When the Apostle Peter was expounding the work of salvation to Cornelius he summarised the work of our Lord in this way: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil [diabolos]; for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

Cornelius was a soldier and knew all about people who were oppressed. The work of our Lord was to exercise a greater dominion over mankind’s worst enemies – sin, disease, and mortality (aptly personified by the word diabolos) – by healing all who sought his help.

But the thought that Peter wanted to convey to this centurion, who feared God and gave compassionately to people (Acts 10:2), was that God had anointed His Son to do something similar, but on a much greater scale. The Lord of all, he said, “went about doing good”. There was nothing static about his ministry. He traversed the country for three and a half years teaching, comforting, relieving peoples’ burdens, drawing people to God, rebuking hypocrisy, encouraging faith, commending godliness, lifting his disciples to higher things, showing compassion, honouring God – the list just keeps going on and on. But to Peter it could be summarised by that simple expression “doing good”.

Out of interest, the Greek word for “doing good” is euergeteo. It only occurs here and is the root word of the Greek noun euergeton (cp Luke 22:25 where the word “benefactors” is euergetes) which was used as a royal title of Hellenistic kings, who were noted for their philanthropy. Cornelius would have appreciated that Jesus Christ was the true king of Israel and the good that he achieved was the greatest good possible – the defeat of sin and death for the salvation of the world.

So, if the Lord’s work could be characterised as doing good, how much more do we need to emulate that example. This is why there are a number of exhortations sprinkled through the record which encourage us to do just that.

In Psalm 34, David asked the question: “What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good?” He then supplied the answer in the next few verses. If you want to see good, you must do good. “Depart from evil”, he said, “and do good; seek peace, and pursue it ” (v14). These words were quoted by the Apostle Peter in his first epistle, which informs us how significant this exhortation is for us.

Peter was speaking about the behaviour of believers in their normal day to day interaction with the world. Doing good, he writes, offers a certain protection from an ungodly world: “And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” Literally: “who is he that will do you evil, if you are imitators of the good?” People generally react favourably to others who are kind and thoughtful towards them. It is not always the case, of course, and the apostle goes on to speak about suffering for righteousness’ sake. He concludes, “it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing” (1 Pet 3:17).

The reason for saying that is found in the next verse: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (v18). The Lord’s example is the supreme motivation for us to do good in the face of evil (1 Pet 2:21). He was completely innocent of any wrongdoing and yet the suffering he endured has resulted in myriads being reconciled to God! We may never know what our good conversation in Christ may achieve amongst those with whom we interact on a daily basis.

Returning to the Psalms, we find another exhortation about doing good. Psalm 37:3 states: “Trust in Yahweh, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed”.

Doing good is not something we are asked to do in our strength. It is to be exercised in the context of trusting in God, delighting ourselves in God, committing our ways to God, resting in God and waiting patiently for Him (v4-7). The whole Psalm describes the way of godly goodness. It embraces a life of meekness (v11), uprightness (v18), mercy and generosity (v21), justice (v28), wisdom (v30), a lively interest in the Scriptures (v31), and absolute trust in God (v40). And lest we
forget the key exhortation being made, David repeats the point: “Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore” (v27).

In Galatians 6, Paul reminds us of the double responsibility we all have of bearing our own burdens as well as the burdens of others. In relation to that work, both the student and the teacher were to contribute together as partners for the benefit of others. That work of mutual encouragement and instruction was like sowing a crop. A person who is selfish and sows sparingly will reap sparingly. A person who sows to the spirit, that is, they walk by the spirit (Gal 5:16) and are led by the spirit (Gal 5:18), will reap a glorious reward. “As we have therefore opportunity,” concludes the apostle, “let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10).

So, what does it mean to “do good” from a scriptural perspective? Doing good is equated by Paul with producing good fruit and walking acceptably before God. This is shown as follows:

Colossians 1:10 – That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Titus 3:14 – And let our’s also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.

That fruitfulness is styled in Galatians 5:22-23 “the fruit of the spirit”. It refers to a living exhibition of the qualities and characteristics of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance; all of which are generated by the power of the spirit word in our lives.

As an example of this, we turn to the incident recorded in Matthew 26. A woman came and anointed the Lord’s feet with an expensive perfume. She fully believed that her Master was about to lay down his life and she came to anoint him as a token of her understanding and support. To men like Judas, it seemed like an extravagant waste of money, but because it was an action springing from faith and love and understanding, Jesus acknowledged that and said: “Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me” (Matt 26:10). Her seemingly wasteful action before Judas was defined by our Lord as “a good work”, instructing us that any action that springs from loving faith can be defined as a good work.

In Luke 6:27-36, the Lord spoke about loving our enemies and doing good to them who hate us. He went on to explain what this entails – blessing and praying for others, giving to others whilst hoping for nothing in return and being merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful.

A widow indeed was one who was “well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work” (1 Tim 5:10). Her life was a practical reflection of her faith.

In the language of the Scriptures, we need to be good trees bringing forth good fruit (Matt 7:17). We need to be good men bringing forth good things from the good treasure of our hearts (Matt 12:34). We need to be good and faithful servants (Matt 25:21). We need to follow that which is good (1 Thess 5:15) with the understanding that he that doeth good is of God (3 John v11).

God’s essential character is one of goodness (Exod 33:18-19) and that goodness needs to be reflected in our lives. We are therefore exhorted to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ (2 Tim 2:3); to fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7); to be thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Tim 3:17); to show forth a good conscience by living honestly (Heb 13:18); to serve as good stewards (1 Pet 4:10); and to be nourished by good doctrine (1 Tim 4:6). There is no place in our lives for selfserving works of evil. Good must predominate.

So, here is the key question we need to ask. If we are not granted salvation on the basis of our own merits or our own righteousness, why then are we encouraged to be “zealous of good works” “which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them”? (Tit 2:14; Eph 2:10).

The answer must surely be that we seek to manifest the qualities of our God and His Son (1 John 2:6); to reflect His will in our lives (Matt 5:48; 7:21); to imitate Him as dear children (Eph 5:1-2). Our attempts to obey his commands ought to be a full expression of our love for him ( John 14:15) and our desire to be like him (1 John 3:2-3). It is all done via His power (1 Cor 1:18); through the influence of the Word acting upon our lives (Eph 3:16; Rom 1:16); through the example of the Son constraining us (Phil 4:13). Nothing is accomplished in our own strength (Heb 11:11; 2 Cor 12:9) – and this is the key.

We will fail, we will come hopelessly short of His glory and we will never come anywhere near the fullness of Christ’s example, but that doesn’t mean that we just sit back and do nothing. We are saved by God’s undeserved favour (Eph 2:8-9) but that grace will not ignore the obedience of faith so pleasing to the Father (Heb 13:20-21). We are therefore encouraged to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling and to allow our faith to be energised by love (Phil 2:12-13; Gal 5:6).

We will only be saved by God’s inexpressible mercy, but our reward will reflect the state of our lives in Christ. As Paul so aptly put it: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10).