When hanging out with a group of guys, there can be a tendency for boasts and bragging to get a little out of control. Whether participants get a little creative in describing their past accomplishments, or coming up with new (often illogical or dangerous) ideas about what stunts they could try next, the talk is sometimes a little larger than life. (I’m not sure if groups of women have this same problem, but you don’t seem to see them in the news nearly as often for trying crazy stuff.)
Other times, guys get together and have big ideas. They may talk about starting a band, a business, or a brilliant new invention. A few actually turn these ideas into reality, but many of these ad hoc visions never see the light of day.
Have a look at this parable from Jesus:
“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go.
Matthew 21:28-30 NASB
If you’ve listened to enough sermons, it seems statistically likely that you have heard exposition on this passage. Jesus was contrasting those who came to live according to God’s will, versus those who just talked a lot about God’s commandments, where the latter group – when it came to their hearts and actions – had missed the point. (Read Matthew 21:28-32 for more details.)
We might not be called upon to work in the fields (although I appreciate those who do, since we all need food to eat!). Still, what does it look like when we talk a good game, but don’t live according to the direction that Jesus showed us?
- We may have verses and crosses decorating our room, our workspace, and our attire. If we don’t live according to the direction given to us from the Bible, though, nor follow the example of the One who died on a cross for us, the world can see through hypocrisy.
- We can make bold claims about regularly going to church (3 times a week, even!), or about giving to good causes. When our lives don’t reflect God’s direction during the rest of the week, though, a watching world thinks that faith and lifestyle are somehow separate things. Discerning observers might remember that pride is the source of many sins (including, in my opinion, the first sin in the Garden of Eden), and wonder if we are worshiping ourselves, rather than God.
- We might specialize in posting complaints about evil (or perceived evil) online, forwarding stories to all our friends (and dozens of people we barely even know) about other human beings whose lives don’t reflect God’s will. I don’t think that I have ever observed someone repent of their sins, though, just because they were publicly shamed online for their behavior.
On the other hand, what does it look like when we follow Jesus in our actions, even if we aren’t always talking about our piety?
- As we regularly spend time learning from God, through reading the Bible and listening to Him, our lives have the opportunity to look more like God’s ideal. (This isn’t guaranteed – we must choose to humble ourselves and take direction from God.) However, as we yield to His will and instructions, posted verses become reminders of how He seeks for us to live, and bring our focus back to God’s greatness.
- When we fellowship with others as the Body of Christ, we can help each other grow, share gratitude for God’s help in our lives, and worship our Savior. When a group of Christ-followers has a healthy relationship with each other and with God, spending time with them is exciting and rewarding in itself (even when we are working together to serve others). We no longer have to make ourselves look “holy” by telling others how many times we go to church. And, with regards to giving, Jesus challenged us to keep our giving to ourselves (see Matthew 6:33), and reminded us that the act of giving itself is blessed (see Acts 20:35).
- It is appropriate to call out evil for what it is, but Jesus told us to love our enemies (see Matthew 5:43-45, Luke 6:27-36). Can you imagine what revival could take place in the world if followers of Jesus fought together against evil on behalf of lost souls, rather than against sinning people? What if we manifested our righteous anger about the harm that evil brings to the innocent? We might even actively seek out the “sinners” that Jesus spent time with, so that we could share with them the joy we have of being saved from our own sins? It might look like the difference that Jesus brought to his culture – probably not welcomed by everyone, but definitely world-changing.
- …and, when our heart is aligned with God’s, our words flow in line with that purpose (see Matthew 12:33-37, Matthew 15:18-19, Mark 7:20-23, Luke 6:44-45).
Of course, our words can have power for good and I’m not suggesting that Christians remain quiet or passive. Those who immerse themselves in the Word of God, and spend time with fellow believers, are a joy to watch – an inspiration to all of us whose fellowship has perhaps grown a little distant. And, evil must be actively resisted in this world, lest it consume the hearts and minds of more souls.
My only reminder (first to myself, as most challenges on this site are) is to prioritize our actions over our words. While our actions and words would ideally both align with God’s direction, nice words without righteous actions are a known recipe for failure.
(See also Promises We Can’t Keep.)