Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
There is a lot of Scripture about doing good works. It is written that “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26). And when Paul wrote to the church in Philippi he instructed them,
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:12-13).
And even during his final speech to the Israelites, Moses preached,
Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land that the Lord promised on oath to your forefathers, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said (Deuteronomy 6:18-19).
And yet, we know that our works mean nothing to our salvation. The Bible tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Well, if good works don’t touch my salvation; then what’s in it for me? Ok, I know that Jesus taught in Matthew 6:20, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal,” but I can’t see what the treasures in heaven are like nor do I know the exchange rate of good deed to heavenly treasure. While reading in Nehemiah, though, the Holy Spirit taught me another awesome benefit of doing good works.
When you’re focused on something, everything else takes a back seat. Think about the times you’ve been in love. When you’re in love, everything is a fuzzy blur. Or when you’re solving a problem everything else gets shut out. Sometimes when I’m working on a project I forget to eat until my wife reminds me. There’s a reason why we say, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” It’s true, when we’re focused on something, time does fly and other interests/needs get put on the back-burner. The same thing is true when we’re following our God-given tasks. Ok, so a little background on Nehemiah: he had been called to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This made the enemies of the Jews angry and they tried to disrupt Nehemiah. Let’s take a look at what happened:
When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it – though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates – Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”
But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer (Nehemiah 6:1-4).
Nehemiah was too busy and didn’t have time for Sanballat and his crew. He was doing a great work and would not be disturbed from it.
All day long our enemy, the devil, tries to tempt us into wrongdoing. But we’re supposed to completely reject him. After all, the Bible tells us, “’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). Even if you can keep yourself from getting angry, part two of that command (not giving the devil a foothold) is hard as heck. How can we resist sin? Sin is built into us and we’re surrounded by it! Even Paul, the ultimate-super apostle had trouble with sin. He wrote in Romans 7:21-25,
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
The answer to our sin problem is always God. But, from experience I can tell you that it’s extremely hard to use your love of God to become free from sin. However, when God sets us on a path, we can stay focused better because we’re serving a higher calling than ourselves. So, through our good works, we’re able to actually increase our holiness just by being focused on our God-given task.
This only works for Christians though. Any non-God-based work is ultimately a form of self service. Jesus taught,
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:3-4).
Secondly, the right work for you will come directly from God. Paul wrote to us,
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
God is the one who plans each person’s personal missions and equips them to succeed in said mission. Check out this passage from Nehemiah 7:4-5 and look at the motivator behind everything:
Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return. This is what I found written there…
The passage goes on to list names for almost the whole chapter, so I’ll save the space and cut it off there. But look at what happens; God motivated Nehemiah to assemble every one, and when he started doing so, the Lord also provided him with the genealogical record. When you’re doing a good work motivated by the Lord, he’ll provide you with the things you need to accomplish it- a resource non-Christians are unable to utilize. Therefore, as in all things, salvation must come first. And as Peter preached, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). That name, by the way, is Jesus. Only through Jesus can you be saved and find your calling in the Lord. After you have been saved though, you should pray and find out how God has called you. Nehemiah prayed every step of the way as he carried out God’s mission on his life. We read in Nehemiah 1:11,
“O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
I was cupbearer to the king.
And just a few verses later we find,
The king said to me, “What is it you want?”
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it” (Nehemiah 2:4-5).
Nehemiah prayed for guidance and for support and for strength. For a good work to truly succeed prayer is absolutely needed.
Go, therefore, and find what God has called you to do. Read the Word and be inspired. And, as you complete each task the Lord has set before you, feel your faith grow and the devil lose his power over you; that’s what happened in Nehemiah. History records,
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God (Nehemiah 6:15-16).
Living a godly life is an ongoing struggle; but working for the Lord makes a big difference- so give it a try!
Rock on God!