It’s clearly evident in scripture that we, as Christians, are to do good works or deeds. The debate isn’t whether or not we are to perform them, but what exactly their purpose and place in our faith is. I’m sure you’ve read passages like Titus 1:16, which talks about false teachers being “worthless for any good deeds,” and thought to yourself, “why are good deeds so important anyway?” My goal in writing this is to explore and define the purpose of good deeds and in so doing to explain why they’re so important to God. My scriptural home base for this blog is the Pastoral Epistles (aka the books of 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus); therefore I will also delve into what good deeds look like in regards to the Pastoral Epistles.
Good Deeds Defined
Before we get too far into the discussion of their purpose, we should figure out what exactly good deeds are (I use the phrases“good deeds” and “good works” interchangeably). In his commentary 1 Timothy Titus 2 Timothy Gareth Reese, a co-founder of and current professor emeritus at Central Christian College of the Bible, defines good deeds as “loving acts of service to others”. He further breaks it down by pointing out that simply feeling love isn’t a good work, but feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick are.
Biblical Examples of Good Works
In 1st Timothy, Paul speaks of honoring and caring for widows and specifies what an honorable widow looks like. In the description, he has a list of “if” statements, each of which refers to different example of good works. It is important to recognize that these statements do not only apply to widows, but to all Christians.
- “If she has brought up her children”
This seems to be referring the manner in which she raised her children. A Christian is to bring up their children in a godly way. It seems this is not only one of our first duties as Christian parents, but it also counts as a good work.
- “If she has shown hospitality to strangers”
This is something that is taught heavily in Scripture, including notably in one of the greatest commandments, “love your neighbor as yourself.”
- “If she has washed the feet of the saints”
This is something that isn’t done for the most part now-a-days, but was very much the norm in Biblical times. The roads were dusty and people’s feet got quite dirty because of that. If we look at Jesus’ example of feet washing in John 13, Jesus used it to teach a lesson on serving. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he was showing them what ministry should look like—to have a willingness to serve. This example is similar to Reese’s description of being in service to others. (Note: Christ and Paul weren’t setting feet-washing itself as an ordinance here; they were using it to show what it looked like to be a humble servant. If it was an ordinance, why would it be in a list with other good works?)
- “If she has assisted those in distress”
This is more of an attitude of willingness—willingness to reach out and help those who are struggling in some aspect of life. That struggle could be physical, emotional, or spiritual, but it is a good work to reach out to them.
- “If she has devoted herself to every good work”
This is reiteration of the latter if statements, and also the culmination of them. Think of it as the “if-statement caveat.” It means that this isn’t the end of the list, but rather a small list of examples of what good works look like. In summary, good works can be several things. There isn’t really a cap on what counts as a good deed. Good deeds are, moreover, a result of having an attitude of service with one’s eyes fixed upon Jesus. If your attitude is right and your heart and mind are set on Jesus, good deeds will follow suit.
Why are we Supposed to do Good Works?
The answer to this is pretty simple—because Jesus said to. I know that isn’t probably the answer you were looking for but it really is that simple. We will, however, go more in depth. 1st Timothy 6:18 is a companion to our previously mentioned passage in 1st Timothy 5:10. This time, Paul is telling Timothy what to tell the richer members of his congregation: “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works.” This is a command to seek to be wealthy in terms of our good deeds rather than wealthy in a materialistic way. Much like the widows were to be devoted to good works (as are we), the rich are to seek to be rich in good works instead of money or possessions. My thinking here is the same as in 1st Timothy 5. It may be directly applied towards those who are rich in Timothy’s congregation, but it also indirectly applies to us Christians today—especially if you are reading this from the U.S. We have the means to perform good works.
Okay, I see that, but Good Deeds Don’t Save Us, Do They?
I won’t speak much on this because it isn’t the topic of my blog, but I will give my belief on the subject. In short, no. But it isn’t quite that simple. Only Jesus saves—we are saved by Grace, through faith in Christ, who died on the cross to redeem us from sin.
Another passage to look at is James 2:14-24. The basic principal of the passage is that faith, if it isn’t accompanied by good works, is dead. Like I said earlier, when you have faith in Christ and your eyes are fixed on Him good works should follow suit. If they don’t, your faith isn’t true and that faith can’t save you. We are not justified by works alone, nor are we by faith alone.
So if the Bible Says so Much on Good Works, Why Choose the Pastoral Epistles as Your Home Base for This Blog?
I am writing this blog for new Christians who want to further their knowledge on the topic at hand. When searching for resources on good deeds, I found many articles pertaining to such works in regards to salvation (I would venture to say that was the bulk of them) but I didn’t find many actually explaining what good works were and why they are stressed so much in Scripture. When looking for passages about good deeds in Scripture and thinking about the target audience for this blog, the Pastoral Epistles seem to be the most logical place to start—they were, after all, letters from the Apostle Paul to Timothy who was in charge of teaching congregations full of new Christians. They show many real examples of what good deeds look like in modern Christianity. They also teach the overall idea of good works as a lifestyle rather than a one-time event.
Let’s wrap things up.
What are good deeds? They are acts of service done in love because of our faith in Christ.
Is there a set list? No; good deeds are any voluntary action of love that naturally accompanies one’s faith.
Do they save us? Not good works by themselves.
Why do we do them? Jesus commanded us to. If we do not show our faith by good works, our faith has no bearing on anything and is dead.
Why the Pastoral Epistles? They provide an insight on what exactly good deeds are, by linking them- as well as other principles and ideas- to congregations of new Christians.
I strongly suggest reading the Pastoral Epistles if you haven’t already done so. They have so much insight on how a Christian should live—even more than just good deeds. I realize that Jesus also talks about this in other places (such as the Beatitudes), but the pastorals are unique in that they are letters to a church whereas modern Christian churches weren’t established when Jesus was teaching. I hope that this blog has aided you in your understanding of good deeds and that you now will strive to live a life of good works, not thinking of them as a religious check list but an expression of your love for and fellowship with Christ.
Post contributed by Central student Dalton Neas