Two Sides of the Same Coin

I read this in a recent article on Relevant magazine:

This is how Christ won over his followers: By setting an example and investing in people’s lives through loving relationships. We should do the same.

That statement was accurate till the author put a period at the end of it. Jesus won over his followers by example, relationship, and teaching… And then we could accurately and helpfully end the article with, “We should do the same.” I don’t get the push to over-emphasize actions against right-thinking or true belief. Yes, “faith without works is dead.” But works without faith is dead too!

I was struck several weeks ago by this statement in Mark:

So as Jesus stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then He began to teach them many things. (6:34)

After teaching all afternoon, he then fed the 5,000. But notice where he started; seeing they were suffering, having compassion on them, he began to teach. What was the focus of his ministry? Mark 6:6

Now He was going around the villages in a circuit, teaching.

I am absolutely in agreement that our lives give witness to the truth, the value, and the efficacy of our beliefs, and that if our actions are inconsistent then all our thoughts and words will be largely wasted (and in some cases totally wasted), but we find the guidance for understanding proper action in having right beliefs.

What do I mean?

Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love … is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.

(J.I. Packer, Growing in Christ. 232)

I am seeing a large percentage of an entire generation of believers become swayed into wrong thinking and beliefs by over-emphasizing action above belief. They are reacting to legitimate wrongs/injustices, but not doing it in a Christ-like manner. And in the long-run this will do more to harm our Christian witness than to help it; it will erode our ability to truly help people. We’ll find ourselves giving them fish instead of teaching them to fish, to put it over-simply. (And I completely agree there is a time to just give them a fish, or two, or three…)

I don’t say these things as one guilty of prioritizing words over actions, but as someone who daily pours out my life in the service of the hurting, as one whose home is open both to temporary residents and to constant visitors, and as one who teaches all who will listen to do the same. But along the way, I insist on the truth so far as I am able, because otherwise I’m only applying band-aids instead of healing hurts.

3 thoughts on “Two Sides of the Same Coin

  1. Nate-
    While I realize this seems to be an issue in the ministry world as of late, given that it has been given so much press with this article, and also two within Christianity today: one was a reflection on the quote attributed to St. Francis ” Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words”, and the other was entitled “What’s wrong with incarnational ministry?” I must admit its one that I still remain neutral on. I realize that we are to be sure that our works stem from our beliefs, and that its not the other way around, but i also feel that works can be a caveat for sharing the gospel with people. Though, I must say that I like your comment about just putting on bandaids rather than healing hurts. I understand that what some today might call “servant evangelism” might be questioned, and that anyone can “do good”, and that preaching has contents that works may not. But i think in a way the issue at hand here is , does the great commission promote go and tell or does it promote come and see? This brings to mind the pssage in Matthew 25, where Jesus said “Whatever you do to the least of these, you also do to me.” I agree that faith should be our motive for how we act , and wholeheartedly that we need to do things in a Christ like manner, and that we should indeed “teach people to fish” but also be able to, as we are commanded , “love our neighbors as ourselves.” So I can see why you cleverly entitled this post “Two sides of the same coin” as its an issue/debate/argument that may/may not ever be resolved. Thank you for your helpful insight.

  2. Erika,

    I’m so glad you brought up the Great Commission…I had forgotten to discuss that aspect of this matter. You see, Scripture’s model and Christ’s mandate is not to “Go and tell” but to invite.

    It seems at first glance that the Great Commission itself would contradict me, but not when we look a little closer. There is only one imperative in the Great Commission: μαθητεύσατε, “make disciples.” There are two subordinate participles, βαπτίζοντες (baptizing) and διδάσκοντες (teaching), and a preceding, descriptive participle, πορεύθεντες (as you are going). In other words, we might most accurately read Matthew 28:18-20 thusly, “… All authority in Heaven and on earth was given to Me. As you are going, therefore, disciple all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things completely as I commanded you. And, behold, I am with you always until the completion (or fulfillment) of the age.”

    This is not to say that it couldn’t also accurately be translated, “having gone”, however, that seems much less likely given the overall context (I need to sit down and write an actual paper on this passage), and this wouldn’t change the fundamental difference I am highlighting here anyway. The point I’m trying to make is that “Go therefore” as the primary imperative of the Great Commission is highly misleading. The word poreuthentes, variously translated “Go”, “having gone,” and “as you are going” is secondary to the primary command: make disciples — by teaching and baptizing.

    This is not to argue that the concept of taking the Gospel to the Nations is not in view in the Great Commission, nor that it is not implicit in Jesus’ mind and in the phrasing of “as you are going,” however, it does reveal that the paradigmatic presumption of God is not that we will win souls by going, but rather God expects that we will establish communities to which we can invite, “come and see.”

    Let’s look at God’s model; after all, we are to “be imitators of God therefore as dearly beloved children.” God came down and established imitators of Himself: Adam and Eve. They marred His image, so He established a family/nation that would be charged to settle down in a particular place and begin imitating His character. Israel proved less than reliable in this task and God then extends His mandate, “Be holy as I am holy” to the nations. In other words, the culturally-charged words “disciple”, “teach”, and “baptize” contained implicit within them the understanding of establishing a faithful, imitating community. Jesus’ assumption was that the light on top of a hill would be a “city”, not a lone individual. Similarly here, it was implicitly understood by the disciples that they were to “raise up many disciples” wherever they went, establishing witnessing communities, to which the lost and searching might be invited. What after all is the point of baptism? To identify one with a community.

    So…we must maintain as significant a priority on right teaching as we do on faithful action. This is not an either/or proposition. Of course, so far as we are able we ought to strive to teach in a manner that is most easily heard by the audience (think St. Paul on Mars Hill), but we are also to remain vigilant not to water down the truth (think Christ and the rich young ruler).

  3. By the way, for those more inclined to in-depth Greek study, I am fully aware of the argument that since matheusate is an aorist active imperative, poreuthentes should be translated “Go,” but I find the argument less than convincing.

    Of course, there is a legitimate argument to be made that possibly it should be rendered “go,” but in the final analysis, since there are also convincing arguments for “as you are going,” the determination ought to be the thrust of Jesus’ message. Since “Go” lends itself to the misunderstanding of “Go therefore” as the primary point, when “make disciples” is truly the focus of Jesus’ mandate, “Go” can be misleading.

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