given us.

A final shocking description of good works is in Titus 2:7 where Paul tells Titus to be a pattern of good works. The word for pattern means archetype, or what Christian Hermeneutics would call a Type. A common example of a Type would be Joseph (the one with the coat of many colors) as a type of Christ because he delivered the world from disaster and there is no record of him ever committing a sinful act. The word technically means, the pattern in conformity to which a thing must be made. Paul says, Here is the thing you have to make sure you do and that the Church follows because the Church’s reputation hangs on it; do good works. This is the thing that must be imitated. Do good. Yes, a host of other things follow the directive to do good, but recognition that we must labor for Christ is the first step.

Should we do good deeds out of a sense of duty? Should I answer phone calls courteously every day out of a sense of duty? Yes. Because it is my job. As a Christian, good works are part of the job. And with the Spirit’s help, we can be specialists.

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Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

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