Deeds Above Words
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
Life always lies in the doing, not the talking. From the moment we take our first steps as very young children until the final moment before we shuffle off this mortal coil, which of us does not remark and remember his or her life by the things we have done, rather than the things we have merely said or heard?
We have all heard ad nauseum the hoary cliched aphorism about “walking the walk” as opposed to merely “talking the talk”. Even in our secular culture we prize doing over mere saying.
As we are meant to live, so we are meant to do.
As we are meant to live, so we are called to act. Life is always best thought of as a verb and not merely a noun.
We can see this clearly articulated in the Gospels, where Jesus repeatedly gives examples of virtue through action rather than merely saying. The distinction between the doing and the talking is at the heart of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46:
"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exhorted His disciples to “let [their] light shine” to highlight their “good works.”
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
There can be little doubt but that Jesus meant for people to act, to live out His teachings and not merely hear them.
Paul again reminds us of this in Romans 12:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.
We are called to live. We are called to love. We are called to do.
It is not always an easy calling. There are moments when we are tired. There are moments when we are distracted. There are moments when we are discouraged. In those moments it is tempting to not act, to not do, but to become passive, listening only, perhaps talking, but never doing.
Yet in time we become rested and restored. In time we recover our focus and our mission. We receive fresh inspiration. And when we are rested and restored, when we have recovered our focus and our mission, when we have received that fresh inspiration, we are called to get back up and to keep moving forward along the road that leads always to our ultimate destination.
We do this because we are always called to live. We are always called to love. We are always called to do.
Yet we are also called to mindfulness, and to faith. It is not enough merely to do “something”. We must seek to do that which is right.
Having heard God’s Word, having received the teachings of the Gospels, we are called to put those teachings into practice.
It is not enough to merely hear and to receive. We are meant also to live out that which we have heard. We are meant to live out that which we have received.
We will have those moments when we will forget this. We will have those times when we are tempted, even seduced, and so we will fail to live out that which we have heard and received.
When this happens—and it most assuredly will happen to us all—our actions are still clearly laid out before us: we must stop walking down that path into temptation; we must turn back onto that path into righteousness; we must embrace the forgiveness that is God’s Promise to us, and we must go forth once more.
Even though the doing is what will lead us away from the path we are meant to walk, is the doing that will still lead us back onto that path.
Thus the essential expressions of faith as well as wisdom are actions. Prayer is an action. Submitting before God is an action. Getting back up and getting back on the path we are meant to walk is an action.
These actions—and many more—are at the heart of whatever calling we have in life.
And if we are sincere in our faith, and if we are committed to wisdom, so too shall we be sincere and committed in our actions. If our deeds are our faith made manifest, then our efforts will reflect this.
We are not called to act blindly, or unthinkingly. We are not called merely to stumble through this or that deed. If our light is truly shining before the world that the world may see our good deeds, then surely in the doing of those deeds we will be intentional; we will be focused, and purposeful.
The call to action is also a call to excellence, and a call to dedication. The call to action is a call to purpose, and a call to conviction.
We will always first hear, and first receive, for that is how we come to be called. The first steps on any path are always to open our ears and open our hearts.
But having heard and having received, having opened our ears and opened our hearts, we will always be called to act on what we have heard, and to do that which we have received.
The words we hear are important. The teachings we receive matter. Yet it is the deeds we do in consequence of hearing and receiving which matter most of all.
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