How many times have you told someone, “Actions speak louder than words”? Probably too many times to count. A pet peeve that we all share is someone who says one thing and does another. It speaks to their credibility and your ability to trust what they say. I’m sure we can all think of examples right now of times we’ve encountered this in others. The sad thing is that it happens in the Church as much as anywhere. That’s why the book of James in the Bible is pretty much about just that.
We’re all familiar with “Don’t just be a hearer of the Word, but a doer also,” and “Faith without works is dead.” James continues this theme throughout his book to remind us that we can’t just talk like Christians, we must live and act like Christians. James 3:13 says, “Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts” (MSG). As he wrote, it speaks to our reputation.
Living well can be translated into living honorably. People around us should be able to trust what we say. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A sterling reputation is better than striking it rich.” What is your reputation among other believers? Are you someone they can count on? Are you a person that has an honorable reputation among your local group of believers? What about your reputation among non-believers? To me, this one is of utmost importance. If the faith we claim is denied by the way we live, how will we win them?
I was always told that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking. What I’ve learned is that there is always someone looking. People are always watching us as believers. Our lives should reflect what we say we believe. I’m not saying you have to live perfectly because that’s impossible, but you do have to live honorably. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. So let’s not have dead faith. Let’s be doers of the Word and live a life that acts out the faith we profess.
One of the things I have to do often at work is self evaluation. After my boss observes me either working in the field or in presenting information, I know that afterwards they’re going to come to me with three questions. What did you do well? What was your biggest opportunity? What will you do differently next time? After answering these three questions, my boss then answers them from their perspective. The goal is two fold: to get me to calibrate my perception with theirs and to keep me constantly questioning how I can be more effective at what I do.
They know that if they can instill in me a mental process that asks those three questions constantly, I will improve whether they are there over my shoulder or not. Paul understood this principle too. He was mentoring Timothy from a distance. He offered him advice and encouragement in leading a church. Clearly, Timothy was a younger man than those he was preaching to and had doubts. Paul gave him pointers in the books of I and II Timothy that are good for each of us as believers.
In i Timothy 412-16, Paul offered encouragement first. He said, “Don’t let anyone think less of you…but be an example.” He encouraged him to do the right thing knowing that he was under more scrutiny because of his age in a leadership role. He simply encouraged him to do the right thing and show others how to live. In essence, Paul was saying, “Practice what you preach.” We should live the life that we are asking others to live. Each of us should be examples of Christ’s love to those who see us. When we do that, it’s hard for anyone to look down on us.
Next, he encouraged Timothy to focus on reading the scriptures and using the gifts God gave him. The more we read the Bible, the more we put it into our hearts. We know that what’s in the heart comes out the mouth. If we spend time reading God’s word (publicly and privately), we and those who hear it will know what God says and will know how to live. We won’t just rely on someone else telling us what God says. We will know because we have heard it ourselves. Psalm 1:2 and Joshua 1:8 encourage us to not just read God’s Word, but to meditate on it as well. Meditating on it pushes it deeper into our hearts and minds.
Finally in these verses, Paul tells Timothy what my boss tells me. He said, “Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. (NLT)” He wants Timothy to not just do things, but to pay attention to what he’s doing and how he’s doing them. He wants him to question those things so he can improve as a minister. Paul then gave the payoff of such improvement: “Because if you do, you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (GNT)” How we live affects how others receive the Gospel. We should constantly be questioning what we are doing well, what our opportunities are and what we can do differently in the future to improve. How you live matters whether you are a minister or not. Live in such a way that it points others to salvation.