One thing that derails some well-intentioned Bible study programs is a focus on quantity (reading the entire Bible in one year) rather than quality (doing a “deep dive” on a particular story or a specific verse). Both approaches are beneficial, but lately I seem to get more out of going in-depth on specific stories or verses.
One verse that has meant a lot to me this year is Ephesians 2:10, which reads “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” I’ve always liked this verse, but after studying it in more detail, it now amazes me. Meditating on it has changed my life. God’s word has a way of doing that. So let’s take a closer look at the words God, through Paul, had to say to the church at Ephesus, and to you and me…
We are God’s handiwork… Some translations use workmanship in place of handiwork, and the Greek word used here is poíēma which means “that which is made” or “workmanship”. The idea here is of an artisan designing and creating a product. It is from the Greek word poíēma that we get the English word poem. So when God created mankind…when God created you…he was a poet writing his very best poem, a sculptor creating his very best sculpture, and a painter painting his life’s masterpiece. Let that sink in for a minute. The creator of the universe…the all-knowing and all-powerful entity that created everything…was at the top of his game when he created you. Ever struggle with self-esteem? Remember that you are God’s handiwork. Feel like you are not up to the task before you? Remember that you are God’s masterpiece, made in his own image (Genesis 1:27). It’s no wonder that when God looked over all that he had made, including man, he knew that it was very good (Genesis 1:30). I hope that makes you hold your head a little higher and walk with a little more confidence in your step. You’re not patting yourself on the back; rather, you’re giving God all the credit for having written such a beautiful poem when he wrote you into existence.
Someone may ask, “But what about the sorry state of mankind? What about all the crime and corruption and hate in the world? What about all the people who live a life that sure doesn’t look like the masterpiece of an all-powerful Creator?” Those are fair questions. I guess my first thought is that some choose not to become Christians, but instead remain in their old selves. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Those who are in Christ, then, seem to have ripped the packaging off the product and are daily being transformed into the full masterpiece that God intended. That’s simply not going to happen if you haven’t turned your life over to God. My other thought is that some masterpieces never reach their full potential. Someone can sell an old painting for $5 at a garage sale, not realizing that it’s a famous work of Picasso. Someone can allow an original Shakespearean manuscript to crumble away by not properly preserving it. There is no telling what masterpieces waste away through indifference and neglect in attics around the globe. That doesn’t change the fact that they started out as masterpieces with great potential for good. It’s also possible that, with a little effort, a neglected masterpiece could be cleaned and restored to its original, wonderful condition (in the spiritual sense, a process called repentance). Regardless of what condition you and I are in, at our core we are something amazing created by God.
Created in Christ Jesus to do good works… So why would God create his masterpiece known as mankind? Why do you and I exist? What’s our mission? The answer is simple…to do good works. Our purpose is not to accumulate money, although money can be used for good works. Our mission is not to attain high-ranking positions in a profession, although those positions might give us a larger platform from which to do good works. We are not here to be the most talented or best looking or to die with the most toys. Our mission, rather, is to do good works. As Christians, we don’t do this to get saved, to somehow earn our salvation. Rather, we do good works because we are saved. These works are the natural outpouring of someone who realizes what God has done for them. If you miss that point, you miss everything. As God’s handiwork, you and I were uniquely and wonderfully created to do good works, both big and small. Your good work might be helping a stranger fix a flat tire. Or perhaps it’s building a house for a poor family in Honduras. Or maybe God needs you to mentor a troubled teenager, or buy Christmas presents for a family that has none, or build a well or a clinic for a poor village in Haiti. Or perhaps your mission is to spend time with a loved one dying from cancer, and to encourage her worn-out, caregiving husband. No matter how big or small the work, it all matters. It all counts. And God gets all the glory, because he made you, his masterpiece, with the skills and abilities to accomplish these good works of service. So, we’ve established what you are…a masterpiece…and we’ve covered why you’re here…to do good works.
Which God prepared in advance for us to do… This is where things really get interesting. Because all those good works we just mentioned, along with all the ones not mentioned, were put there by God with our name on them. Let that sink in for a moment. Before you were even born, God had in mind some good works for you to do 10, 20, 30, or even 70 years later. There is something God wants me to do later today that I don’t even know about yet. But God has prepared it for me to do. When that moment comes, it won’t be by chance or luck. God is intentional, not random. I no longer believe random stuff happens. Even when bad things happen, based on our poor choices or natural disasters or whatever, God is right there preparing the opportunities for good works that will follow. The question, then, is whether we will seize the opportunity and accomplish the good work prepared by God in advance for us to do, or will pass on the opportunity with some lame excuse like we’re not good enough, or someone else will surely do it.
Several years ago some missionaries headed out into the Honduran countryside to bring a bus full of food to a women’s prison. Their driver ended up getting lost, and the team ended up on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. At the end of that dirt road in Nowhere, Honduras was an orphanage called Didasko that had literally just run out of food. In fact, the director had just said a prayer asking God to work a miracle as they had run out of food along with the money to buy more food. The bus pulled up, the missionaries distributed the food, God answered the prayer, and missionaries (including Lil Jan and myself) have been going there ever since. It’s a great story, but I don’t believe chance or luck or randomness were involved. Rather, God was very intentionally at work throughout. He might have even confused the bus driver just enough to get lost. I believe God saw to it that a bus full of food-carrying gringos (his masterpieces) would have an opportunity to fulfill their mission by doing a good work. And I bet he prepared another good work which involved the women at the prison being fed as well.
I suspect Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:10 were a great encouragement to the Christians at Ephesus. They lived in a big, bustling city full of people who frequently did wrong, to include worshiping at the Temple of Artemis, among other temples. The Christians there were known for their deeds, hard work, and perseverance, and yet apparently some of them had forsaken their first love (Revelation 2:2,4). Paul encourages them and challenges them by reminding them that they are God’s masterpieces, uniquely and wonderfully made. He tells them what their purpose is…to do good works. And he reminds them that God has already prepared the works for them to do.
To sum it all up, we are masterpieces on a mission. God is counting on us to do good works in order to fulfill that mission. Whatever the opportunity is that you will face later today or tomorrow, God put it there. And as his masterpiece, you are uniquely qualified to perform the good work and accomplish your mission.
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