Deeds and Words

[READ JAMES 2:14-3:12]


When Kaylee and I lived in the United States, there was, for a number of years, a debate raging in every part of the country and among every political party. It had to do with comments like this one. I don’t know who Senator Tillis is and I don’t know what tragedy he tweeted about; but this pattern repeated itself time and time again across the US. Some tragic event happened: a natural disaster. A tragic accident. Even a shooting! Politicians and celebrities would quickly find a public arena (online or in the media) and say something like what Senator Tillis said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the community.” Then they might give a little bit of money and forget about it. Weeks would go by. Months would go by. Then tragedy would strike again. They would speak up again. Give a little bit of money. Nothing would change. The cycle continued. Again and again and again. 

Leaders and celebrities kept saying the same words and doing nothing that people got angry—“We don’t want your thoughts and prayers!” They said, “We want action!” What are Christians to do with a world that doesn’t want prayer?

Allow me to answer that question with a question: What do you think prayer is

Maybe you think that prayer is about asking God to do everything for you. You have some need or struggle or hope and you offer it to God. Then you forget about it, but return to God saddened when nothing changes. On the other hand, maybe you think prayer is what Christians are “supposed to do” but you don’t expect that anything really will change. So you might pray before meals, you might say a lot of prayers like, “God bless this and God bless that,” but you carry on with your life without any expectation that your life or situation will be different. You just go through the motions, then carry on with your life.

Prayer is conversation between a person and God. Real prayer is a conversation that is based on a relationships of complete trust in God and complete submission to God. Of course, none of us trusts God completely and we do not submit our whole lives to God completely—but prayer still is the conversation based with God based on trust and submission. It means that I know who God is. I trust that God will do what God says. And God will talk to me! So I commit to doing what God calls me to do.


Every person on earth has a gap between what they say and what they do. For some people, the gap is very big. For others, it’s very small. But if you are the kind of Christian who has a gap between what you say and do, I suggest to you that the reason is because in at least one area of your life, you don’t trust God to do what God says and equally, you aren’t committed to doing what God has called you to do. In other words, if there is a gap between what you say and what you do, it is because there is a gap in your relationship with God.

Relationship with God and prayer, without expectation in the supernatural power of God to intervene in our natural world, is empty and worthless. AND Prayer, without the life lived to match, is also empty. If you do not believe in the supernatural power of God to intervene in our world and to intervene in your life in ways that will actually change the fabric of reality, then why are you talking to God? The worst case would be that we are using religious language to cover our discomfort or unwillingness to act—that we hide behind our kind words as an excuse to do nothing, while simultaneously, we invoke the name of God, whom we also expect to do nothing. And if you are living without the expectation that God will act to change your reality or to change you, then you are living as if everything good in your life depends (only) on your action! 

James is talking about practical morality here. James is not interested in talking theory alone; he is interested in the real-world application of the teachings of Jesus. In other words, it might be interesting to imagine a world where there is zero gap between our words and actions; but James wants us to take practical steps to close the gap. Why? Because James wants us to be more like Jesus. 

Do we want to be more like Jesus? 

It may seem like an obvious question in a church, but when we look around at the state of Christianity in North America—even struggles and pain in our own denomination, Classis, and congregation—we can easily see how we are not always following Jesus. So do we want to be more like Jesus? Do you? 

Kaylee and I have gone to several concerts and plays in the Arts building downtown over the past few months. Every time we leave, we say something like, ‘What a great show!” We might even have some criticism or note about how it could have been better. But never once have we considered becoming actors because we went to see a theatre show. 

What about you? I am speaking by way of analogy here. When you gather together with other Christians and you hear the sermon and you sing the songs, you might walk away and say, “Wow, what a preacher!” You might say, “Wow, the music was great today!” You might even have some idea or suggestion about how it could have been better. But the key question is, because of what you have seen and heard and sung and said today—will you become more like Jesus? In other words, are you just a spectator—even a really engaged spectator who stands and sits and claps at all the right times? Are you just a spectator, or do you really want to become more like Jesus? 


If you want to become more like Jesus, then you will begin to see opportunities in every area of your life. And wherever you go, whatever you do, your heart will begin to be more open to listening to what God is saying to you. God has given every one of his people at least one gift or talent and at least one calling or purpose. Do use the gifts and talents that God has given you and to pursue the calling or purpose that God has for you requires faith—trust in God—and it also requires faithfulness—obedient action, response to God. We do not need a church filled with ministers! Can you imagine the headache if everyone in the congregation had the same gifts and talents as me? It might seem nice for a moment, but consider also then we would have the same limitations, the same blind spots. God doesn’t need a church filled with ministers, God is calling us to be a church filled with different people with different gifts and callings, each of whom is committed to following Jesus with the particular gifts he has given us and the particular purposes he has for us. 

Of course, none of us would be so bold as to say, “Oh I don’t care about deeds!” But we quickly see our care when we talk about priorities: When it comes to issues of morality, do we first make sure that we say the right thing, then worry about figuring out the accompanying actions? I think we do. When it comes to the care we offer others, is it more important to us to say the word “Welcome!” or go out of our way to serve others? It’s certainly easier to say “welcome” than to do welcoming things. 

So what will we do? The best TED talk or sermon in the world might inspire you for 5 minutes. Maybe even 30 minutes. Just like a play or concert might fill your heart or inspire your soul for an afternoon or evening. But if you want to change your life—if you really want to change it—you desperately need an example to follow.

In our text for today, James reminds us that none of us Christians are perfect. We fail and fall short in all kinds of ways. In his closing words, James reminds us that the imperfections in us will tear us apart if we do not address them: 

Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

James 3:11-12

In other words, the inconsistency between good words and inaction, between blessing and cursing, is unsustainable. Eventually it will tip one way or the other. James pushes us to look the perfect example of Jesus. And not just to look at Jesus, but to follow Jesus. To learn from Jesus and to become a disciple of Jesus, who says the kinds of things that Jesus said, but also who does the kinds of things that Jesus did! THIS is why deeds are so important: when we act like Christ, we show Jesus to others, so that they too might follow in his way. The perfect way of Jesus is the only way to find freedom from the hypocrisy that is common to all humanity. 

Our good deads prove our faith. James knows that faith is the gift of God. Deeds are our part, our response to God, which others see. Others will not “see” faith as a first order thing. (They will not “see” that you are a Christian in the same way that they will see a red shirt). But our good deeds prove God to be righteous, good, and honorable! Good deeds improve our own lives and improve others’ lives too!


The words for doing good deeds and saying good things is integrity. God prioritizes integrity: the right words follow the right action. Our temptation is to talk more than we act (or before we act). But Integrity (and God’s example!) is to powerfully connect words and actions. This is how God is! In Creation, God spoke, and creation sprang into being! In Exodus, God instructed Moses to say, “Let my people go!” And when Moses spoke, God powerfully delivered! When God sent decided to save humanity from sin and shame, he did not just speak the words, he sent his own beloved son! John tells us that, in this action, “The Word [of God] became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus is the ultimate example of God’s integrity to speak and act powerfully together. This is why Jesus is our perfect example to follow—and not just to follow as individuals, but as a new community, united by our common desire and purpose to follow Jesus. 

Some of you are regularly concerned about separation or lack of unity within River Park Church. This is a good thing! You want us all to join together and do everything together! But are you willing to follow Jesus’ example? Are you willing to serve as Jesus served? Are you willing to give as God gave? Will you go to others, just as God went to the people he loved? …or will you wait for others to come to you? James’ concern, I said earlier, is for practical morality. James is interested in the real-world application of the teachings of Jesus—especially for the family of God.The witness of the early church James wrote to was not an evangelism plan; it was how deeply they loved one another. The church cared for one another. They did not wait, they did not complain about how they were treated in society. They simply and consistently loved God and love each other with their words and with their lives. This was seen by and became attractive to everyone! 

So what about us? What about you? As we close today, I want to share with you a quote from Jaroslav Pelikan, an American theologian and teacher:

“Tradition is the living faith of dead people to which we must add our chapter while we have the gift of life. Traditionalism is the dead faith of living people who fear that if anything changes, the whole enterprise will crumble.”

We, River Park Church, follow in the tradition of the church; that is, the tradition of Jesus. We serve a goal and purpose that is greater than ourselves. We are part of a story that is greater than ourselves. And we do good deeds not for ourselves, but as a celebration of and testimony to God’s gift of life to us and within us. Our temptation remains to talk more than we act. (This is especially true for teachers, as James says!) Our temptation is to stop serving a goal bigger than ourselves and just to “talk about it.” We fall into this temptation when we give in to fear. You know our identity as a community. But you are a part. And you are invited and challenged to become a deeper part of it! If our identity is as followers and disciples of Jesus—not just fans of Jesus—what about you? What does it look like for you to follow Jesus with integrity?

Let’s Pray.

And as we close in prayer, remember that prayer is an expression of our heart to God. Prayer is our words to God and from God. But Life is an expression of our heart to others.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: