Be ready for every good work.
My eyes had passed over these words in Titus 3:1 dozens of times, but they never had captured me like this. No longer just words on a page, no longer some string of philanthropic sentiment, the charge pierced me. Be ready for every good work. My heart swelled. I wanted to be like this. I want to be this. I want to be ready to do good for others.
Doing good to others isn’t icing on the cake of Christianity. It’s an essential ingredient. And at the same time, genuinely doing others good doesn’t happen by human strength alone. Mere willpower will never be the answer.
How, then, can we “be ready for every good work”?
Opposite of Ready
First, in the immediate context, look at the kind of friends such readiness keeps:
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:1–2)
“The kind of people who fight their own sin are the kind who will be ready to genuinely help others.”
Those six accompanying charges cohere in a certain flavor of life. We might sum it up as humility.
Being “ready for every good work” goes along with righteous submission and obedience, kind and courteous speech, peacemaking and gentleness. To say it negatively, pride, rebellion, slander, pugnacity, and rudeness do not pair with doing others real good.
How we orient on the world around us has a part to play in our readiness to do others good. Our perspective on society, even politics, is not irrelevant. Chicken Little isn’t known for his love. And when we expect the worst, look for a fight, and don’t care at all whom we offend, we are not the kind of people who are ready to do others good.
Renounce Sinful Passions
Next, take one step back to look at Paul’s letter to Titus. No other book in the Bible takes such a concentrated focus on the theme of good works. Paul explicitly mentions the phrase “good works” six times in these three short chapters.
Titus 2 makes plain that we will not be ready to do others good if we do not renounce sinful passions. Personal holiness matters in the pursuit of love. The kind of people who fight their own sin are the kind who will be ready to genuinely help others. Those whom God’s grace has trained “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” are “a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11–14).
Leave Room for the Spirit
“Fitness for doing true good comes from knowing and enjoying God.”
Titus also has something to say about “learning” to do others good. There’s a process — with practical steps to take ahead of time — to make space for the Spirit’s leading. That may include leaving enough margin in your schedule to be able to meet unexpected needs, or carrying paper money to give on the spot to someone in need, or setting aside funds for personal ministry in your monthly budget.
“Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14). Being ready to do good doesn’t necessarily come naturally. It’s something we learn. We learn to devote ourselves to the good of others.
Go Deep with God
When we ask this letter how we can “be ready for every good work,” the answer that comes back is very clear. Simply put, delight yourself in God. Sound Christian doctrine, and its knowledge about God and his world, isn’t merely the stuff of books and classrooms and study, but the engine for everyday good in the world. Fitness for doing true good comes from knowing and enjoying God.
Paul says to Titus,
Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. . . . They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (Titus 1:13–16)
They are “unfit for any good work” — not ready to do “every good work,” or any good work. Why? Because, despite what they claim, they do not know God.
In other words, going deep with God is vital in being ready to do others good. And how do we go deep with God? As boring and staid as it may sound to some who don’t understand, or have caricatures of what “theology” is, this is how we go deep with God — not on our terms, but his, by his word.
Remember Your Own Unbelief
Why should we approach the world with the humility of Titus 3:1–2? Verse 3: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” We know what it’s like to be unbelieving and stuck in our unbelief, apart from God. We did not save ourselves. We did not do anything to earn his mercy, but he saved us, of his own initiative:
When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4–7)
The theology, or doctrine, of verses 4–7 is what’s beneath the hood of a life that is ready for every good work.
Fuel the Fires of Faith
Finally, Paul follows with one more charge:
I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:8)
“These things” here are the glorious theological truths he has just celebrated in verses 4–7. What Christians believe is “excellent and profitable for people” — not just profitable for us, but for the world. When we truly go deep with God, we become the kind of people who are ready to give ourselves to good works.
“Truly knowing God in sound doctrine is never a deterrent or distraction from doing real good in the world.”
In other words, knowing God — and feeding the engine of daily delight in him and his promises — is not in competition with being ready to help others. In fact, it’s essential. Truly knowing him in sound doctrine is never a deterrent or distraction from doing real good in the world to meet the needs of others. The two always go together.
Enjoying God, on his terms, through his word, is the fuel for acts of love and good works. Real depth with him will flower through us to meet the needs of others. And the flower of true good deeds for others grows on the stalk of a living relationship with God through his word.
Going deep in Christian truth, done rightly, to know and enjoy God, will not keep us from doing good but will be what makes us most ready to do good.