Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pillar #3 - Presenting the Gospel in Words and Works

SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 6:8 & Matthew 5:16
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 18 October 2012

"In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
[Continuing the series on "Pillars of the Church," the third pillar of the Church is diakonia, a Greek word used to describe service and witness of the gospel.]

A) Works Over Words?

One of the most popular sayings that has been wrongly attributed to St Francis of Assisi is this: "Preach the gospel always, and if necessary use words." The source is actually unknown. It makes me wonder what will happen if Jesus stays mum all the time when he was walking on this earth. He could have kept quiet and just focus on healing and meeting people's needs. He could have let his works do all the working, and his fruits do all the talking. He could have simply lived out a life full of good works that there is no necessity to say anything, preach any word, or pronounce any judgment. After all, as long as good works are been done, why is there a need to say anything, right?

Wrong! Dead wrong.

If Jesus has stayed silent, the words remain leashed inside. There is no speaking, there is no hearing. If there is no teaching, there is no learning. If there are no words, how can anyone then accuse God of not giving any verbal warnings or reminders to people of calloused hearts?

Jesus uses lots of words even as He does multiple good works throughout his ministry. Open up the gospels and you see that they are full of Jesus' words. According to Duane Litfin, President of Wheaton College, it is simply impossible to do good works without opening the mouth. The gospel needs to be spoken, and the words become flesh through good works and the Power of Christ speaking. Litfin continues:

"It’s simply not possible to preach the gospel without words. The gospel is inherently a verbal thing, and preaching the gospel is inherently a verbal behavior. Thus the implication of this saying — that we are daily 'preaching the gospel' with our deeds is seriously misguided." (Duane Litfin, Word vs Deed, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012, p12-13)
Mere works without words are unhelpful, and undermines the gospel in a big way.

B) Words over Works?

On the other hand, the other extreme is equally bad. One reason why people often say actions speak louder than words is because far too many people talk much but do little. The famous acronym, NATO, has sometimes been used for the phrase, "No Action Talk Only." Even churches are not immune from lots of talking and meeting, but relatively fewer actions or implementations. Sometimes, groups intensely debate the various viewpoints and analyze all angles to the point that analysis becomes paralysis. This is one extreme that we need to avoid. Even James has reminded us.

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." (James 1:22-24)

In other words, just having words and not putting them into action is an act of self-deception. Britt Merrick argues that one reason for the lack of mission in the Church is due to us losing sight of the Person of Jesus Christ. We have essentially forgotten about our mission. In fact, there are Christians who have actually talked too much bad things to create negative perceptions in public. Merrick observes,

"Today more than 85 percent of non-Christians characterize the American church as antihomosexual, judgmental, and hypocritical. We may look okay to one another, but to those outside church walls, we look very little like the Jesus they’ve heard about. Somewhere between accepting the gospel for ourselves and delivering the good news to others, we’ve gotten off course. Somehow we’ve turned grace into condemnation, relationship into rules, and truth into judgment. Our Christianity has lost sight of the person of Christ." (Britt Merrick, Godspeed, Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2012, p11)
We need good works to help build bridges to the people God loves. We need to let our actions create opportunities to serve others and to share the gospel of Christ in love. We need to move away from judgmental words toward gracious works; from hypocritical behaviour to authentic living; from antihomosexual perceptions to acceptance of people for people's sake, regardless of their sexual orientation. We can all welcome but not necessarily affirm people's individual lifestyles. After all, if people has a right to their own way of life, we have a right to agree or disagree. Accepting people does not mean we agree. It simply means we love them as Christ has loved them.

C) Diakonia = Words + Works

The Greek word for service is diakonia. It can be translated as ministry, service, or supporting people. It is used in Luke 10:40 when Martha was busy serving her guests.

" But Martha was distracted with all her preparations ; and she came up to Him and said, 'Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone ? Then tell her to help me." (Luke 10:40)

In service, we need both works and words. The works open the doorways to a conversation. The word fills the conversation with life giving words. Both works and words inform people in different ways. The ministry of God requires both good works and good words. We speak the word. We authenticate the words with works. Both are needed.

D) On Evangelism

What about evangelism? Diakonia is more than mere evangelism in the conventional sense of giving a tract or running down the four spiritual laws. It is about presenting Christ in both our good works and good words. In other words, it is living out the gospel in works and in words. Jerry Root and Stan Guthrie calls evangelism as a form of "sacrament." What they mean is that they learn to fill the daily opportunities we have with the sacred presence of God. We invite the people we meet into a sacred time with people, demonstrating and presenting the gospel in all its fullness, both works and words.

"Evangelism is a sacrament. Those who practice it find that God is always showing up. Of course, He is already there, but those engaged in this sacrament begin to see Him regularly because their eyes are open to Hi presence. They practice His presence in their prayers for family, friends, and coworkers - even when those prayers are repeated year after year, seemingly unanswered. Hearts full of concern that others know the love and forgiveness of God keep us mindful of His nearness as we pray. Those concerned that others in their world discover the grace of Christ tend to be alert to the daily evidence of God's activity around them." (Jerry Root and Stan Guthrie, The Sacrament of Evangelism, Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2011, p16)

Diakonia is the third pillar of the Church demonstrated in our service to one another as well as to the world at large. We serve by presenting Christ through good works and good words. Sometimes, works need to be done first. Other times, words will dominate. Whatever it is, we need to be mindful of the moving of the Holy Spirit to prompt us to do wise combinations of both as we interact daily with people we love, and with neighbours and friends. If we are truly concerned about God's will be done in this world, we will all need to practise the sacrament of presenting Christ to the world. In our works and in our words. Good works open the doors for a good conversation. A good conversation opens hearts to the gospel.

THOUGHT: "You don’t have to make up a mission yourself. What you can do is join in the mission of Jesus that’s happening all around you. Missio Christi is about being who you are where you are, but beginning to live with faithful, missional intentionality." (Britt Merrick, Godspeed, Colorado Springs, CO, David C. Cook, 2012, p13)


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