“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
THE APOSTLE PAUL’S words to Titus speak of God’s plan during this Gospel Age to develop a faithful people who are zealous and devoted to “good works.” Such works are those which have been authorized by God through his Word, and thus blessed by him. The Lord’s people of the present age have responded to the heavenly call, and have given their hearts to God in consecration. (Ps. 34:18; Prov. 23:26) Willing to daily lay down their lives in his service, they have zeal and enthusiasm in pursuit of the divine cause, saying with Paul, “For to me to live is Christ.”—Phil. 1:21
This singular attitude and mindset is expressed elsewhere by Paul with these words: “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” “This one thing I do.” (I Cor. 2:2; Phil. 3:13) To be fully devoted to divine service requires, first of all, careful and continual study of God’s plan. Second, it includes the imbibing of God’s spirit in our hearts. Third, these must then result in enthusiastic zeal for the accomplishment of the Heavenly Father’s purposes, especially as they relate to our walk.
OLD TESTAMENT WORKS
In the Old Testament we find many notable examples of zeal in the work of the Lord. One of these is the occasion when, directed by God, Moses called upon the people of Israel to volunteer their services and donate materials to be used in the building and furnishing of the Tabernacle. The people were profoundly stirred by the spirit of God. The response to this call was so great that Moses found it necessary to urge the people to cease bringing their offerings, because more than what was necessary had been furnished.—Exod. 36:1-7
Another example of zeal for God and for his work is the account of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem after the Israelites had returned from their captivity in Babylon, recorded in the book of Nehemiah, chapters 1-6. Two verses which beautifully summarize this work read as follows: “So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.” “So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days.”—Neh. 4:6; 6:15
There had been much delay in getting this work completed. The enemies of the Jews had threatened to attack, and continually assailed them with words of ridicule in an attempt to discourage them. In addition, materials were not plentiful. The supply of stones was limited to what they could find amongst the rubble from the destruction of the former walls decades earlier. Despite numerous setbacks and delays, the people caught the zealous spirit of Nehemiah, risking their own lives to join in the work. Encouraged by Nehemiah and having confidence in his ability to supervise the work properly, they labored on until the wall was finished. Summing up their renewed zeal, the account states that “the people had a mind to work.”—Neh. 4:6
Nehemiah reveals one of the primary reasons for their success, saying, “We made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them [their enemies] day and night.” (vs. 9) The fact that the Israelites prayed indicates that the basis of their confidence, and the inspiration of their zeal, was the Lord. Indeed, this is the secret of success in every work authorized by God and zealously undertaken by his people, and the assurance of victory in every battle for truth and righteousness. Nehemiah and his co-workers had watched, and prayed, and worked, providing a formula that would assure success to those engaged in work for God in every age, regardless of the obstacles which might lay in front of them.
GOSPEL AGE WORKS
The work of God during the present age has not been the constructing of literal city walls. Rather, it has been the building up of his people in their “most holy faith.” (Jude 1:20) Paul identifies this individual work as that of being developed as a “new creature.” The foundation upon which each one engages in this building work, the apostle explains, is Christ, and the proper materials to be used are symbolically spoken of as “gold, silver, precious stones.”—II Cor. 5:17; I Cor. 3:11-13
Another illustration given in the Scriptures of the divinely commissioned work we are to presently be engaged in is that of a bride making herself ready for marriage. The church, as an espoused bride, is preparing herself to be united with the “Lamb,” which is Christ. (II Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:7,8) Each individual member of the prospective bride has a work to do, but it is the collective, and cooperative, work of the entire bride class to become prepared for the marriage—she makes “herself ready.” We can scarcely think of a prospective bride preparing for her wedding who does not have a “mind to work.”
The Apostle John wrote that those who are begotten of God overcome the world, “and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (I John 5:4) Faith in our Heavenly Father and in his Son, our Lord Jesus, is of vital importance. Paul said that without faith, it is impossible for us to please God, “for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Heb. 11:6) The phrase “them that diligently seek” in the original Greek text means to “search out, investigate.” This implies effort and work on our part as we develop our structure of faith.
JESUS’ MESSAGE AND TEACHINGS
In concluding his sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24, New American Standard Bible) Here the Master compares zealous obedience to his teachings to the work of building solidly upon a rock. To understand and act upon “these words of Mine” we first look back to the beginning of Jesus’ sermon, and the giving of the Beatitudes. These emphasize the need for humility, sympathy for the groaning creation, a meek and teachable spirit, a desire for righteousness, as well as exercising mercy, striving for purity of heart, and being peacemakers. Having these, Jesus adds, will result in our being reviled and persecuted by the world, but in this event, his exhortation is, “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.”—Matt. 5:3-12
“Ye are the salt of the earth,” Jesus continues, warning us against losing our “savour,” or taste. (vs. 13) We have nothing of ourselves that qualifies as a pleasant “savour.” It is thus evident that this reference is to something which the Lord has given us—namely, his truth and the spirit of the truth, which we are to reflect in our words and actions toward others. In this regard, Jesus stated, “Ye are the light of the world,” and to thus let our light “shine before men,” that they might see our “good works,” and glorify, either now or in the next age, the Heavenly Father. (vss. 14-16) While Jesus refers to the light as though it is ours, in reality it is the light of divine truth which the Lord has caused to shine in our hearts, and which he here bids us to make known to others.—II Cor. 4:6; I Pet. 2:9
The light which we reflect is the truth of God’s plan. In it is revealed his character attributes of wisdom, justice, love and power, which harmoniously work together to reveal his glory. “Holding forth the word of life” is then one of the great privileges given us, in which we will “rejoice in the day of Christ,” having not “run in vain, neither labored in vain.” (Phil. 2:16) Every true disciple of the Master is hopeful of reigning with him in his kingdom, but Jesus said that we would “in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven” unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. (Matt. 5:20) The righteousness which exceeds this is based on heart purity and a zeal for God and for his work which does not look for the praise and honor of men.
MAGNIFYING THE LAW
Jesus explained that he did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. (Matt. 5:17) He also magnified the law by expanding upon its principles, and by showing that obedience to it went beyond the mere letter. It encompassed the spirit of the law. For example, Jesus said that hatred of one’s brother constitutes murder just as much as literally taking a person’s life, and that going voluntarily to those whom we have wronged with a sincere desire to make amends is a much greater sign of true repentance than bringing an offering to the altar.—vss. 21-26
“These words” of the Master also include his admonition to sacrifice every precious thing, according to the flesh, in the interests of righteousness. Those things represented to us by our right eye, right hand, or right foot must be carefully guarded. These represent our view of the world around us, the work of our hands, and our daily walk of life. Fleshly inclinations along these lines should be “cut off” and cast aside. (Matt. 5:29,30; 18:8,9) Only those who truly “have a mind to work” at character building can obey injunctions of this kind. The flesh urges moderation and compromise rather than sacrifice. Such reasoning “exalteth itself against the knowledge of God,” and must be rejected.—II Cor. 10:5
In Matthew 5:31-48, Jesus continues his sermon with more teachings which were magnifications of God’s law, bringing them to a climax by stating that we should love even our enemies. To this he adds that if we display that comprehensive love which reaches out to bless all mankind we will be “children” of our Heavenly Father, and be “perfect,” or made complete in character, even as our “Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER
Also included in the teachings of the Master is the importance of prayer. If we “have a mind to work” in accordance with the doing of God’s will, we will be faithful in watching and praying, and will be guided by the outline given to us by Jesus in his model prayer. (Matt. 6:9-13) We will delight to pray “Our Father,” recognizing the holiness of his name, and our relationship to him as his children. Prominent in our prayers will also be the desire to see the world blessed by the setting up of the kingdom “in earth, as it is in heaven.” We will not make elaborate requests for ourselves, but ask only for needful things, both temporal and spiritual. “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Realizing how far short we come of the glory of God, and our great need for divine forgiveness, we will ask God for his mercy. We know, however, that we cannot expect his forgiveness unless we forgive those who trespass against us. Because we have the assurance that God does not tempt his people with evil, we will also claim this promise, and ask the Heavenly Father to “deliver us” from the evil with which our great Adversary desires to ensnare us.—James 1:13
We must never underestimate the importance of having an active prayer life. We are assured that nothing is too great or too small to take to God in prayer. The Scriptures abound with such admonitions. “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” “Give thanks always for all things unto God.” “Pray without ceasing.” “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”—Luke 18:1; Eph. 5:20; I Thess. 5:17; I Pet. 5:7
LAYING UP TREASURES
Part of our zeal for good works is shown by laying up “treasures in heaven,” and not “upon earth,” for where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21) This teaching of the Master is one of the most exacting. Earthly treasures are often the source of man’s security, and it requires great faith to realize that our real safety and refuge is to be found in the promises of God. Other scriptures indicate, without doubt, that reasonable provision is to be made for our temporal needs and for those dependent upon us. However, our interpretation of what is reasonable might well make the difference between faithfulness and unfaithfulness in the laying up of our “treasures.”
The “light of the body,” Jesus explained, “is the eye,” symbolic of our focus and direction in life. He then says, “If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.” (Matt. 6:22,23) The “single” eye might well represent a wholehearted and single-minded focus on heavenly things. By contrast, an eye that is “evil,” is one that is “full of labors, annoyances, hardships.” (Thayer’s Greek Definitions) In other words, it is multi-focused, and will surely lead us in the direction of darkness. Having a single eye can be best described by Jesus’ admonition, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” with the assurance that all our legitimate material needs will be furnished.—vs. 33
MORE WORDS OF THE MASTER
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” We are not qualified to sit in judgment of others. In his teaching along this line, Jesus indicates that the tendency to judge others might well represent a hypocritical attitude on our part—that there is more wrong with ourselves than with those we attempt to judge. We are to “have a mind to work,” not by pulling out the “mote,” or speck, in our brother’s eye, but by casting the much larger “beam” out of our own eye.—Matt. 7:1-5
The Master’s words encourage us to go to the Heavenly Father for his guidance in all things, and to not hold back in so doing. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” He assures us that “every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matt. 7:7,8) God is also pleased to “give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.”—Luke 11:13
Those who are devoted to good works will not seek merely the easiest way to serve the Lord. They have entered into this relationship knowing, “How narrow is the gate of life! How difficult that way leading thither! And how few are they who find it.” (Matt. 7:14, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott) To fulfill the work entrusted to us is not an easy task, but requires much diligence and effort. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”—Luke 12:48, NASB
It is because of this that not many walk in the narrow way of sacrifice and suffering. Yet, it is the only way which, by “patient continuance in well doing,” will lead to “glory and honour and immortality.” (Rom. 2:7) It is found only by those who “have a mind to work” at the cost of weariness, sacrifice, and finally of life itself.
In the last of “these words,” Jesus warns, “Not every one that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This is a heart-searching statement for each of us. Only “he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven,” Jesus continues, will realize this promised hope. (Matt. 7:21) Throughout his sermon on the mount, Jesus outlines one detail after another of the divine will for his footstep followers. He concludes by saying that those who enter the heavenly kingdom keep his words by doing the will of God. Their work, zealously performed, will stand because they have built upon a solid rock, not upon shifting sands.—vss. 24-27
After Pentecost, the apostles filled in many more details of the divine will, but in “these words” of Jesus, all the fundamental principles of Christian living are found. It is the blueprint by which we are to build the superstructure of our Christian character, and blessed are we if we implicitly follow the Master’s instructions. His words and example are also a guide from which we learn the importance of being zealously devoted to good works.
Regardless of all other labors for the Lord in which we might engage, the most critical aspect of our devotion to good works is that which relates to the full accomplishment of our salvation. Paul instructs us: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” In exhorting us along this line, the apostle assures us that God is also working in us “both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12,13) The task is too great for us to accomplish alone, so we rejoice in the assurance that God is working in us, and, in fact, is supervising this very work. He is directing it, and by the indwelling of his Spirit, gives us needed guidance and direction so that we may do our part successfully. If we have “a mind to work,” we will not quench God’s Spirit but be filled with its holy influence to keep us zealous in the great task at hand.—I Thess. 5:19; Eph. 5:18
The Apostle Peter instructs us: “Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end.” (I Pet. 1:13) This suggests a long and laborious undertaking. When Nehemiah and his co-laborers were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, they did not even remove their clothes at night. They had to be continually ready to meet the enemy, and at the same time carry on the work with as little interruption as possible. Such is our position today. The Adversary is seeking to devour us. We must resist him by being “stedfast in the faith” and by constantly wearing the “whole armour of God,” while at the same time continuing to work out our salvation.—I Pet. 5:8,9; Eph. 6:10-18
THE GREAT OBJECTIVE
The work of God in this age is in preparation for that which he has promised to do in the next age. That will be the blessing of all the families of the earth, and it is this grand future work for which we are being trained. Through the application of the divine principles of righteousness in our lives now, we are being prepared to administer God’s law to the poor, groaning creation during the Messianic kingdom on earth. How wonderfully divine wisdom is displayed in the arrangements he has made for our present training to be “kings and priests unto God.”—Rev. 1:6
As was the case with Nehemiah and his co-laborers, our work is not only an individual matter, but also a collective one. Together we work, within our local ecclesias, and among other organized groups of brethren. We are to be zealous and do our part in all of these cooperative efforts among the brotherhood. Admonishing the church both individually and collectively, Paul writes, “As we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”—Rom. 12:4,5
Throughout the present age, every group of the Lord’s people has been a mixed one as respects individual progress and development, and it is still so. In Paul’s many letters to the ecclesias of the Early Church, his words often reflect the varying degrees of spiritual development which existed among the brethren. To the church at Rome, for example, he wrote: “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.”—Rom. 15:1,2
It is the experience of all the Lord’s people who are faithful in trying to help others understand the Truth, that never is the message of the Gospel so precious and such a great power of regeneration in their own lives, as when they tell it to others. Likewise, never is a congregation of God’s people more alive, more joyful in the Spirit, more enthusiastic for the Truth and more spiritually healthy, than when there are those new to the message of truth to nurture and to build up in our “most holy faith.”—Jude 1:20
The Apostle Paul wrote to the brethren at Rome that they be “not slothful in business,” but “fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.” (Rom. 12:11) The “business” here referred to is unquestionably the Lord’s business, his work, the various phases of which the apostle had just outlined. (vss. 6-10) We are to be fervent, or zealous, in God’s business, just as Nehemiah and the Israelites had “a mind to work” on the walls of Jerusalem.
The cooperative works in the church today are essentially as they were when Paul wrote his epistles, though the methods have changed over time. Today, the use of tracts, booklets, email, the internet and other forms of electronic media, live and recorded broadcasts, and other available avenues of service may facilitate and even expand the Lord’s work. Yet, none of these deprive any of the privilege of helping. Each of us can be a messenger of God’s Word and a devoted advocate of his love to all who have a hearing ear. Among the brotherhood, we can all send cards and letters of encouragement, make phone calls and personal visits to those needing encouragement, or perhaps travel to visit isolated brethren who may crave fellowship. The point is that if we have a mind to work—first in applying the principles of the Truth in our lives, and then in helping to reach out to and serve others—we will find much to do in helping to build the walls of the new spiritual Jerusalem.
When Nehemiah and his co-workers had nearly finished the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, and completion of the gates was all that remained, Israel’s enemies asked that they stop and go meet with them. Nehemiah knew, however, that they only meant mischief. He sent messengers to them saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.”—Neh. 6:1-3
This is an important lesson for us. While the Gospel Age work of preparing the church to live and reign with Christ a thousand years may soon be completed, we are still highly honored with the privilege of continuing to “build.” More than ever before, the enemies of the Lord, the Truth, and his people, are endeavoring to attract us away from the job. All sorts of temptations to ease, thoughts that there is no more work to do, and myriads of other misleading arguments, are being presented to God’s consecrated people. In response to all these, may we always have the courage to say, “I am doing a great work,” by the Lord’s grace, and “I cannot come down.”
We have no claim to boast of having “done many wonderful works.” Rather, our works are primarily those of keeping “these words” of the Master. By keeping them, we are preparing ourselves, and, collectively one another, to be found worthy of entering the heavenly kingdom. Let us, dear brethren, each strive to be zealously devoted to good works, demonstrated daily in our lives, until the end of our earthly sojourn.