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I have noticed that there are some people in our church community who never seem to stop doing good. Whenever I see them, they are serving, washing up, praying for someone, encouraging one another, offering to take food to the sick, or doing some other kind act. They give generously every Gift Day. They serve at the homeless shelter and visit people in prison. They do this with such grace and enthusiasm. I am always encouraged and challenged by their example.
They never seem to tire of doing good. They seem to base their whole lives on those words of John Wesley that we looked at earlier in the year. They do all the good they can, by all the means they can, in all the ways they can, in all the places they can, at all the times they can, to all the people they can, as long as they ever can.
The term ‘do-gooder’ has become a pejorative expression – used as an insult. But doing good should not be seen in this way. Jesus, we are told, ‘went around doing good’ (Acts 10:38).
St Paul writes to Titus, ‘Remind the people … to be ready to do whatever is good’ (Titus 3:1). ‘I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone … Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good’ (vv.8,14).
How can we devote ourselves to doing what is good?
1. Do good, not evilPsalm 119:113-120
The opposite of doing good is doing evil. The psalmist is determined to do good. That is why he says, ‘Away from me, you evildoers’ (v.115a). The evildoers are ‘double-minded’ (v.113). They stray from God’s decrees and are deceitful (v.118).
The psalmist chooses to avoid evil and do good. He loves God’s words (vv.113,119). God is his refuge and shield; he puts his hope in his word (v.114). ‘I’ll give total allegiance to your definitions of life’ (v.117, MSG).
He writes, ‘Sustain me according to your promise, and I shall live; do not let my hopes be dashed’ (v.116). Our hopes being deferred is bad enough. The book of Proverbs says, ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick’ (Proverbs 13:12). The psalmist’s prayer is that his hopes will not be dashed.
Lord, today I bring to you again my hopes. [Sometimes I find it helpful to write down what those hopes are.] Do not let my hopes be dashed.
Lord, thank you so much for your words. I love your words. Help me to live by them, to do good, and to stay away from doing evil.
2. Always be ready to do goodTitus 3:1-15
There is such a striking contrast between Paul’s life before he experienced a relationship with Jesus Christ and his life afterwards. I relate to this in my own experience. He writes, ‘We too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another’ (v.3).
Jesus utterly transforms lives: ‘when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy’ (vv.4–5). Doing good is a response to God’s kindness and love for us. We often think of the kindness of our family and friends, but God is infinitely more kind than that. If God has been so kind to us, we ought to be kind to others.
Out of his kindness and love, God has not only forgiven us, he has also given us the Holy Spirit. ‘He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our saviour Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives’ (vv.5–7, MSG). It is the Holy Spirit who enables us and empowers us to do good.
Therefore, Paul can write of the kind of lives we are now to lead. ‘Remind the people to respect the government and be law-abiding’ (v.1, MSG). This is our civil responsibility – to obey the laws of the country – unless they are contrary to God’s law.
But obedience and submission to rulers and authorities is not enough. We must ‘be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility towards everyone’ (vv.1–2). He urges them twice more to devote themselves to doing what is good (vv.8,14).
It is striking that Paul’s focus here seems to be on their relationships with other people. Paul is encouraging an ‘other-focused’ mindset, rooted in humility, truthfulness and considerateness. Doing good should flow from a genuine concern for other people, rather than simply from a sense of obligation.
The people of Crete at the time of this letter from Paul were famous for being lazy (see Titus 1:12). Perhaps they were too lazy to bother working. Paul is concerned that the Christians in Crete are distinct and different from the culture in which they live. He writes, ‘Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives’ (3:14).
As Christians, we live out what we believe in front of a watching world. If we are lazy and unproductive, it will be noticed. We have recognised and received ‘the kindness and love of God our Saviour’ (v.4), and in response we are to reflect that same kindness and love to others as we ‘do good’.
This is the way to live a productive life (v.14). Even after we have been reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit there will be temptations to get sidetracked and become unproductive. Some people argue incessantly. He writes, ‘but avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless’ (v.9).
When I was practising as a lawyer, I remember well considering whether God was calling us to ordination in the Church of England. I was very struck by the mention of Zenas the lawyer in verse 13 of this passage. It reminded me that if I were to stop practising as a barrister, it was not because there was anything wrong with being a Christian lawyer. Whatever our job or ministry, it is possible to go around doing good.
Lord, thank you so much for the way in which you transform our lives. Thank you that it is not because of any righteous things we have done but because of your mercy. Thank you that we have been justified by your grace. Thank you that we have been washed in rebirth and renewed in the Holy Spirit, which you pour out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour (vv.5–6). Help us to avoid being sidetracked into foolish arguments and quarrels about unimportant issues. Help us to lead productive lives. Help us, like Jesus, to go around doing good.
3. Stay close to the one who went around doing goodLamentations 1:1-2:6
‘To be human is to suffer. No one gets an exemption. Lamentations keeps company with the extensive biblical witness that gives dignity to suffering by insisting that God enters our suffering and is companion to our suffering’ writes Eugene Peterson in his introduction to the book of Lamentations.
The book, as the name suggests, focuses on the sorrow, sadness, grief, pain, loss and tragedy that the people of God experienced during the exile.
The writer laments how the once great nation of Israel has gone into exile because of her many sins: ‘she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place’ (v.3, MSG) ... ‘lost everything’ (v.7, MSG) ... ‘Massacres in the streets, starvation in the houses’ (v.20, MSG).
As we read the chapters in today’s passage there seems to be very little hope. It is all about judgment and suffering. The writer says, ‘Is any suffering like my suffering …?’ (Lamentations 1:12) That is often how we feel when we are going through difficulties and trials.
He writes, ‘My sins have been bound into a yoke; by his hands they were woven together. They have come upon my neck and the Lord has sapped my strength. He has handed me over to those I cannot withstand’ (v.14).
The picture is of his sins being like a great heavy yoke around his neck, weighing him down. He is weary and burdened by his sins.
This is the experience of exile, judgment and immense suffering. The physical exile lasted approximately seventy years, but there was a sense in which the spiritual experience of exile continued.
Thank God that Jesus came to announce that the exile was well and truly over and that we need no longer go around weary and burdened by sins. Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:28–30).
This is the secret of doing good: it is to stay close to the one who went around doing good. It is to hand over our burdens to him and receive his rest. It is to take his yoke upon us as we learn from him, from his gentle, humble heart, because he is the source of doing good.
Lord, thank you that you are our Saviour. Thank you that you bore our sins on the cross. Thank you that you take the yoke of sin from us and remove its heavy burden. Thank you that when we are yoked to you, the yoke is easy and your burden is light. Help me today to stay close to you, to minister in the power of your Holy Spirit and, like you, to go around doing good.
‘Our people must ... not live unproductive lives’.
I wonder what God thinks is productive in our lives. Life is busy. Choosing what to do is hard. In God’s upside-down kingdom probably something we think is insignificant is the most important thing to God.