For the Sake of the Church
Just as good deeds are important to God with regard to their scope, they are also important to him in respect to their purpose for the church, the world, our sanctification, and God’s glory.
There is a shocking passage of Scripture in Galatians: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:9-10, emphasis mine). This passage knocked me off my feet because it points so directly to the priority of exercising good deeds first within our church family. For years I’ve considered evangelism the highest endeavor a Christian can undertake, so this really got my attention. We can’t neglect to care for those outside the faith, but our family—that is, the family of God—comes first. In many cases, the deeds that are described in Scripture are those done in the service of a family. Good deeds are important to God because they nurture and care for the needs of his family here on earth. God’s purpose for good deeds, however, goes beyond his own family.
For the Sake of the World
The Old Testament speaks again and again of the responsibility of God’s people to help the poor. “Gleaning,” the practice of allowing people to gather leftover crops from fields farmers had harvested, was one of the provisions established by the Israelites to provide food for the poor: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. . . . Leave them for the poor and the alien” (Lev. 19:9-10). We are instructed many times not to neglect the poor (see Job 31:16-22; Isa. 58:7; Matt. 25:34-36; James 1:27; 2:1-7).
But the Scriptures are clear from Genesis to Revelation that more important than man’s physical need is his need of God himself. Jesus had compassion for people’s physical needs, but he always made it clear that a person’s spiritual need is even greater. He said, “It is written, ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:4). And also, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry” (John 6:35). Our good deeds are meant to be a means to this end—to make the gospel known.
My friend Linda learned this the hard way. She had returned with her family from a difficult time of missionary service in the Philippines. They moved into a new condominium, and she was thrilled to have a home of her own for a change. I watched as she decorated the rooms with her artistic skill. I had always envied her flare for making something beautiful with very little. True to form, when she was finished, that condo was beautiful. When you entered, the first thing your eye was drawn to was the large glass door leading to the enclosed patio—a garden oasis.
Linda delighted in this quiet, secluded spot. It was her little sanctuary—a place to pray and read the Scriptures. Her delight and solitude were short-lived however. A new family moved in next door. The two condominiums were divided by a common wall, as was the patio. The neighbors were not a quiet family, and the common wall was thin. Linda’s lovely new home had lost its luster virtually overnight.
The new neighbors were coarse—offensive in words and actions. The adults screamed obscenities at each other and at their children. The kids were unruly and dirty. The entire exterior of their condo began to deteriorate; the lawn was overgrown with weeds, and the window screens were ratty and torn. Worst of all, the children actually urinated out the windows on occasion. Linda was at her wit’s end. She reported to me regularly about her frustration with the situation.
She knew that she should “reach out” to these wretched folks, but she’d encountered a slight problem: She hated them. They were ruining her life! Just when she thought she could endure no more, she came home to a calamitous surprise. As she opened the door to enter her home, her eyes went to the glass doors that led to the patio. Before she closed the door, she had begun to shriek, and by the time it was closed, she was in tears and screaming out in frustration. The boys next door had climbed over the adjoining patio fence and sprayed orange paint all over her beautiful patio—garden, furniture, and fence.
While she wept, she began to pray: “Lord, I hate these neighbors. I know that I am supposed to love them, but I haven’t an ounce of love for them.” As she prayed, she opened her Bible and began to read in Colossians 3:12-14: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love. . . .”
“How do I put on love?” she cried out to the Lord. “My heart is full of hate.” Gently, the Lord began to make it clear to her. “How do I put on a coat?” she asked herself. “I take a deliberate action; I lift my arm and put it in a sleeve.” Putting on love must be a little like that, she thought. Then she asked herself, “What would I do if I did love these neighbors?” She got out a pencil and paper and started a list:
- I would bake them cookies.
- I would ask the woman over for coffee.
- I would offer to baby-sit. (Impossible!)
As she continued the list, she realized that she could put on the actions of love—the good deeds—and trust that God would give her requisite feelings in time. And that is exactly what happened.
With much fear and a lot of prayer, she began systematically to do the things on her list. The day she first took over the cookies and actually met the neighbor woman was memorable. The neighbor was very touched by Linda’s kindness, and Linda was touched by what she began to understand about this couple.
In the following months in repeated visits over coffee, the woman poured out her heart to Linda. Linda learned that the children were not their own. They had taken them in when relatives had abandoned them. Although the adults were barely educated themselves, they were doing the very best they could to help these homeless children. Linda began to see them in a different light. Living next to them had not grown easier, and occasionally baby-sitting for them stretched her to the limit. But as she began to be a light for the gospel, something was happening to Linda.
There are people all around us who need the gospel demonstrated to them through good deeds that are done out of hearts changed by that gospel.
About a year later, Linda called me. She was crying. Only this time she wasn’t crying because of something the neighbors had done, but rather because they were moving, and Linda was truly sad. She realized that God had used her to help this family, but she knew that God had greatly used them to sanctify her. Obedience to God’s Word had transformed her heart full of hatred to one of love.
There are people all around us who need the gospel demonstrated to them through good deeds that are done out of hearts changed by that gospel. It isn’t enough to give to people in need if all we do is take care of a few material needs, although these needs are not unimportant. Our friends, coworkers, and neighbors (even the difficult ones) need the Bread of Life, the Lord Jesus Christ. What good works has he planned for you to do in this regard?
For My Sake
What happened to my friend Linda illustrates the point that when we submit to God’s Word regarding good deeds, something worthwhile happens to us. God has called us to be a people who do good even in the face of adversity. The sanctification that takes place in our hearts is simply a by-product of our obedience to God’s plan.
Peter speaks to this issue repeatedly: “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God” (1 Pet. 2:20), and “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (1 Pet. 3:13-14).
Look for the very important little phrase “He sat down” here in context in Hebrews 10:11-12: “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
Jesus didn’t sit down until his work was finished. God is at work in us and through us—through good deeds—sometimes in the face of adversity. Now is not the time to “sit down.” It is a time to work: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).
For God’s Glory
Finally, Peter tells us that we should “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pet. 2:12). Have you ever heard unbelievers give their excuse for avoiding church: “There are too many hypocrites in the church!” That’s because all too often our deeds don’t glorify God.
Doing good deeds apart from the motivation of a heart changed by the gospel invariably brings slander to God’s name rather than glory. Linda could have slipped a gospel tract in her neighbor’s mailbox every day, but if the good news wasn’t clothed in good deeds motivated by love and gratitude, her action probably would not in the end have brought glory to God.
This article is adapted from Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes.
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