Scriptures about relevance to action
From SaveTheWorld - a project of The Partnership Machine, Inc. (Sponsor: Family Music Center)
Titus 3:8 tells us "good works" are "profitable". Not only "profitable", but it is as profitable as many modern "doctrine hunts" are unprofitable.
"Profitable" and "unprofitable" denote two conditions which are opposite of each other. When that which is "profitable" degenerates, it moves towards the "unprofitable" end of the scale. And vice versa.
By calling "good works" "profitable" and "foolish questions..." "unprofitable", is God hinting that good works can degenerate into foolish questions? That the two are opposite ends of the same scale? Is this our everyday experience? Is there more definite Scriptural support for such a concept?
Perhaps, indeed, it is our everyday experience that "good works" degenerate into "foolish questions".
Our first impression would be that the opposite of "good works" is "bad works". That is, that one switches from intensely good actions to just as intensely acting out evil. But if you think about it, such a switch does not occur without a spiritual transformation, an anti-conversion experience. However, such a person would not be the target of Paul's letter. Paul would not have attempted to offer advice to a person avidly committed to wickedness.
Yet it is a familiar, everyday experience for our "good works" to degenerate. We don't need to wholly forfeit our salvation and give ourselves to Satan for our good works to wholly degenerate. But when that happens, the opposite is not "bad works", but something else. First they become "half-hearted works". Then one becomes inactive; actions, or "works", cease, giving way to talk. And at first the talk which replaces action may seem worthwhile. Profound. Wise. So as to justify the pursuit of wisdom at the expense of action. But the longer one remains inactive, the less able one is to hold wise insights without facing the reality that one should be acting. So one must either begin doing "good works" again, or one must degenerate further, until the pursuit of knowledge is more and more abstract, more and more irrelevant, more and more frivolous. This is a familiar, everyday pattern, in ourselves and in our Christian brothers, by which "good works" degenerate all the way to "foolish questions".
And then just as we have become as irrelevant as it would seem possible, it is also a familiar experience to watch the pendulum swing back again.
When "foolish questions" start to turn around, they may become "reasonable questions" and then "wise questions", but the person finally asking "wise questions" still has room to improve: he can keep on improving until he is not merely thinking about wise questions and searching out their answers, but he is doing something about them -- he is applying what he knows to how he lives -- he is doing "good works".
If this is true - if this is what God means by Titus 3:8-9, then what makes inquiry "foolish" is lack of relevance to how we live. What is the purpose of a doctrine which doesn't affect how we live? Surely many of the doctrines which divide "churches" today fail this test, and are actually the very inquiries which these verses condemn!
But besides everyday experience, is there any other Scripture which more definitely tells us the relationship between "good works" and "foolish questions"?
Here is another familiar passage which indicates that the test of whether a doctrine is "profitable" is whether it affects how we live:
- James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
In saying "shew me thy faith without thy works", James sarcastically mocks the very idea that anyone can exercise faith independently of action! James is ridiculing the very idea that "faith" can be defined as mere intellectual belief! What a foolish idea, that anyone can really believe, intellectually, that Jesus died for us and rose from the dead, without gratefully taking action, such as charging ahead with witness so effective that it invites persecution?! What nonsense! If you can buy that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn for sale! 10% off if you buy today! I'll need payment in cash.
In saying "I will shew thee my faith by my works", James says in a second way that FAITH ALWAYS PRODUCES ACTIONS. If no action is produced, how can you say there was ever any faith? Every action springs from a belief: so if you want to know what one believes, study his actions.
- Matthew 12:50 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
- Ephesians 2:8-10 clarifies that it is not "good works" that save us, but that we are saved so we can do them. Titus 3:8 tells us "good works" are "profitable". Not only "profitable", but it is as profitable as many modern "doctrine hunts" are unprofitable.
When we see that "good works" means "doing the will of God", or "doing" the "sayings" of Jesus, we see we are not talking only about physical activity, but we are talking about doing whatever God wants us doing. Understood this way, it is even easier to understand how God would say "good works" are the opposite of "foolish questions".
But perhaps we ought to revise our criteria for permissible fellowship discussions: instead of saying we ought to study things that affect how we live, perhaps it would be more precise to say we ought to study things that guide us and inspire us to do God's will.
What we do not need is to idealize some shallow aspiration of doing "good works" as defined, not by God, but by society. By that criteria, Judas was a Saint. He did mighty miracles, was good with money, and turned in a lawbreaker.
- Matthew 23:27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
- Matthew 6:16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
These verses are a warning that "good works", that is, doing the will of God, is often not what society is able to recognize as good. Often society is able to recognize good works, since 1 Timothy 3:7 honors "a good report of them which are without". But society discerns imprecisely enough to caution us to seek God's will always, and to expect the praise of men will be fickle.
"WORKS" CAN BE WORDS
When we speak of "taking action", that does not necessarily mean physical action. Most martyrdom is brought on by words rather than physical action. "Good works" consists of doing the will of our Father in Heaven, says the following passage. Sometimes God wants us to speak when the world wants us to shut up. Sometimes God wants us to simply pray when the world is ready to throw us in jail for doing that.
(Examples: Daniel 6; and right here in America, in August 1998, Judge Roy Moore of Alabama was sued for posting the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, and for opening his courtroom with prayer. He prevailed, but it was at tremendous cost, and with extensive national support. Meanwhile Alabama schools are monitored by a court-appointed "prayer monitor" who makes reports to the court about any prayer activities which violate a court ruling against student-led prayer!)
But in our Bible Discussions, how can we witness with power that risks persecution, since we are all among friends? Aren't our words purely words, not works at all, not leading to action at all? How can our Bible Discussion be any more than mere words? Our words can be "put to work" in two ways: (1) we can lay plans, and (2) we can study the "First Principles", or basic assumptions under which we operate, which are the foundation for future plans and action.
Indeed, a Bible Discussion with no vision of any more action than talk among friends, probably is a waste of time.
BIBLICAL DISCUSSION TOPICS INCLUDE A VISION OF ACTION, FAITH-BUILDING, AND CHALLENGING EACH OTHER
If a major Biblical purpose is good works, then a vision of what we want to see done is Biblical.
- Proverbs 29:18 Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
The familiar verse that tells us to go to church, also tells us to "provoke" each other, to goad each other to action. Also to "exhort" one another.
- Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
We should not take our salvation for granted. Neither our own, nor our brothers'. Let us expect trouble, and be ready for it.
- Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. 3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. 4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.