Today while reading Matthew 26, I came across the words good work. See Matt 26:10. A woman anointed Jesus’ head with “costly fragrant oil.” Interestingly, Jesus own disciples “were indignant” and indicated that they considered this act a very bad deed. But after they railed against what she did, the Lord Jesus told them not to trouble her for “she has done a good work for Me.”
I remember that Dorcas, also known as Tabitha, sewed garments for women, and what she did was called good works in Acts 9:36; cf v 39.
Sewing garments and anointing with oil do not sound like what most Evangelicals think that good works are. Most point to more spiritual things like evangelism, jail ministry, soup kitchens, prayer ministry, mission trips, and teaching Sunday school classes and home Bible studies.
In most of the NT uses of the expression good works, no works are specified. But we get a general idea of some of the things that God considers to be good works.
Giving to gospel ministry is called good work in Phil 1:5-6.
Serving as an elder in a local church is called a good work (1 Tim 3:1).
Four specific good works for women are mentioned in 1 Tim 5:10: bringing up children, lodging strangers, washing the feet of saints, and relieving the afflicted.
Giving and sharing is called good work in 1 Tim 6:18.
Meeting urgent needs is identified as good works in Titus 3:14.
Evangelism is not listed as a good work in the NT (though it is clearly implied in many texts, including Matt 28:18-20; John 1:41-51; 3:36).
Accurately preaching and teaching God’s Word is not called good work either, though it is implied in texts like Phil 1:5-6 and 1 Tim 3:1.
Neither is regular church attendance identified as a good work, though of course we know it is based on texts like Heb 10:23-25.
I think the reason why some of the things we are most likely to consider good works are not specifically called good works is because there is no need. We all already recognize certain “religious” activities as good works. But God wants us to realize that He has high regard for the seemingly little things we do in life.
Maybe we need to realize that everyday things like raising kids, exercising hospitality, helping people, making clothing for people, and giving and sharing with others in the Body of Christ are all vital good works. It isn’t just evangelism, teaching and preaching, giving to church, prayer, jail ministry, and mission trips that are good works. They are. But God is very concerned about the everyday lives of everyday believers too.
I think we sometimes judge ourselves too harshly. We tend to overlook some of the everyday good things we do in life. God does not. He sees all that we do, and He is pleased with the encouraging word, the pat on the back, the shared meal, raising kids, and giving even when we do not get a tax deduction.