As I read chapter five of Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014), I found many good thoughts (even if they were not new). Yet, on the whole, I was disappointed – not so much for what was said as for what was left out. Let me explain.
Chapter five is titled “Why the Things You Do Every Day Matter,” and as he continues to apply the gospel to our daily work (being productive, that is, getting the right things done), Perman is answering the question, “What, then, does God want done?” And his answer is “good works. What God wants done are good works” (73). This calling he then ties to Matt.5:16, which Perman states is “the purpose of the Christian summed up for us in one sentence. The entire purpose of our lives – what God wants from us – is to do good for others, to the glory of God” (74). And he concludes by redefining productivity in this way: “Productive things, then, are things that do good. Productivity always has to be understood in relation to a goal, and God’s goal is that we do good works. Hence, we can redefine productivity this way: to be productive is to be fruitful in good works” (74).
From there, Perman emphasizes our calling to be fruitful (abundant) in good works: “We are not to be scant and scarce in our good works, or even nominal and mediocre, but abundant and liberal in doing good” (75). And in answer to the further question, “Where do we do this good?”, he properly emphasizes that the doing of good works is not limited to those “rare, special, extraordinary, or super spiritual things we do,” but to the everyday things we do – our daily work and tasks done in faith – “anything we do in faith” (77).
As such, as I have no issue with this. A bit simplistic, perhaps, but true nonetheless. This is, in fact, how the gospel does transform the way we get things done. BUT, what was missing, to my mind, was the vertical relationship – our relationship to GOD. Over and over Perman defines good works as those which are done for the good of the neighbor. He stresses the fact that being productive is being loving for the neighbor’s good. That is, good works are fulfilling the second table of God’s law. Proper and important, to be sure.
BUT, the first table of the law is, well, first. Good works are those done first and foremost out of love for God and in service to Him. Our lives are to be primarily concerned with doing the good God wants us to do in relation to Him – having no god but Him, worshiping Him alone (and in the right way!), confessing His name always and everywhere, and resting in Him on His day – the first four commandments of God’s law.
If productivity is doing the right things to the best of our ability to the glory of God (being fruitful in good works), then before we can be properly productive in relation to the neighbor, we must be properly productive in relation to God. If I don’t love Him, I cannot love my neighbor. If I don’t worship Him alone, I cannot serve my neighbor rightly. If I don’t confess His name in my daily work, I cannot do any good for my neighbor’s name. If I don’t use my risen Lord’s special day to rest (Sunday), I cannot work for six days and do anything useful for the neighbor.
That, to my mind, is the missing element and emphasis in this chapter. If it’s still coming in the book, I stand to be corrected. But if it’s not coming, then we should get it straight now. God is first, always and ever. That’s the gospel. And that gospel transforms my life – and my work.