Word Ministry and Deed Ministry (2 of 3)



At the risk of redundancy with the first post in this series, here’s an excerpt from something I wrote which explores a little more deeply this question of whether and how both words and deeds are “necessary.” The excerpt comes from Reverberation: How God’s Word Gives Light, Freedom, and Action to His People which should be published early next year. It’s on the unique power of God’s Word to give life to the church.

Excerpt begins:

In addition to providing a platform or opportunity for the Word to go forth, there are several matters which provide evidence of the power of the Word. They confirm or testify to its life-changing power. Here we move into the biblical territory of the attractive nature of good works and the compelling picture of a Christian community.

God does mean for some things to be attractive to the world, namely, the holiness and self-sacrificial love of Christians in their lives together and apart. The New Testament is filled with such statements:

  • “…so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
  • “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35)
  • “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).
  • “Slaves…are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:9-10).
  • “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
  • “wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives—when they see your respectful and pure conduct” (1 Peter 3:1-2).

I like the phrase Paul uses in Titus 2: our good deeds and righteousness should adorn our doctrine….

Does this mean that we should say that good works (like faithful marriages, honesty at work, caring for the poor, pursuing justice, submitting to non-Christian husbands, and so on) are necessary for conversion and church growth? Does it mean that the bird won’t fly without the wing of Word-ministry and the wing of deed-ministry?

It depends on what you mean by “necessary.” Are good works necessary for the Word and Spirit to give new life? Certainly not! The last chapter and the first half of this chapter, hopefully, have dispensed with that idea. People get saved listening to hypocritical preachers and anonymous radio preachers. You can proclaim the gospel without deeds, but you cannot proclaim the gospel without words.

But aren’t good deeds necessary for preserving the public reputation of the church and its Lord? For demonstrating that he means what he says? For demonstrating that we have integrity? Generally speaking, yes! Listen to how one biblical minister advises another: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8).

The gospel Word creates gospel life in an individual and in a church. When that individual and church then turn to minister to others, their word and life should be integrated—have integrity. In one sense, there are not two things (two wings) but one thing with two distinct parts—a faithful witness in word and deed. Also—and this is very important—the two distinct parts are doing distinct things, unlike two wings. The Word is doing things that the deed cannot do: it’s pointing to an invisible God who has sent his Son to die on the cross; it’s calling all to repentance; it’s freeing the enslaved; and it’s giving life to the dead. The deed is then doing something the Word cannot do: it’s demonstrating or picturing the effects of this gospel Word. It’s testifying to its life-changing power. The Word is the main character; the deed is the supporting character.

To summarize: are deeds “necessary” for raising the dead and freeing the enslaved? From the standpoint of the Spirit’s work, no. From the standpoint of Christianity’s public credibility, generally yes. The Spirit’s work will produce evidence in our deeds. And every good deed becomes one more witness who testifies on behalf of the gospel’s truth and power.

Excerpt ends.

What do you think? Do you want to propose any changes before this hits the press?

Update: here’s part 3 in this series.

Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan (@JonathanLeeman) edits the 9Marks series of books as well as the 9Marks Journal. He is also the author of several books on the church. Since his call to ministry, Jonathan has earned a master of divinity from Southern Seminary and a Ph.D. in Ecclesiology from the University of Wales. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Cheverly, Maryland, where he is an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church.

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