[This meditation summarizes a number of principles from Matt Perman’s excellent book, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.]
Does God Require (Increased) Productivity?
Made in the image of a Creator, God designed humanity to bear good fruit. In Genesis 1:28, he told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply.” When he put the man in the Garden, he called him to cultivate and keep Eden so that in time the beauty, order, and presence of God’s garden would cover the earth.
Although sin marred mankind’s ability to produce good fruit, there remains a human desire to create, to organize, and to produce. In contrast to the cynicism of Dilbert, work is not a curse; it was and is part of God’s good creation. The trouble is that God’s curse makes work tedious and subject to futility.
Ecclesiastes is a case in point. In that book Solomon teaches us not to put our hope in work. He says that work is a “striving after the wind,” because all laborers will eventually relinquish the produce of their hands. Therefore, the wise man fears the Lord and puts their ultimate hope in God (Eccl 12:13–14).
(Some of) What Scripture Says about Productivity
Still, is that all Scripture says about work? Is it all negative? No, there’s more. Even Ecclesiastes has some very positive things to say about work (see Eccl 9:10). On balance, Scripture warns against idolizing work, but it also condemns idleness, and encourages great productivity.
In fact, from a certain angle, it can be said, that the reason why Christ died was to create a people zealous for good works. Consider two few verses.
- Ephesians 2:10. After declaring that mankind is saved by the grace of God, not works (2:8–9), Paul says: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in.” From time eternal, God has works for his people to do. Though those works do not justify a man; a justified man (or woman) are given by God works to do for God’s glory.
- Titus 2:14. Likewise, Paul teaches that human productivity stands at the center of God’s will. In fact, it is so important that Paul says in Titus 2:14 that Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness,” a path that leads to futility and death, and “to purify from himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” God is not indifferent about work or works.
Good works are a gift from the Lord, given in salvation. Those who truly believe will work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12–13); Galatians 5:6 says that saving faith works itself out in love. In this regard, these works are not just contained to ones Sunday service; they pertain to all of life.
So to repeat, good works are a good gift that God gives his children, but they are also a command for all people, that only the redeemed in Christ will be able to do. Consider three more verses.
- Ephesians 5:17. Paul writes, “Look carefully how you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” In a fallen world, fruitlessness abounds. God desires his children avoid such barrenness. Instead, by walking in his wisdom, he calls us to know his will and produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
- Ephesians 6:6, 7. Paul encourages slaves to obey their masters and to serve the Lord with “good will,” “knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord.” In this way, Paul motivates workers to do “good” for the sake of eternal rewards.
- 1 Timothy 5:10. Last, good fruit is not just produced in “spiritual” exercises. Paul says that faithful mothers have devoted themselves to a “good work.”
To summarize: God created humanity to bear good fruit, the fall ruined such goodness, and the curse inhibited productivity. Nevertheless, believers are now able to bear fruit that pleases God. And consequently, we should pursue productive lives.
Three Principles for Bearing Good Fruit
First, we should pursue good character as the source of good works. Though we think of spiritual fruit as character qualities (see Gal 5:22–23), character is not static. Love is proactive; kindness acts; patience forgives. In short, all good works are loving actions designed to relieve misery and/or create good.
Second, we should strive to be productive. Productivity, in the Bible, is not a serendipitous by-product. The Father’s glory is seen in our works, and so Jesus commands us to shine the light of our good works before others (Matt 5:16). Paul says that we should do good “always” (1 Thess 5:15); “abound in every good work” (2 Cor 9:8); and be “rich in good works” (1 Tim 6:17–19).
Third, we should plan for more good works. In the parable of the talents, the wicked servant is the one who sits on his talent (Matt 25). He doesn’t plan; he refuses to risk. By counter-example, the servants who please the Lord used their talents to produce more talents. So should we. As the ant prepares for winter months in advance, true wisdom plans for productivity.
Created in Christ Jesus for Good Works
In light of what Scripture says, it’s worth asking: Am I living a productive life? Such a question is not a peripheral matter. God’s children will live productive lives. To make productivity non-essential is to miss a central reason why Christ died. His life not only justified sinners; it also made them new creatures in Christ, capable of innumerable good works.
For this reason, we must know what true productivity is and how to be productive! Matt Perman’s book gives many solid biblical principles on this subject, yet from these Scriptures alone it is clear what God thinks about the place of good works in the life of the believer. He wants us to strive, plan, and pray for good works (John 15:7–8); in fact, he promises to bear good fruit in our lives as we abide in him and seek good work. Let this truth motivate us, as we aspire to be productive for his glory!
Soli Deo Gloria, dss