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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Words and Actions

Jacques Ellul, in The Betrayal of the West states “The inconsistency between the West’s words and actions only made men take the words more seriously.” He goes on to say that their actions betrayed what they were advocating in their words. Although Ellul is speaking of the ideals of freedom and the value of the individual, we can apply his words much more broadly. The same dynamic occurs in all areas of life. When faced with similar situations we tend to either reject the words or the actions. Witness the smoker who tells his children not to smoke. They will often either become anti tobacco or avid smokers themselves. In one case they reject the words, in the other they reject the actions.

The same tension between words and actions occurs in our spiritual lives as well. Many times children will reject the faith of their parents because their words and actions are not in harmony with each other. If we are to avoid extreme responses, there must be a congruency between word and action. Both must support, not oppose, each other. Otherwise the same process of rejection will occur. One may become extremely law oriented while another will abandon the faith. One may become pietistic while another may extol a secular lifestyle.

When words and actions are inconsistent we run the danger of becoming hypocritical and losing any chance to be a true witness to the Christian faith. A minister was telling of one of his parishioners, a businessman, who had a high profile in the church. He had a sterling testimony within the church community. Everyone in the church thought highly of him. But one day another member of the church told the minister that he should talk to the businessman’s employees. They had a totally different impression than the church members had of the businessman. He constantly belittled, shouted at and berated his employees. He was rude to them and took their ideas as his own. He took advantage of his customers. His relationship with them was far from ethical. When he spoke of anything related to Christianity to his employees, they snickered and turned away. His words and his actions were totally inconsistent. Basically, he was living for God on Sunday and the Devil the rest of the week. Based upon the example of his life, his employees wanted nothing to do with his religion. His life was an example of the statement “actions speak louder than words”.

It is only when our words and actions support each other that people become attracted to the faith we represent. If they are not in agreement, we send a mixed message. On one hand, with our words, we are telling them that our faith is important to us. On the other, with our actions, we are telling them that our relationship with God is not important enough to us for it to actually affect our lives. This raises the question “Is it really important?” Our actions will always speak louder than our words. Therefore anyone looking on, will most likely conclude that it really isn’t very important.

I wonder, how many times in the course of our lives do our words and actions disagree with each other? When they do, what are we really saying to those who come in contact with us? By the inconsistency of our words and actions are we telling them that a relationship with God really doesn’t matter very much? Ask yourself the question: “What do my words and actions really say about my relationship with God?”

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