In a world where individuals like Mother Theresa and Gandhi have reached sainthood status because of their sacrifice, identifying good works has become difficult. People at the opposite end of the spectrum, who donate to United Way for a tax write-off, muddy the waters.
Does a person have to give the shirt off their back to a homeless person in order to please God? Is writing a check and never considering the people receiving it a good deed?
In order to equalize these extremes, we need to seek counsel from the Source. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17) and originates in the heart of Jesus.
We can identify good works, but we should use the checklist to judge ourselves. Every person must answer to the Lord for their own deeds. Here are five litmus tests to judge whether you are doing a good work – or not:
1. Who does it benefit?
“I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance” (Philippians 1:25; emphasis mine) is the Apostle Paul’s answer to who our deeds should benefit.
It sounds so catchy to say “It’s not about me.” Living it? Not so simple – if we’re honest with ourselves.
Why do you donate cans of food to the Food Bank? Is it because a little kid comes to your door asking? I’m not saying this isn’t a good time to think about helping others, but if no one asks, will you look for opportunities to help?
“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men” (Galatians 6:10) should be our mantra. And we should open our eyes. After all, Jesus did (Matthew 9:34). Is there a better pattern to follow?
2. Who does it honor?
“Do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). It seems straightforward, right?
If we clean the toilets at church because we want to serve God, that’s a good work. If we do it so people will pat us on the back, it’s just a work – nothing good about it after all.
We are selfish. Eve ate the fruit because she wanted to be like God. This mind-set of “me first” isn’t anything new.
If we want to do good deeds, however, we need to check our pride at the door. Anything done for any reason other than to magnify our Heavenly Father is only good for our temporal self. Treasures laid up in Heaven can only come from a pure, unselfish heart.
3. Inner motivation
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them,” Jesus warns. If you do it for this reason, “ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
We’ve all done it. Said yes to something because we knew it would put us out in front. Everyone would see what we had done. Our hard work would finally be noticed – and rewarded.
It’s true. According to Matthew 6:2, we have the glory of men when we do things in order to be seen doing them. That is our reward. An eternal reward? Nope.
4. Outward attitude
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3).
Dip up those mashed potatoes at the homeless shelter Thanksgiving dinner. Stare into the pan. Never meet anyone’s eyes. No smiles to light up the room. Marking time. Doing my duty.
This attitude of joyless service honors no one. The people around understand that you’re only going through the motions. The ones you’re serving see only a person “doing their duty.”
You can be certain God isn’t pleased with this kind of attitude. Some people say “fake it ‘til you make it,” but don’t expect to earn any pleasure from God when you’re just going through the motions.
5. What if no one notices?
“I’ve been doing the bulletin for three years and the only time anyone says a thing about it is when I misspell a word.”
You’ve heard it before. Sadly, you might have been the one who said it.
“I would teach that class, but no one appreciates all the work I put into it.” No one? How about God? He’s building up the Heavenly account of those who aren’t seeking earthly recognition.
I believe we should praise people for the work they do. This is called “provoking unto love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). However, I don’t agree that a work should only be done when someone will thank me for doing it.
When I run my supposed “good works” through this barometer, I see my list of deeds being whittled away to just a few little slivers. We are human. Humans can’t please God when they serve him in the flesh.
Rather than looking at your deeds with hindsight, pull out this checklist the next time you step up to do something for someone else. Are you doing it for their benefit? Are you doing it to glorify God? What’s your motivation? Are you serving with joy? Would you still do it if no one said thank you or even noticed it was done?