Works As to the Lord

by Mary E. Stephens

Colossians 3:23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

1 Thessalonians 1:3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;

These two verses stood out to me recently. A friend and I had been discussing the trouble some people have with doing works (namely dressing a certain way) in order to please men and measure up to men's standards.

Hearty service should be unto the Lord, not unto men. If we dress a certain way, if we abstain from certain activities or customs, if we forego certain pleasures, whatever we do, it should be heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men. If we do it as to men it is wasted - even if it is a good and right thing to do. The Thessalonians had a good testimony. They had works of faith and labors of love. But, these things were in the sight of God, not "in the sight of men". They were doing what the previous verse said. They were doing their works and labors unto the Lord and not unto men.

Colossians 3:17 says, And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. It has been said, "If you can't thank the Lord for what you are about to do, you better not do it." Of course, some people can run wild with this because they have a seared conscience (1 Tim. 4:2), but the thought is basically correct.

Some time back my siblings and I were in a grocery store near a large, Independent Fundamental Baptist college in Tennessee. This college is becoming quite well known among some circles and they pride themselves on their separation and standards, among other things. When we went through the check out line in the said grocery store I tried to hand a tract to the young man who rang up our groceries. He said to me, "Oh, I go to Crown College," as if that somehow should inform me of all I needed to know about his spiritual condition. My brother or I may have said something, I forget what now, or we may have stared at him dumbly, not believing what he just said. The young man added, "I have a bunch of those in my room." I moved away and my brother spoke to him for a few moments (there was a line behind us which kept him from talking longer). I don't recall what my brother said to him, but we had both been rather dismayed at the young man's remarks and my brother didn't want to let this pass without comment.

Salvation and Christian works are not about being identified with a special group nor are they related to participating in certain activities or possessing certain things. It is about faith in Jesus Christ. Certainly as believers we are part of the body of Christ, the church, but specific sects, groups, para-church organizations, etc. are not our identity to prove our good works.

This young man exposed himself to observation that he probably did not really want. His comments indicated that he was apparently more secure in his position at Crown College than he was in his position in Christ. It also seemed by what this particular young man said that he was more conscious of his works (or potential works) as men see them than he was of his faith in Christ alone (if he actually had that). The appearance of his comments led one to believe that he was doing his works for men, not for Christ!

Interestingly, sometime later I tried to hand a tract to a young man at our local post office. He is the son of a somewhat well-known evangelist who shall go unnamed. But, to the young man's credit, when he saw the tract he smiled at my mom and I and said, "I don't need that, I'm already saved!" We immediately said, "Take it and give it to ___________," naming another person whom we knew worked there and needed to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. He took the tract with a grin and said quietly, "I will. I'm already working on him."

What an amazing difference in the responses of these two young men! The second one gave a clear indication as to where his faith was and why he was doing what he was doing. It was not for men, but for the Lord. The responses of the first fellow pointed only to works to please men or fulfill some obligation to men. His works also seemed to be tied to his association with a certain college or group.

John 12:43 For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

Back to my friend whom I mentioned at the beginning. She recently ran into a group of people who apparently despised her because she was wearing pants. She "should have known better" in their eyes since she had spent some time at Hyles Anderson College. She was at first puzzled at their attitude towards her, but her husband figured it out for her. The people she was dealing with were more concerned about the standard and how men perceived it than they were about my friend or her children. (It is curious how often works done unto men are not accompanied by true compassion and Christian charity such as described in 1 Cor. 13.)

Doing works as unto men first of all does not please the Lord. Secondly, it is not caused by faith or love. The Thessalonians were noted for their of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father... When works are done for fleshly motives - as unto men, be it ourselves or others - godly faith, love and patience will be missing or distorted. Lastly, it seems that godly thanksgiving will often be missing as well. all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. (Col. 3:17)

When I have heard people who were highly impressed with their works before men, thanking God for their works it has seemed highly self-serving. I've heard things like, "I thank God that I have never seen my wife or daughters in pants. That's a blessing to me." And another, "I would trust my son in a room alone with her all night." (This woman was boasting of her son's standard not to touch his girlfriend - a standard which he, of course, learned from his parents. Ahem!) And yet another "interesting" thanksgiving, "I thank God that my family and I can be holy."

The words of our Lord come to mind:

Luke 18:9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. [Emphasis added.]

What is the motive in your works? Are you doing the things you do heartily as to the Lord, or are you doing them for men and to please men? It can seem hard to know the real answer to these questions sometimes, and yet we see how easy it is to betray our motives from some of the examples discussed here. Matthew 12:37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

We are altogether too conscious of what people think of us. This is one of the most common weaknesses of the flesh. The flesh is very aware of itself. But, our goal should be to all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. If we are not doing what we do heartily as to the Lord, then what is the point, after all? Although Paul rejoiced in and desired to see the good works of those to whom he wrote, he still emphasized that their works were to be to the Lord and he was glad when they were. Working for men's approval is settling for such a worthless goal. In Philippians 3:14 Paul said, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. This is the only goal worth aiming for, the only prize worth having!

Philippians 1:9-11 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.


background & graphics by Mary Stephens
updated 2022; CA