“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)
In Luke 10, a lawyer who was attempting to test Jesus asked Him how to inherit eternal life. Jesus tossed a question back to the lawyer by asking, “What is written in the law?” (v. 26). The lawyer replied by reciting scripture from the “law” in the Old Testament: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (v.27).
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he [the lawyer] wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:28-29 (NIV).
“And who is my neighbor?” We ask the same question today, for the same reason as the lawyer in this story: to justify ourselves. Who exactly is my neighbor? And who can I get away with treating just a little worse? Or a lot worse? Or ignoring altogether? Where can I draw the line between “my neighbor” and “my not-neighbor?”
Jesus is so patient with us when we attempt to create rules where He has given us freedom. He went on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan, a man who had nothing to gain from helping another man who had been robbed and left for dead on a stretch of road. Two spiritual men, a priest and a Levite, had actively avoided the half-dead man, but the Samaritan stopped. The Samaritan helped. The Samaritan made personal sacrifices of money, time, and resources to show compassion to a person he didn’t even know. And when Jesus then asked the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man…?,” the lawyer responded accurately, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus commands us to “go and do likewise” (v.37). He answered the question, “And who is my neighbor?” by illustrating an act of mercy shown to someone who could not help himself. He showed someone caring for one ignored by the religious leaders who refused to make eye contact with him.
Ask Jesus to show you who you may be actively avoiding. Ask Him to help you make eye contact with those who are hurting and marginalized.
Do you remember the “WWJD” bracelets everyone used to wear? “WWJD” of course stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” The bracelets were designed to serve as a reminder to us to consider how Jesus would respond in every situation. If we are going to truly call ourselves Jesus-followers, then we need to seek hard after Him and attempt to live and act as He lived and acted, according to the example we find in Scripture. We need to consider what Jesus would do.
In Acts 10:38, the Bible says, “…God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (ESV). Jesus “went about doing good.” Not only that, but He was indiscriminate about who He healed. He healed ALL who were oppressed…not just some. Not just the good ones. Not just the worthy ones. He went about doing good and He healed everyone. One of my favorite quotes by Thomas Merton is, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love…”
There are ten different verses in Scripture that remind us, verbatim, to “love your neighbor as yourself” – six of these quoted directly from Jesus. In fact, Jesus also says, “…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” Luke 6:27b (ESV). Jesus modeled doing good toward His enemies “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8b (ESV). We didn’t deserve His love, but that didn’t stop Him from sacrificing everything for us.
If we are truly following Jesus, then we must not only love our neighbors as ourselves, but we must also do good to our enemies. We honor Jesus when we help those He would have helped…when we love those He would have loved. Are we modeling our lives after His example?
It is impossible to love the people God created without first fully loving Him. Without God, we are just generally an unlovable and unloving crew. But once we love Him, it should become impossible for us not to love others. James 2:17 tells us that faith, if not accompanied by works (or “good deeds”), is dead. The illustration James gives us just prior to that verse reminds me of the way I sometimes act toward those in need:
“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing for his physical needs, what good is it?” James 2:14-17 (NIV84).
How often do we think or say some version of this? We wish people well, but we don’t want to have to actually do anything for them. We want them to be “warm and well fed,” but we won’t take the time, money, or energy to provide them with the physical things they need to be made warm and well fed. James is referring to the ancient and time-honored tradition of Christians saying “I’ll pray for you” without having to inconvenience themselves to actually provide for anyone’s physical needs. Ouch.
Prayer is powerful. Prayer moves mountains. Prayer is an essential discipline in the spiritual life of every Christian. But so is service. So is self-sacrifice. So is loving our neighbors by doing good, wherever and whenever we possibly can. Sometimes the Holy Spirit allows the service of our hands and feet to be the answer to someone else’s prayers.
Faith is so important, but faith without works is dead. This week, let God use your hands and feet to put your faith into action by serving and loving the people He created.
Did you know that you were created for the purpose of doing good in this world? If you’ve ever wondered if you have purpose in this life, here is God’s message to you. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” (ESV). We are the workmanship of God. One translation calls us His “masterpiece.” As God’s masterpieces – believers saved by the grace of Jesus Christ – we were created anew in Him to do good works. That’s why we’re here.
But…why? Matthew 5:16 tells us to “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (ESV). We were created to do good so that others can see Jesus in us. When people see Jesus for Who He is – a God who loves, forgives, serves, restores, and redeems – they are rightly drawn to Him.
God gives us assignments “…which [He] prepared in advance for us to do.” It has often been a hang-up for me, sitting around waiting for God to tell me which thing He has prepared for me. I’ll confess that from time to time, I still wonder if I’m doing the precise “good works” He has called me to do. But here’s what I know: God has created me to do good; He is faithful; and if I’m seeking Him as I start “the next thing,” then He will carry it to completion.
Consider how your light shines before others. You were created in Christ to do good, so that through your efforts, God will be glorified.
Doing good can be exhausting. Caring for others, putting others first, loving our neighbors as ourselves, giving of our time, talents, and resources… We know it’s important, and we know we’re called to it, but it’s tiresome. It’s so tiresome, in fact, that when Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, he encouraged them, “And let us not grow weary of doing good…” Galatians 6:9a (ESV). Do you ever “grow weary of doing good?” If so, you’re not alone.
Sometimes “doing good” is easy. It feels good, and our impact is clear. But other times, it leads to feelings of being unappreciated or underappreciated. Maybe we begin wondering if we’re actually making any difference at all. So how can we keep “doing good” when even Paul acknowledges that we can become worn out from it? Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28 (NIV). Jesus is carrying us; we don’t have to carry ourselves. Even when we’re weary, through Him we can keep moving forward in our assignment to do good.
Good works are like every discipline of faith: Scripture calls us to them, we sow benefits by engaging in them, and we should practice them even when we don’t feel like it. Sometimes our feelings follow our feet – walk first, feel later.
Ask God to renew and increase your desire to serve Him by serving the people He created. Be encouraged that, through Jesus, you are continuously being equipped to do just that.