“Actions, Actions, Actions”
September 20, 2015
By John Partridge
Scripture: Proverbs 31:10-31 James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a Mark 9:30-37
Have you ever been in a situation where things just didn’t work out, in real life, as good as they looked on paper?
When I was in marching band in high school, every couple of weeks we would learn a new band show. To do that, the band director would pass out assignments to the squad leaders and we would work out how and where we needed to march for each measure that we were playing in the music for that week. But what often happened was that, at some point, squads would collide or find themselves completely out of place for the next formation, not because they had made a mistake, but precisely because they were following the directions. At those moments we used to laugh and say, “Well, it worked on paper.”
Later on in our lives, many of us have had the experience of meeting a new employee at our place of business. And at some point we discovered that although this new person had great credentials, they had gone to a good school, they got good grades, they had worked for important people or prestigious companies, but somehow, after they were hired, they just couldn’t live up to their own hype. They just couldn’t get the job done.
And the opposite is also sometimes true. Sometimes the people we least expect to excel, perform far beyond our imagination.
In the end, what is on paper, or in our imagination, is not as important as real life action and performance.
Not surprisingly, we find this to be true in scripture as well.
We begin this morning with Proverbs 31:10-31, whose description of an ideal wife is so well known that it is often referred to simply as “the Proverbs 31 woman.”
10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
The ideal woman described in Proverbs 31 isn’t wonderful because she is pretty, or charming, or even because she has lots of children. The woman, of whom the writer of Proverbs thinks so highly, is praised because of the things that she does. As we read that passage, it is full of action verbs. She gets, she provides, she buys, she works, she cares, she helps, she is compassionate, strong, wise, faithful and has a sense of humor. The Proverbs 31 woman is praised not because of what she looks like, or because of her ambition, or because of what she intends to do, but because of the things that she actually does. This is true of all of us.
In the end, we will not be judged by our intentions, but by our actions.
You will remember that this was a common theme from our study of the book of James. In James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8 we hear these words…
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
4:3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you.
The truly wise people of the world show their wisdom by their actions, by their deeds, and by living the kind of life that true wisdom demonstrates. It is only through their actions that people can show that they are peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, impartial, and sincere. We can preach it as much as we want, we can intend to do it all that we want, we can plan to do it all that we want, but in the end we are not any of those things if we do not do them.
Our actions demonstrate the contents of our heart.
Our actions demonstrate our faith.
This is also the message of Jesus in Mark 9:30-37. We often say that this passage is all about offering hospitality to children, but it is much more than that.
30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
For Jesus, academically understanding the lesson isn’t all that there is. True understanding is something that is demonstrated and lived out. Real understanding results in a changed life. Real understanding results in actions that prove it.
Leaders aren’t leaders because they are more powerful than everyone else.
Real leaders don’t get things done because they bully everyone into doing what they want.
Real leadership isn’t about making everyone afraid of you.
Real leadership is about service.
Those who lead best are the best servants of the people they lead.
It’s all about action. Action, action, action.
The followers of Jesus are called to be like Jesus, and that means acting like Jesus, doing the thing that Jesus did, and living like he teaches us to live.
Jesus challenges us to live lives of purity, love, compassion, mercy, and grace and living like that can sometimes be unspeakably difficult and we often intend to do more than we deliver.
But it is our actions that count.
We are judged by what we do and not by what we intended to do.
What is on paper is not as important as action.
Imagination is not as important as action.
Theory is useless without results
Action always outweighs intention.
Telling people that God loves them, but acting like you hate them, just doesn’t work.
Reading the Bible everyday, but acting like the Pharisees are the real heroes, doesn’t work.
It just doesn’t cut it to go to church but act as if Jesus had nothing to say about love, compassion and mercy.
In the end, nothing that happens on Sunday morning matters…
… if you don’t act like Jesus when you leave.