LEARNING TO MAINTAIN GOOD WORKS
As disciples, there is no doubt that Jesus expects us to be distinguished for good works, for fruit-bearing (see Jno. 15:8). Not only is it obligatory by virtue of our creation in Christ (Eph. 2:10), it is a prescribed way of living for which we must be enthusiastic and eager. Paul explains that the people for whom Christ gave Himself and purified for Himself are to be a people "zealous for good works" and "ready for every good work" (Titus 2:14; 3:1). But this substantial duty of evidential discipleship does not come innately, it is learned.
In Paul's letter to Titus, some might cast Paul as burdening his text with the attention he gives to the subject of good works. But he's not so much burdening his text as he is stressing the great importance of good works in the lives of those who belong to Christ. And he instructs Titus to do no differently from his pulpit. After explaining that the grace of God teaches us how to live, and that we are to be a "zealous people for good works," Paul instru- cts Titus to "speak (teach/preach) these things" (2:15). Almost within the same breath Paul said, "Remind them to be ready for good works" (3:1). In other words, preach it again! And just a few verses later Paul said, "I want you to affirm constantly, that those who believe in God should be careful to maintain good works" (3:8). In other words, preach it again and again and again...you can't say enough about it. Then at the close of this epistle Paul writes, "let our people learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful" (3:14).
This learning to maintain (care for, give attention to) good works, is three-fold.
First, the responsibility/duty must be put into the mind of brethren through hearing. This is why Paul was so assertive in telling Titus to make sure the brethren heard it over and over and over again. The purpose of such repetitive preaching was that the brethren might "be careful to maintain good works" (3:8). The phrase, "be careful" literally means "to think, to exercise thought" (Thayer). In other words, they were to make it a study in their minds.
Secondly, this learning would come through observation. We learn as "on-lookers." Paul told Titus, who played a leading role in the congregation, that he was to "in all things show (himself) to be a pattern of good works" (2:7). By observing Titus, these brethren would see this principle in the flesh, how it worked in other's lives and flesh it out in their own. Paul told the Philippian brethren, "these things which you...saw in me, these do" (4:9). He told the Corinthian brethren, "Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1). John told Gaius to "Imitate...what is good" (3 Jno. 11).
Finally, this best teacher in learning to do good works is experience. We learn by doing. We learn by use. We learn by the practice of something. It is the way Paul said he learned contentment, "I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content." How? Because he had experienced "both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need" (Phil. 4:11,12). Paul used the word "learn" in this context of "doing" 1 Tim. 5:13. In Paul's instruction regarding the church taking care of widows, He mentioned that younger widows "learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle, but gossips and busybodies..." They learn to be idle by being idle. They learn to gossip and be busybodies by "saying things which they ought not" (5: 13b). This is an example of learning bad behavior by doing badly, but the same thing is true in learning good behavior - by doing good! And the more we do, the more natural it becomes and the better we get at it. Experience is the highest form of learning.
Brethren, let us "learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that (we) may not be unfruitful." The idea has been planted by the Word, let us never grow weary of hearing it. Let us daily exercise our thoughts toward it, take note of it in the lives of others who do good works, but experience the hundred-fold increase that only comes by repeatedly doing good works ourselves!
By Mark R. Wadlington in Items, Vol. 17, No. 21, July 13, 2003.
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