Monday, May 10, 2010

The Gospel Deed and the Gospel Word, Part 1

Some Christians/churches emphasize the Gospel Deed: acts of compassion and social justice. Others emphasize the Gospel Word: the proclaimed message of Christ's death and resurrection and our response of repentance and faith. Jesus did both (He came doing and teaching, Acts 1:1). The early church, according to the record of the book of Acts, also did both. It's easy for us to overemphasize one to the neglect of the other if we are not careful. Both are commanded for Christians (Luke 6:35, 2 Timothy 4:2).

What is the relationship between the Gospel Deed and the Gospel Word? While it is clear that both deed and word are commanded by God and are good for others, we must recognize that the Gospel Word itself is the main event. Scripture is clear that no one can be saved without a preacher (Romans 10:14, 17); it never says that acts of compassion save others. So we absolutely cannot neglect the actual proclaiming of the gospel message, for it is this message of Christ's death and resurrection that is "the power of God unto salvation" (Romans 1:16). There is truth to the old argument that if we feed the hungry without preaching the gospel to them, they may have a full stomach, but they will still die and face God's eternal judgment for their sins.

However, acts of social justice may not save the soul (if done without the word), but they are used by God to provide an opportunity to preach the gospel! The Gospel Deed opens the door for the Gospel Word, and the Gospel Word is backed up by the Gospel Deed. Our deeds of love show that our preaching can be trusted.

Which one is your strong point? Which one is your weakness?

Acts chapter 3 is a really good demonstration of the deed and the word working together. Peter and John are going to the Temple to pray, and see a lame beggar at the gate. They take the time to recognize this man, and even heal him in the name of Jesus! An amazed crowd quickly gathers around them (they recognize that this is the man who has been lame for over 40 years). Peter then uses this opportunity (created by the Gospel Deed) to boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, confront the people with their sin and their need for forgiveness, and call them to respond with repentance.

Today we will look at Acts 3's lessons on the Gospel Deed. In Part 2 we will learn from Peter's Gospel Word.

Lessons From the Healing:
1. Good things happen in connection with worship (Acts 3:1). It was on the way to a prayer meeting that this miracle took place. Planned meetings are not bad. Public, formal meetings are not wrong! The believers met in homes AND the Temple; public and private; formal and casual. We need both, and God does great things in the life of the church that gathers for worship.

2. Don't quickly dismiss requests: the lame man asked for help (Acts 3:3). We should not be too quick to say no when asked for help. For one thing, Jesus taught us to help when asked (Luke 6:30). Secondly, it could be the hand of God! God may be about to do something glorious.

3. Peter and John looked at the beggar, not the other way (Acts 3:4). The Bible makes a point to tell us that Peter and John both directed their gaze AT the beggar. Don't turn your eyes away from the suffering. Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse(Proverbs 28:27).
4. Peter said, "Look at us" (Acts 3:4). We should live in such a way that people can look at us and see the way. Paul was able to say, Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Peter was being confident in the Lord here by engaging the lame man.

5. The apostles did not give the man what he asked for (Acts 3:6). Peter said he didn't have any money. Sometimes money is not what someone truly needs. It's easier to throw money at someone than to take the time to love them and meet the real need.
6. Generosity and Sharing: "what I do have I give to you" (Acts 3:6). We've seen the early church sharing physical things (2:45); now we see them sharing spiritual things. Both are necessary! As followers of Christ (the Giver of himself!) we should be known as generous people.

7.The Gospel Deed is to be done "in the name of Jesus" (Acts 3:6). We are not called to be merely moral people. A Christian doing a good deed is the same as an atheist doing a good deed, unless he does it in the name of Jesus. The church is not the same as the United Way or CAPCA. Jesus didn't die for these man-made organizations; he died for the church (Acts 20:28; Eph 5:25)! Our good deeds are different; they are done because of, and for Christ. People must know why we are doing what we do. We have no authority outside the name of Jesus! for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). We are not called to give a drink to the thirsty, but to do it in the name of Jesus.
8. We need to expect God to do mighty things! Too often we don't pray for miracles to happen; we don't expect God to do amazing things; we don't step out in faith; we do not pray for the sick to be healed. God is an awesome God, and Jesus still heals the sick! This man used to have an incurable disease…until he was cured! (Isaiah 35:6)

9. The formerly lame man entered the Temple with Peter and John (Acts 3:8). We are not called to give people a smile, a prayer or a quick sermon and then leave them. We are not even called to put a prayer in someone's mouth asking Jesus to "come into their heart." We are called to make disciples. This implies follow-up, fellowship, community – receiving people into our lives. The man was healed, and then followed them into the place of worship (even clinging to them – v11). This was particularly meaningful for this man – it was the first time he had ever come into the Temple to worship God!! We know this because he was lame from birth (v2) and the Law forbade those who were blemished from entering the Temple (Leviticus 21:17-20; 2 Samuel 5:8). His deficiency had separated him from God; a picture of sin that separates us all from God. Jesus brings us to God!
10. The man was not afraid to praise and thank God joyfully! (Acts 3:8). This healed man was leaping (dancing?) and praising God! He did not care what people thought about him – he was a passionate worshiper of the Lord, who had done great things for him! We are sometimes too restrained in worship; we seek to please men and not give joyful praise to God. We as believers in Christ have every reason to be joyful and passionate in our praise of God: While we were sinners, God sent his Son to die for us; Jesus bore the wrath of God for us on the cross; Jesus rose from the grave and gives us his resurrection power; God credited us with Jesus' righteousness; God raised us spiritually from the dead (Eph 2) and made us alive in Christ; God adopted us into his family, receiving us as his own sons and daughters; God promised us that we will be with him forever! Hallelujah!

11.God will use the Gospel Deed as an opportunity for the Gospel Word to be proclaimed (Acts 3:11-12). The healing of this man became a public testimony; the people recognized the man (they had seen him often – he was more than 40 years old! – 4:22) and were "filled with wonder and amazement." 
In Part 2 we will learn from Peter's Gospel Word. Until then, let us pray that God will fill us with compassion for the Gospel Deed!


Phillip Fletcher said...

Very well explained.


Paul said...

This is a good word! It encourages me to more action that exalts the gospel of Jesus Christ.