Love and Good Works

“Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” —Hebrews 10:24

THERE IS NO bond of unity as strong or as precious as that between fellow members of the body of Christ. Where this unity exists there is a blessed community of interest in which each follower of the Master is truly solicitous for the welfare of his brethren. He is interested in their spiritual progress, and seeks ways and means of encouraging them to greater love and devotion to the Lord and to his service. He is as interested in seeing them make their calling and election sure to joint-heirship with Christ as he is to gain the victory himself. No true Christian would knowingly jeopardize the spiritual well-being of his brethren in order to gain for himself an advantage.

There are many avenues along which it is our privilege to note the needs of our brethren, and to assist them. In our text the apostle sums these up under the general heading of ‘love and good works’, indicating that in considering our brethren we can render them valuable aid by exhorting them to faithfulness along these two general lines. By referring to love and good works the apostle emphasizes that both are important, and that either one without the other would lead to an imbalance in Christian character, and a dwarfing of true Christian growth.

As a matter of fact, when Christian love fills the heart, one of the inevitable manifestations will be a consuming zeal leading to self-sacrifice in good works. In I Thessalonians 1:3, the Apostle Paul speaks of the “labour of love.” The most striking example of the manner in which love labors for the benefit of others is that of our Heavenly Father himself.

“God is love,” the Scriptures tell us, and the evidence of this is seen in all that he has planned and done for his creatures. He causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine upon the just and the unjust. It was because he loved the world that he gave his dearly beloved Son to be the Redeemer. He loves his people, and demonstrates it by the many ways in which he bestows his blessings upon them. He gives them of his Holy Spirit; he gives them wisdom, and courage, and strength. He comforts them in their sorrows, and befriends them in their lonely hours. Furthermore, he chastens us because of his love, and reproves us for our wrongdoing, forgiving us when we go to him in faith and repentance.

God is zealous in the interests of his people because ‘he is love’. This means that when we exhort the brethren to love and good works we are encouraging them to be godlike in character. This is emphasized in the case of Jesus. One of the briefest, yet most comprehensive testimonies concerning the earthly life and ministry of Jesus is the statement that he “went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38) This was characteristic of his entire outlook and demeanor, and it was Jesus who said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”—John 14:9

In Jesus we see a practical example of Divine love in operation for the blessing of others. It inspired the Master to faithfulness in bearing the kingdom message to his own people, the Jewish nation. It led him to be solicitous for the welfare of his disciples, and to take a tender personal interest in them. Love also prompted the Master to declare hard, cutting truths concerning the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, and to expose the popular errors which they taught.

The spirit of Jesus’ life of devotion to his Heavenly Father was prophetically described by David in the prayer of dedication, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the Book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” (Ps. 40:7,8) In carrying out the spirit of consecration reflected in this beautiful prayer Jesus recognized that his Heavenly Father’s will for him was to bear witness to the loving kindness of God as revealed in the Divine plan of salvation.

David’s prophetic prayer concerning Jesus continues, “I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest. I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.”—Ps. 40:9,10

Jesus was at one with his Father, and motivated by the same Divine love which actuates God in all that he does. We see in him a wonderful example of the ‘labour of love’. (I Thess. 1:3) He was a faithful witness to the lovingkindness and the salvation of God. He did not hide the righteousness of God in his heart, but by word of mouth, by example, and by the marvelous miracles which he performed, set forth the plan of God for human salvation—that glorious plan which reveals the righteousness of God, his wisdom, justice, love, and power. We see, then, that in exhorting one another to love and to good works we are urging the development of Christ-likeness.


Love cannot fill the heart without manifesting itself in works of self-sacrifice for the blessing of others. It is equally true that works which are not the result of a filling of Divine love are not ‘good’ works. Jesus told of a class which would make professions of great activity in his name, claiming zeal in performing “many wonderful works.” (Matt. 7:22) Evidently, however, these works are not the outgrowth of Divine love, because Jesus describes those who perform them as those who “work iniquity.” (vs. 23) It is apparent from this that to be zealous in the work of the Lord is not in itself the evidence of true Christianity. The apostle speaks of a zeal which is “not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2), and it is also true that there can be a zeal which is not prompted by Divine love. In either case, the resultant works would not be acceptable to God. They would not be ‘good’ works.

In the apostle’s masterful and comprehensive treatise on love (I Cor. 13), he goes into considerable detail in order to emphasize that even those works which are in themselves intrinsically good are not acceptable to God unless prompted by love. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (vs. 1), he writes.

Speaking with the ‘tongues of men and of angels’ is in itself a laudable accomplishment when the gift of speech is employed in magnifying the name of God by making known the truth of his glorious plan of salvation. But even this Divinely provided means of serving the Lord would not be approved by him unless it is prompted by love. Should it be the result of selfish ambition rather than a labor of love, it would be ‘as sounding brass’.

Paul speaks of the fundamentally important element of faith and the works which faith accomplishes—even so great a faith as to be able to remove mountains—and explains that those who have such faith and by it perform such works without love, are as nothing. Faith in itself is good. Without faith it is impossible to please God. (Heb. 11:6) But in order for even faith to be pleasing to God it must be accompanied by love.

“Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor” (I Cor. 13:3), Paul continued, “and have not charity [love], it profiteth me nothing.” Here is a remarkable statement! It is quite possible that the reference is to what the Master himself had said to the rich young nobleman. When this young man asked the Master what good thing he could do to inherit eternal life, the answer was, “Go … sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” (Mark 10:21) Here is Jesus’ own declaration of that which can properly be considered good works. It is that which every Christian is expected to do. Consecration to the Lord calls for giving up all that we have, with the Lord directing how it shall be used in his service.

When Paul referred to this viewpoint of good works, it was not with the thought of saying that what Jesus had set forth as a necessary condition of discipleship was not fundamentally important, but rather to emphasize that even in the bestowing of our goods to feed the poor, love must be the impelling motive, else our sacrifice will avail nothing. As Paul saw the matter, it is not a choice between love and bestowing our goods to feed the poor, for if we have true love we will be inspired to use all that we have for the blessing of others.

It would be possible to make sacrifices on behalf of others which would be prompted by self-interest of one sort or another. Vainglory or the desire to be well thought of by neighbors or brethren might motivate one to great sacrifice. But no lasting profit would accrue therefrom in such a case. Works which in themselves are good would become tainted with evil as a result of the wrong motive that prompted them.


“Though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [love], it profiteth me nothing” (I Cor. 13:3), Paul continues. Here is a reference to the good works of a Christian viewed from the standpoint of the lessons taught in the services of the typical Tabernacle. In Romans 12:1 Paul exhorts, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” In the type, bodies of animals were sacrificed, and their bodies burned, but in the antitype we are to present our own bodies to be consumed in the performing of good works.

There is a beautiful reference to this in Hebrews 13:11-13. Here the apostle explains that in the type the bodies of those animals offered for sacrifice, whose blood was taken into the Most Holy for sin, were burned outside the camp. He tells us that in the fulfillment of this type, Jesus suffered and died “without [outside] the gate.” He then urges us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps that our bodies, symbolically speaking, might also be “burned.”—vs. 11

It is the Divine will that we give our bodies to be ‘burned’. It is only on this basis of suffering with Christ that we may hope to reign with him. Paul’s argument is, that unless love prompts the sacrifice, it will profit us nothing. If love does prompt us to faithfulness in giving our bodies to be burned, it will mean “glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.”—Rom. 2:7

It is apparent, then, that just as there cannot be true Christian love without that love manifesting itself in good works, so from God’s standpoint there can be no good works except those which are prompted by love. In performing the good works, love will be long-suffering and kind. It will not attempt to make a great display of what is being done, for humility is one of the components of love. Love will be patient with others, overlooking their unwilling imperfections. At the same time, love will be unyielding in its stand for God, for truth, and for righteousness. For this reason, some of the good works of love may appear stern, perhaps even unkind, to those who do not understand.


While the most quoted treatise in the Bible on Christian love is that of I Corinthians 13, written by the Apostle Paul, John is usually thought of as the apostle of love. Truly, John did write a great deal concerning love—the love of God, the love of Christ, and love among the brethren of Christ. It is John who tells us of the great love of God as exemplified in the gift of his Son to be man’s Redeemer. (John 3:16) It is John who quotes Jesus’ “new commandment” that we should love one another as he loved us.—John 13:34; I John 2:8-10; 4:11

John himself was activated by a consuming love for the brethren, yet he did not use love as a mask to cover wrongdoing among the brethren. In his second and third epistles we have two very notable examples of the manner in which love will seek to protect the best spiritual interests of the Lord’s people when they are in danger of being ensnared by false doctrine or of following selfish leadership. In this we have a clear indication that true Christian love does not stand idly by when the Lord’s people are in danger, that in such instances the work of love is to speak out to counsel and warn the brethren.

John’s second epistle is addressed to “the elect lady and her children.” (vs. 1) He writes that he “rejoiced greatly” (vs. 4) when he learned that this family continued “walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.” Then he exhorts the elect lady and her family to love one another, “and this is love, that we walk after his commandments.”—vs. 6

In this epistle John proceeds to show that walking in the truth involves great carefulness in the matter of those with whom we fellowship as well as those whom we assist. He writes, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”—vss. 10,11

Here is outlined a basic principle in the operation of Divine love; namely, that to the extent we lend our support to those whom we believe to be wrong, we are partakers of their wrongdoing. If we have a distorted conception of Divine love, and of how it should cause us to act, we might conclude that although we believe a brother is teaching wrong doctrines, we should consider his heart intentions and bid him God speed anyway, and recommend his services to the brethren. We might say that for ourselves we are holding to all the doctrines of the truth, but will continue to associate with, and thereby sponsor, those who are not, because love demands that we do this.

Such a course, however, is contrary to John’s instructions to the ‘elect lady’. He points out to her that to the extent she sponsors one who is wrong in doctrine, she is responsible for his spreading of error, just as responsible as though she herself became a minister of error. Here, then, is the true operation of love, the good work of love, in seeking to protect the brethren against the evil influence of those who would undermine the truth in their hearts and lives. In other words, love has compassion for the scattered and frightened sheep, but no mercy for the wolves in sheep’s clothing that may enter in among the sheep.

In John’s third epistle, the good work of love is seen from still another standpoint. This epistle is addressed to “the well-beloved Gains, whom I love in the truth.” (III John, vs. 1) Again John tells of his rejoicing to learn that his brethren continue to walk in the truth. It seems that in the district where Gaius lived, faithful ministers of the truth had been working—missionaries, apparently, from another territory. Gains appreciated the service of these and had taken them into his home and cared for them while they were in the district. Thus he enjoyed a share in their ministry, and was blessed accordingly. Just as the ‘elect lady ‘would have been guilty of the evil deeds of those who were working against the truth had she mistakenly, and in the name of love, taken them into her home, Gains became a partaker of the good works of these servants of the truth by entertaining them in his home.

In the same district where Gaius lived there was a man by the name of Diotrephes, who, while he professed to be a brother in the truth, was not so in reality. Evidently John had written to the brethren in this vicinity suggesting that he would be glad to come and visit them. When Diotrephes heard of this he began to oppose the idea. John explains that the reason for this was that Diotrephes “loveth to have the preeminence” among the brethren. (III John, vs. 9) Evidently he had been holding a whip hand over this ecclesia, encouraging the brethren to look up to him in all things, and he sensed that if the Apostle John should put in an appearance, this spell would be broken.

That the brethren would be richly blessed by John’s ministry, and led to new heights of grace and truth, did not concern this one who had become a ‘lord’ over God’s heritage. (I Pet. 5:3) He was concerned only in protecting his own interests. And in his selfish spirit he did not hesitate to speak out against John “with malicious words” (111 John, vs. 10), and threatened to expel from the ecclesia any who favored the proposed visit of the apostle. John, with his great heart of love, might have excused Diotrephes for this outburst of malice against him had he alone been concerned. But it had to do with the spiritual interests of the church, so love spoke out and exposed the wrongdoing in order that this ecclesia might be delivered from such an evil influence. This, indeed, was a work of love.


In Micah 6:8, the principle of love is shown in its proper relationship to other elements of Christian character. Although this admonition was, in the first instance, addressed to fleshly Israel, the fundamental principles of God’s requirements as here set forth are the same for his people in every age. “What doth the Lord require of thee,” the prophet asks, “but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

To ‘do justly’ simply means to follow the Golden Rule—to be governed by the principle of justice in all dealings with our fellowman. This, in itself, is a very exacting requirement. It would probably put a check on many of our words and deeds if always we would ask ourselves whether what we are about to say or do is exactly what we would like others to say or do to us. Surely, though, the followers of the Master should endeavor always to be guided by this principle. But to follow the course of justice does not make one a Christian.

To ‘love mercy’ is the next requirement, and this goes far beyond the demands of justice. The word ‘mercy’ in this passage is a translation of a Hebrew word meaning ‘loving-kindness’, or ‘love’. And when the prophet says that we should love loving-kindness, he uses a Hebrew word which means ‘affectionate love’. We are, then, to be ‘in love’ with loving-kindness. In other words, our vision of the love of God, and our endeavor that his love motivate our every thought and word and deed, should be the all-absorbing theme of our lives. We are not to think of loving God and our brethren as a duty, but are to be in love with God’s will for us. We are to be so in love with this great principle of godlikeness that we will gladly lay down our lives for others, even as Christ, activated by the same spirit, sacrificed his life for us. Thus love and good works will go hand in hand.

There is still another requirement mentioned by the Prophet Micah in chapter 6: we are to “walk humbly” with our God. (vs. 8) As far as the abstract principle of unselfishness is concerned, there are many in the world who are more or less influenced by it. Thousands of doctors, nurses, relief and charity workers, are wholehearted and self-sacrificing in their efforts to do good, to help the needy, and to relieve suffering. They will have their reward in the day of their visitation, or when the millennial kingdom begins.

Christians, however, should look to the Lord for guidance as to the manner in which their sacrifices are to be made. It is this that is involved in ‘walking humbly’ with God. Not only must the motive be right, but our zeal for good works must be directed by the Word of God if our works are actually to be good. In a general way, God has made his will plain for his people, and to walk humbly before him, it remains only to be guided by his will.

The Gospel Age is not the time for the world to be reformed and converted, so works calculated to bring about such an end would not be in harmony with God’s will. One might lay down his life unselfishly in an attempt to reform the world through political, or other efforts, but in doing so, he would not be walking humbly before God.

God’s work during this age is the call and development of the church, the body of Christ. This is done through the power of the truth, the Word of God. Hence, the truth is given to the brethren to circulate, to promote, to promulgate, in order that it might reach those who have a hearing ear, and that through its mighty power they may be drawn to the Lord, and prepared for joint-heirship in the kingdom. Thus we are commanded to hold forth the Word of life; to let our light shine; to preach the Word; to build one another up in the faith.

This Divine program for the people of God has been in operation since Pentecost; and it will continue in operation until the last member of the body of Christ has passed beyond the veil. At the beginning of the second presence of Christ there was a change from sowing to reaping; but the reaping, as well as the sowing, has been accomplished by the same method; namely, the proclamation of the truth. Now, in addition to the general truth of the Gospel, there are the dispensational truths due at the end of the age. These also are to be promulgated; for they, as well as the general message of the Gospel, are essential today for the protection and building up of the brethren.

To walk humbly with God, therefore, means that our love-inspired hearts and minds and bodies will be devoted to this service of the brethren through the ministration of the truth. Beginning with evangelism, and continuing along all lines of activity by which we are able to assist one another in putting on the whole armor of God, our thought should be, first and foremost, directed toward the spiritual welfare of our brethren. In this way the ‘bride’ makes herself ready for union with her heavenly ‘bridegroom’ (Rev. 21:2,9; John 3:29); and in laying down our lives in good works of this nature we are walking humbly with our God.

Let us not, then, assume to decide for ourselves what the Lord wants us to do. He has no private plan for each of us as individuals. His plan and his will concerning the way of sacrifice is the same for all, and if we are walking humbly with our God we will endeavor, through prayer and the study of his Word, to understand his plan clearly, and humbly yield ourselves in obedience to it. The love of God, with its all-consuming power, will find expression in ‘good works’ which will have our Heavenly Father’s approval.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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