Good Works

Summary

Our good works should be motivated to show the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31), accomplished by helping others (Galatians 6:9-10) and pursuing joy (Ecclesiastes 8:15; John 15:11-12). Over time, helping others will become joyful, and you seek joy by helping others.

In common terms, we recognize that our daily work must be enjoyable for us to be efficient, but that work also must be going to a good cause for it to be meaningful. Too much of a focus on serving others is like a workaholic husband who never enjoys his life to feed his family instead of trusting in God, and too much of a focus on personal joy is like that college student who is always partying and drinking, forgetting about his duties to study for his family.

Endorsements

Most all Christians believe serving others selflessly is good.

Most Christians believe pursuing joy is good, but often think joy is purely about others and not oneself. John Piper talks often about Christian Hedonism: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” We writes, “The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy, you cannot love man or please God.”

Concepts

Our motivation for working for God should include selflessly helping others.

Doing good things for other people can be very tiring, but we should never give up (Galatians 6:9). This is because we have an obligation to bear with those we think aren’t pulling their own weight (Romans 15:1). If we build them up towards Christ (Romans 15:2), we will accomplish Jesus’ goal of glorying the Father (Romans 15:6).

You may feel that this infringes on your freedom, but we are called to put away our freedoms to serve everyone (Galatians 5:13), for this is what it means to be obedient to the law of love (Galatians 5:14). Real freedom is giving up your rights (I Corinthians 9:15,19) to become anything that anyone needs (I Corinthians 9:20-22) for the sake of the Gospel (I Corinthians 9:23).

Our motivation for working for God should include pursuing personal joy.

It’s very easy to hate going to work or hate going to church, but do it anyways because that’s what we are supposed to do. If we are not joyful, though, we are sinning. This is because a truly righteous heart can only exist with joy (Hebrews 1:9).

Jesus endured the cross for His own joy and pleasure (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 2:13), not only for love’s sake, knowing that heaven being full of people is nicer. If God primarily is motivated for something that helps Himself, we are to be perfect like Him (John 15:11; Matthew 5:48).

While the humble will always consider another person to be of greater value, we are called to balance our interests with the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4). When you care too much about your own interests, you become selfish (I John 3:17). When you care too much about other’s interests, you neglect your own body (I Corinthians 6:19-20) and joy (Ecclesiastes 8:15).

Solomon talks at great length about the meaning of life, and part of it is how fruitlessly men toil away at business to seek knowledge (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17), but he says that there is nothing better than to pursue personal joy, because we are commanded to enjoy God’s gifts (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).

Love others and yourself equally.

Often times our improper motivations in life are fueled by a misunderstanding of love. Jesus didn’t command us to love others more, nor did He command us to love ourselves more; but rather, we should “love our neighbor as ourself” (Mark 12:31). This is echoed in our marriages, as we are commanded to love our spouse as ourself (Ephesians 5:33).

When you love someone more than yourself, you admit that the person is not yourself. God instead has called 2 to become 1 person (Genesis 2:24) because this represents the mystery of our wedding with Jesus (Ephesians 5:31-32). Jesus loves us as much as Himself (Ephesians 5:28-29), not any greater or any less, because we are His body (Ephesians 5:30), and no body part is loved any more or any less (I Corinthians 12:23-25).

Works can be done with no money or lots of it.

God commands people to either sell everything they have (Luke 12:33) or to acquire vast sums of wealth (Luke 16:9), depending on their talents. (Note “unrighteous wealth” is better translated “worldly wealth.” These 2 verses are used near the conclusion of John Piper’s doctrine of Christian Hedonism.)

For some people, God wants us to fully rely on Him for our sustenance (Matthew 19:21), likely because we care too much about money (Matthew 19:22), but we are called to not trust in our bank account (I Timothy 6:17). Instead, we are to freely give to the needy (II Corinthians 9:9).

For others, God wants us to utilize the spiritual gift of giving to further His kingdom through immense wealth. GotQuestions says, “If God is our Master, then our wealth is at His disposal.” In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a man who invests God’s property using transactions (Matthew 25:14-15,16). The master did not tell them to give to everyone freely, but to get even more back in return (Matthew 25:20). For serving the Master, the master gave him what he wanted: the “joy of your master,” which includes power (Matthew 25:21). Piper further elucidates the beauty of how God can use transactions for mutual benefit, “It is very bad pedagogy to say, ‘Take this pill and I will give you a nickel,’ if you think the desire for the nickel will ruin the taking of the pill. But Jesus was a wise teacher, not a foolish one.” We should acquire wealth not for worldly pursuits of glory (Luke 14:12-14) but for His kingdom (Matthew 6:33).

Moreover, we will trade in heaven because the Old Covenantal trading of sacrificing of animals for one’s sins was a foreshadow of heaven (Hebrews 8:3,5) and because God allowed Lucifer to trade in heaven (Ezekiel 28:16). God commands us to trade our time for money (II Thessalonians 3:10). Trade is bad, though, when we do it for our own glory (Ezekiel 28:17).

FAQ

How should joy and love be realized?

Joy and love should not only be done because God commands us to serve others but also because we get something out of it, too. For example, no one would love another if it only himself pain. Love can only be love if it builds up the self. Solomon said to find joy in the act of eating, not eating for the purpose of living long enough to help others. He even differentiates between joy and doing good (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).

In addition, see “Love others and yourself equally.” You cannot become one with another being yet serve them more than yourself because then you aren’t one anymore.

Why should we not please ourselves?

God actually works for His own pleasure (Philippians 2:13). The word “pleasure” is translated in the original Greek as “eudokia,” also translated “choice, delight, or desire.” This word is talking about the “good feeling” of pleasure, as similarly used in Luke 2:14.

The word “please” in Romans 15:1-3 is translated in the original Greek as “areskein,” “aresketo,” and “eresen.” They are all derivates of the same concept, better translated as the pleasure from approval. The Roman verses are talking about how we should not try to build approval for ourselves but instead to help the weak find approval, because they need more help. This is further proven by the use of the argument for why Christ did not seek his own approval: “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” He spent most of his time trying to clear up the Father’s character (Psalms 69:9) instead of seeking His own glory (John 8:50). If this was talking about the feeling of pleasure, “reproach” wouldn’t be brought up and instead “eudokia” would’ve been used.

Should we demand payment?

Although we shouldn’t force payment through vengeance (Romans 12:19) because exercising authority is usually bad (Mark 10:42-43), the Master of the Parable of the Talents did ask for payment (Matthew 25:19) because we should always ask for what we want (Matthew 7:7-11). If they choose to steal from us, though, we should let them take even more (Luke 6:29).

Should we associate with people who can repay us (Luke 14:12-14)?

The context of this story is being humble (Luke 14:11). Jesus meant that when we try to help those around us, don’t do it for the purpose of exalting your own honor (Luke 14:12), for even if the needy can’t honor you (Luke 14:13), God will (Luke 14:14).

If this meant we can’t associate with people who can repay us, God wouldn’t tell us to get jobs (II Thessalonians 3:10).

How can we love others as ourself (Mark 12:31) if others are more significant (Philippians 2:3)?

The Greek word for “count” is “hÄ“goumenoi,” similarly translated as “esteem” or “consideration.” This is saying that that should be our mindset but not that it is reality. Consider the phrase, “You can’t pay. Well you’re a good friend; so, consider your debts paid.” His debts haven’t actually been paid, but they both consider it that way. Also, 2 people can’t actually be more significant than each other, for that is a logical contradiction.