Last week we said that people were made for worship. Worship is the foundational work for taking dominion of the world and bearing God’s image rightly. We saw this particularly presented in the gift of food. Today we consider what “good works” are.
New Creation & Good Works
Creation was the first “good work” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 31, 2:1-3). Adam and Eve were created to be like God and to join Him in His work (cf. Ex. 20:9-11). We’ve also noted that our redemption in Christ means that we are part of a new creation that has begun in the resurrection of Jesus (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15). When people are born again in Jesus, they are born again for good works (Eph. 2:10, Phil. 2:12-13, Tit. 2:14). Paul also explains that the Scriptures are for equipping pastors for “good works” (1 Tim. 3:16) and this includes equipping the saints for the “work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12, cf. 1 Cor. 12).
What Are Good Works?
In the beginning, God created the world with roughly three spheres: the garden, the land of Eden, and the rest of the world (Gen. 2:8-15). Adam and Eve were supposed to begin their good works in the garden, which would flow out into the land of Eden, and finally out to the ends of the earth. We see this pattern repeated in the tabernacle and temple and in the organization of the people of Israel. The same principle is at work in the Great Commission: the disciples of Jesus are called to be witnesses in Jerusalem, then to Judea and Samaria, and finally out to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). The point being, the Bible trains us to think of our purpose in life as mimicking these kinds of overlapping, descending spheres. Life begins in the garden, in direct communion with God, in His presence. This is the good work of believing in Jesus, receiving Him, worshipping Him in prayer, praise, meditation, including baptism and communion (Jn. 6: 28-29ff). Doing the will of the Father begins there because as we noted last week, receiving the grace of God is the food we practice dominion with.
Rivers Are For Sailing
But it is no accident that a river flows out of the Garden of Eden and divides into four heads leading out to the uttermost parts of the earth (Gen. 2:10-14). The river is a treasure map for Adam and Eve to follow to find more food, and glories beyond imagining. But this work in the land would still be oriented toward the sanctuary-garden. The treasures (like the food!) would be received as gifts, restructured and shared, extending the blessing. Some treasures would be used to adorn and glorify the sanctuary proper, while others would go back down the rivers in order to bring the fruitful glory of the garden to the rest of the world (e.g. tabernacle and temple). But the point of a glorious sanctuary, as Ezekiel saw in his vision of the new temple, is for the river to flow out of the sanctuary, specifically so trees will grow producing fruit in order to bring life to the nations (Ez. 47:1-12). This is what Jesus is talking about when He stands up and announces at the Feast Tabernacles that if anyone is thirsty come to Him and drink, for whoever believes in Him, out of his belly will flow rivers of living water, which He said specifically talking about the Holy Spirit (Jn. 7:37-39). Faith in Jesus and the gift of His Spirit is the river that flows out into the world both to bring the glory and praise in and in order to bring new life out (cf. Rev. 21:23-22:2). This is why the “sanctuary” is no longer centralized in one geographical position but now exists wherever the people of God gather together to form communities of worship.
Seek First the Kingdom: A Case Study in Titus
Once Paul wrote a letter to a young pastor in Crete named Titus, and Paul’s instructions give us some great concrete examples of what this worshiping community is supposed to look like. Paul explains that the first thing is the preaching of the gospel (1:1-4). Paul left Titus in Crete to continue preaching and as soon as possible appoint elders in every city who would hold fast to the faithful word and sound doctrine, who would be able to convince and exhort and rebuke deceivers, doubters, and troublers which Paul fully expects like moths to the light (1:5-16). Paul next turns to the positive virtues Titus and the other elders are supposed to inculcate addressing older men, older women, young women, young men, and servants, recognizing unique opportunities and temptations in various stations in life. Nevertheless, Titus is to be a pattern of “good works,” that all people may adorn the doctrine of God in all things (2:1-10).
The grace of God teaches that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world looking for the glory of Jesus to come (2:11-13). But looking forward to the great glory to come and remembering the gift of redemption already received does not make people complacent, it makes them zealous for good works (2:14). Paul explains what this looks like: it’s the difference between love and hatred, the difference between mercy and lies (3:1-8), but in addition to virtues of the mouth and heart, Paul exhorts Titus to teach the churches to fill their time being subject to those in authority and doing those things which are “good and profitable for men,” “to learn to maintain good works to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful” (3:8, 14).
Putting all of this together, the church is called upon to figure out what is needed beginning with the gospel but extending out to include food, clothing, housing, administration, and even arts and entertainment. This assignment takes study to investigate, as well as study to teach, train, and maintain. This is our fruitfulness by the power of the Spirit. This means that Christians must consider their vocations carefully. We aren’t just trying to get a job to support a family. We are working for the Kingdom. On the one hand this means trash collection and plumbing certainly are good and profitable and urgent needs in any community. On the other hand, Christians must not lose sight of the big picture: bringing treasures into the sanctuary and bringing the blessings of the sanctuary out to the world. Finally, remember the lesson of Mary and Martha – obeying always means prioritizing. What’s the one thing needful? Sometimes what feels most productive isn’t.
[The audio for this sermon may be found here.]