The Good Thing
Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? This was the first question Saul of Tarsus (who became Paul the apostle) had for the Lord after he had “seen the Light” on the road to Damascus. For a long time he had a religious zeal but was an enemy of the Cross and of the believers in Christ, but now his eyes were opened to see Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. Without delay, he was baptised, “And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God... proving that this is very Christ.” (Acts 9:20-22). This changed the course of his whole life. He was now set on the straight and narrow path to follow Christ wherever He would lead him, even if it meant his own suffering, persecution and death.
Paul became so committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ that he became a shining example to all believers of how we ought to walk in this present evil world. He could un-hypocritically say, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
Down through the ages, many of the saints have often wondered as the apostle Paul, “What wilt thou have me to do Lord?” They may not have seen a shining light, they may not have heard an audible voice from heaven, but they have heard and believed the gospel, they love Him and now want to follow Him wherever He leads. Christ has now become their Life and they no longer want to follow the course of this world, living their lives without purpose and hope.
But unlike Paul, we now have the whole council of God, both the Old and New Testaments, to direct us and teach us what manner of persons we ought be and how we ought to behave as believers in Christ. At the first we may have some grandiose dreams of doing something great and stupendous for Christ, and let me tell you, YOU will. For there is nothing greater or more awesome in this world than to live the great adventure, having the promises of God, whereby we might continue in His Word and follow His footsteps. And if we do follow Him, He said, “I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)
For the most part, it will not be to found some great missionary movement, it will not be to establish a famous Christian college, it will not be to create some worldwide reaching ministry, but for the disciple of Christ, it will be to point to the One whose Name is above all Names, the One who has done great and mighty things for us whom He loves, even conquering the grave, when He died for our sins, and rose again from the dead. There can be nothing greater in life, than telling a lost soul about God's amazing grace and mercy that He has shown to us through His Son Jesus Christ.
In this fashion, the people of God, entrusted with the gospel of Jesus Christ, are to be salt and light to a corrupt and dying world, to bring them the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began. They are to present to them a living hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and they are to engage themselves right wherever they find themselves in their everyday living.
In the light of the soon return of Christ, Peter had asked, “what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11).
I first thought to make a simple list of general instructions as to how we ought to conduct ourselves in our present situation, and quickly came to the realization that this could take volumes. So a precise and simple list was out of the question. So in these notes, I thought instead to make mention of just one instruction that the Bible has much to speak on, that is, how we ought to labor and work in our everyday living.
The Good Thing
The apostle Paul said, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” (Ephesians 4:28) If there is anything that is good in life, it is to work with your own hands in order to provide for your own living and that of your family. This is quite the serious task, for the apostle Paul said, “if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8).
The purpose of our labor is primarily to provide food and raiment (1 Timothy 6:8), not only for our immediate family, but also to those in need of food and clothing (James 2:14-17). Work was not designed for the purpose to gain treasures for ourselves in this world, but, to “support the weak” (Acts 20:35). By definition, those that are in need, are those, primarily, who are not able to work, for Paul has also admonished us, “that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
There are two categories, those who “would not work”, who “refuse to labor” (Proverbs 21:25) and those who cannot work. In the Bible there were many who were blind, lame, had a palsy, were dumb, inflicted with disease, lepers, widows and the fatherless, or due to other circumstances of life, fell on hard times and found themselves without. These were not to be neglected. (Romans 15:25-27; Acts 11:27-30)
These were all in need of help and in this sense, we are to be our “brother's keeper”. The government has took it upon themselves to play “big brother” with the tax dollars of its subjects, and to provide “entitlements”, almost to anyone who can fill out a form. This is not the most efficient or watchful way to ensure the system does not get abused by those who are able bodied but not willing to work. The needs of the weak should be met first and foremost, directly by those who are blessed with good health and able bodies, and by their labour have more than their daily bread to help those in need (Luke 14:13; Proverbs 14:21, 31).
Now, if one has become rich in this world, it can be a dangerous thing, for Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25) In the parable of the Sower, some of the seed (which is the Word of God), fell among the thorns, and was likened to “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19) One can be a Christian and rich, but there is a great danger that riches can hinder the believer's walk, so much so, that the Word of God in his life can become choked out and become unfruitful.
Paul would admonish Timothy to, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate” (1 Timothy 6:17-18). Those who are rich are to be “ready and willing” to jump into action when they become aware of those in their midst that are truly in need. This is a very basic charge for believers, for we are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10).
We are told, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24) We must never forget Whom we serve. We are told, “whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), so our every service, our every gift, should not necessarily be done as to men, but the Lord.
In that Day, Jesus told those who would inherit the kingdom, “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:35-39)
Jesus said, the whole of the Law and the prophets could be summed up in two commandments, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind... And ...Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) He went on to say who was His neighbor and gave the example of the Good Samaritan, who helped a total stranger who could not repay him (Luke 10:30-37). Our charity ought to go beyond those in our own circle (Galatians 6:9-10), in fact, Jesus said, “love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again” (Luke 6:31-36). God loves the whole world, irrespective of persons. He provides His sun and His rain upon all, whether they are good or evil (Matthew 5:45). He is “kind unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke 6:35).
Jesus said, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them” (Matthew 6:1). It is in the fallen human nature to seek the praise of men (John 12:43), wanting some sort of human recognition. But in fulfilling our duty, it ought not to be “with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:6-8).
If we do labor fervently as unto the Lord, it should not be for the purpose of “seeking mine own profit” (1 Corinthians 10:33), to gain some worldly inheritance or riches (Proverbs 23:4), but at the same time, it does not mean that wealth might not come our way (Proverbs 10:4). Most of us cannot be entrusted with worldly riches, so it is a good thing that most of us are kept poor. Nevertheless, we must remember, that worldly riches can come, and they can go (Proverbs 23:5), but treasure in heaven is forever (Matthew 6:19-21).
Do not be too consumed with that earthly retirement pension that we may never collect. We do not know what any day shall bring. Like the lilies of the field, so soon we are withered and go back to the earth, so rather, let's be sure today, that we are depositing true riches in heaven. “That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (1 Timothy 6:18-19). We should be mindful that we came into the world naked and we shall leave the same way (1 Timothy 6:7; Ecclesiastes 5:15), and all that is in the world will one day be burned up when the Lord creates a new heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1; 2 Peter 3:10-13), which shall replace this sin cursed earth.
Many of these principles are laid out in the story of the steward, which the Lord told His disciples. Read Luke 16:1-13. Here we find that either riches will be your master or God will be your master. We have all been given a stewardship on this earth and are on probation. It is given to us in trust (1 Peter 4:10). If one is faithful in little, he will be faithful in much. If we are faithful in the little things of this life, we will be entrusted with far greater riches in eternity. We should not be seeking some temporal benefit, but an eternal reward. Laying up money to provide for our earthly future is foolish. It should be used instead to make eternal friends, ministering to the needs of those who are going to heaven, that they may receive us in “everlasting habitations”. These are the works that follow us (Revelation 14:13). This is treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20). When we die, our ability to do good with our money ends. For a good perspective on this, read Luke 12:15-31.
As for this industrial age that we live in, there are more riches and wealth in many parts of the world than in any other generation. It has been coined by some as the “entitlement generation” because of the abundance of wealth. Children have grown up never knowing what it is to be without, have never felt hunger pangs, have always had food and raiment and much more. So much more, that it has led to much covetousness which is idolatry. Let us hear Paul's classic admonition on this wise.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
Laboring for the sole purpose of gaining riches is an evil thing (Ecclesiastes 5:13) and there are many within the “church” who preach this false “prosperity gospel”. In the last days, many will become filthy rich, but in most cases it will be due to corruption, and in the end, it will be for their own misery (James 2:1-8). It is incumbent upon us, in a day when so many idolize the “rich and famous”, to guard our hearts from the subtlety of riches that can tempt the believer with many foolish and hurtful lusts.
Now on the other hand, in this “entitlement” generation, there is a bad attitude against working for an honest living. They want all the “stuff”, but are not willing to go out and work hard for it. There is a delusional thinking by some that the “government” should provide the funds for all their needs without them working for it. They have the “Robin Hood” mentality, that government ought to take from the rich, that for which they may have worked hard for, and give it to the poor, meaning them, who refuse to work for their own sustenance.
Others will work only as necessary to gain enough stamps to collect unemployment benefits so they can sit idle for much of the year. And then there are others content with welfare, who are able bodied, but refuse to work. Because welfare and UI are lucrative enough to get by on, and in many cases pays as much as if they were to go to work, it discourages them from going back to work.
We should understand that even before sin entered into the world, labor was a part of God's very good creation. “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” (Genesis 2:15) Man was to “till the ground” (Genesis 2:5) as God made to grow every tree, pleasant to the eye and good for food. But more than that, God had said, “let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)
The dominion mandate entailed far more than agriculture, and tilling the ground for their food. If one was to have dominion over all the earth and its creatures, under their God ordained stewardship, man would have to study and learn about the earth and its creatures, in order to care for and manage the earth with all its resources under their dominion. As they learned about God's creation, we can see how this would quickly expand into all the sciences with their corresponding research and development, resulting in every field of technology, appropriate for man's benefit and God's glory as they learned more of Him, how great and marvellous are all His works, through His incredible creation.
The Lord God loves all men, He has lavished upon men so many wonderful benefits (Psalm 68:19; Psalm 103:1-5), even “unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke 6:35). But when a nation has been blessed with “fullness of bread” and do not “strengthen the hand of the poor and needy”, but bask in an “abundance of idleness”, this is “iniquity” (Ezekiel 16:49).
If one wants to be a sloth, he would certainly hate heaven, for we are told, “And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him” (Revelation 22:3). Life in the kingdom of God will consist of meaningful and purposeful service, and there will be no room for slothfulness, which the Bible has much to say about.
“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man” (Proverbs 6:6-11).
The ant is a most excellent example of a good worker. He sees what needs to be done without any instruction, and gets it done.
“He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster.” (Proverbs 18:9)
“Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger.” (Proverbs 19:15)
“The desire of the slothful killeth him, for his hands refuse to labour” (Proverbs 21:25).
“As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed.” (Proverbs 26:14)
“By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.” (Ecclesiastes 10:18)
There may be many reasons given today for poverty, but the Bible says it is due to slothfulness. “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.” (Proverbs 24:30-34).
This is what happens in many cases to those who refuse to work, they lust and they have not because they refuse to work for an honest living, and in many cases, turn to stealing to fulfill their covetousness, and in many cases by armed robbery.
Now in our early years, we may not have a perfect vision of what we are called to do in this life, but “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). And when you put your hand to the plow, so to say, “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (Ephesians 4:1), “being fruitful in every good work” (Colossians 1:10), “for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:24).
Our service was not to be limited to a four or five day work week, rather, “Six days shalt thou labor; and do all thy work” (Deuteronomy 5:13). This was inscribed right in the Ten Commandments, where we are given a pattern to labor six days and rest one (Exodus 20:9-11). Neither is man's work to be confined to a 40 hour work week, or a 9 to 5 job, it was to be until “evening” (Psalm 104:23).
This was the example Paul followed, “Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us” (2 Thessalonians 3:8-9). Paul would not be chargeable to any man, and followed the example of Jesus Christ “who went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), who said from a young age, “I must be about my Father's business” (Luke 2:49). And again, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
We have all heard the saying, Idle hands are the devil's workshop. Here is what Paul had to say on this. “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-15).
Sadly, many in this generation have not been taught by example, to labor with their hands. Idleness is usually something that is learned, and leads to activities that are not good. They “learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13). The only thing that seems to work is their lips gossiping.
There is a day coming when we shall truly rest from our labors. There is many a tombstone with the inscription, “Rest in Peace”. We pray that that will be the case for everyone who reads this message, that is, their “rest” will be “in peace”. The Bible tells us in one place, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: . . . that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13). This in contrast to those who received the mark of the beast and are doomed for hell, “they have no rest day nor night” (Revelation 14:11).
True rest for the soul is found only in Christ Jesus our Lord. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). On earth, there was a Sabbath for the body. One day in seven man was to rest from his six days of labor and work. This is what Sabbath means, rest. God had patterned the week from the beginning of creation (Exodus 20:11). The Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27). But the Sabbath was really “a shadow of good things to come” (Colossians 2:16-17, Hebrews 10:1).
The writer of Hebrews said, there was “a rest (Gr. Sabbatismos) to the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9), which one enters through faith and belief of the gospel. It is Christ who finished (John 19:30) the work of salvation on the cross of Calvary. When sin is finished in a man's life it brings forth death (James 1:15), but Jesus Christ “hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). Today, by God's grace, we can enter into that blessed rest through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), when we believe the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). And “he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:10).
All the “Sabbath cults” seem to have missed this, that true rest comes only when one ceases from their own labor, that is, trying to come to God by keeping the works of the Law, by which no man can be justified (Galatians 3:11, 24). They fail to see that it is only Jesus who fulfilled the Law and was without sin, and therefore able to bear the sins of the world to take them away. He buried them, never to be brought up again, when He rose from the dead for our justification (Romans 4:24-25; 5:1). God is just, and the justifier (Romans 3:26) of them which believe on Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31), trust Him (Ephesians 1:12-13), and receive Him (John 1:11-13) as their Savior from sin (Matthew 1:21).
Might we endeavor, in whatever our hand finds to do, to do it “heartily as unto the Lord”, so that one day, we might hear the wonderful voice of the Lord saying, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of the Lord” (Matthew 25:21).
Every believer who has been born again has been saved by faith in believing the gospel, and from thence is “created unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10). It is these very works whereby one can see a man's faith, and so faith together with works is made perfect, and as far as man can see is justified thereby, a proof that they have believed God. These are the “things that accompany salvation” (Hebrews 6:9-12). They have believed on Him that justifies the ungodly and their faith, their faith alone, is counted for righteousness, even the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21) which is by faith without works (James 1:17-26).
“Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:8).
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
“For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Hebrews 6:10)
“Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” (1 Corinthians 3:8)
“Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:12)