What exactly constitutes a “good work” like Paul speaks about in Ephesians 2:10?
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Yes, it is obedience to the Law. You could also extend it to amazing and creative acts of moral good (like planting a church in an inhospitable place and seeing many come to Christ). And since we are including things like that, could it also be extended to the writing of a song that convinced dozens of people to explore the wonders of the Bible? And if that, then what about the writing of a book like Fahrenheit 451 that convinced a person like me that it would be good to memorize a huge book of the Bible like Matthew?
In other words, what I’m asking is if there might be a bridge between Ephesians 2:10 and Philippians 4:8.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Here we are encouraged to think on things that are pure and beautiful. And in the Greek of this passage, Paul is using words that have more to do with ‘secular’ culture rather than religious culture. He's telling us that there are good things worthy of our pondering even in sources other than just the Bible. But could an unbeliever - or really even a believer for that matter - write a book or paint a picture or direct a film that we could ever rightly call a 'good work' in the Ephesians 2:10 sense? Could Pilgrim’s Progress be one of those ‘good works that God prepared beforehand for [John Bunyan] to walk in’? What about Robinson Crusoe? How about The Martian?
Before you completely dismiss the idea, I would ask where we assume such works of man to originate from in the first place? Perhaps some of man’s evil work is delivered by inspiration of demons or devils, or maybe it is just the fruit of a wicked heart giving birth to new combinations of evil. But what about the good stuff? What about the work of sin-enslaved unbelievers that can grab a hold of the heart of a believer and lift him up to want to serve his God more? Can such a thing exist? It does!
I had heard the song, ‘Masterpiece’ by Jessie J quite a few times before I ever really listened to the lyrics. It has a catchy beat, and I found myself wanting to buy the track just because I always perk up whenever it comes on in some fast-food restaurant. And, since I’m just naturally more interested in something that I spend money on, when I bought the song, I finally slowed down to pay attention to the words.
The song is about a woman who wants to be even more famous and respected than she already is. She thinks of herself as incomplete, unfinished, but ultimately poised for great success in all of the ways that she has ever dreamed. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of thing that sin-enslaved unbelievers pursue in this life. They would foolishly sell their soul to gain all of this.
But that’s not what the song said to me. I – like the singer or the songwriter (if they are different people) – certainly have felt like I have fallen on my face quite a few times. My own past – especially with pastoral ministry – doesn’t really look that impressive to most people. I would hope, though, for the sake of God’s kingdom, my family, and my own joy, that I am still working on my masterpiece – not as a way to be famous, but as an avenue to be useful to my Creator! The song can literally bring tears to my eyes as I contemplate the hope of being and doing more for God’s service. This is definitely something that I can ‘think on’ in the vein of Philippians 4:8. So was this song a ‘good work’ that God prepared beforehand for the artist to walk in? This morning I would have said ‘no’. Now I’m not so sure.
The whole idea actually reminds me a lot of how we as Christians carry the Gospel as a treasure in jars of clay: our fallen human flesh. There is gold contained within a very crude and common vessel. Humans produce a lot of work like this. If we’re being true to Philippians 4:8, though, we are to focus on the praiseworthy aspects of human creativity while essentially overlooking the dirt and grime in which it often comes packaged. And the cool thing is, that’s the way God sees the good works that we do. That’s how He can be pleased with us even though our feeble attempts at bringing Him glory are often couched in some thick human dirt. Such works are still ‘good’ in His sight, though, because He put them there, and He has a purpose for them.