May 01, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Matthew 21:28-32 Acts 16:9-15 John 14:23-29
Anyone who has had children, worked with children, or even found themselves working with adults in some capacity have encountered the mystery of flapping lips. What I mean by that is that from time to time, you ask someone to do something… and absolutely nothing happens. There is no recognition that you spoke and no movement to indicate that they were going to get up and do anything. So immobile is the subject of your request that you begin to wonder if the laws of physics have somehow been momentarily suspended and your lips simply flapped, but no sound waves were formed and thus no information travelled across the room to the ears of your children.
Normally, the next step is to speak louder to make sure that the laws of physics are still working properly.
Sometimes that doesn’t work either.
And then our children wonder why we seem to be yelling all the time.
Not surprisingly, the frustration of parenting isn’t new. In what is known as “The Parable of the Two Sons” in Matthew 21:28-32, Jesus tells a similar story.
28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
As children listening to their parents, or as the followers of Jesus, the key to listening or at least the proof that you were indeed listening, is action.
In the end, it was the obstinate and mouthy son that did what his father wanted. The polite son put on a good show, but never showed up for work.
In John 14:23-29, Jesus put it this way:
23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.
So far there are two lessons that have presented themselves. The first is the obvious, actions speak louder than words. Just like kids who can’t get up off the couch to do their chores, or go to bed, or to do whatever you are asking them to do, and just like the sons in Jesus’ parable, the ones who to the things that they are asked to do show us their respect and obedience far more than the ones who say they will and don’t show up for work.
The second lesson is just as, if not more, important than the first. Jesus tells us that obedience doesn’t happen because of our fear of hell, or because of our desire for God’s blessing, or for our hope of eternity in heaven. True obedience happens because it grows out of our love for Jesus. In the Army we were taught that the most effective leadership always grows out of respect, because while leaders who lead by fear and intimidation might be effective, soldiers will only follow them until they are more afraid of something else. I think a similar principle is at work here. If our obedience to God is based on love, then there isn’t much of anything that can happen to us in the course of our lives that can pull us in another direction.
But while it might be useful to consider all of this theoretically, what does it look like in practice?
What happens when we obey God in real life?
And for that, let’s consider the story of Paul found in Acts 16:9-15.
9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
There are actually two examples in this story for us to consider.
First, there is the example of Paul and Luke. They were travelling in what is now the nation of Turkey and Paul was hoping to preach in the Eastern part of that peninsula, which was at that time known as the Roman province of Asia. But each time they tried to go in that direction, God prevented them from going. Instead, God calls Paul, Luke and their missionary team to go in another direction and the Spirit of God calls them to go to Macedonia. When they hear God’s call, they go. And when they arrive, they share the stories that they know and tell whatever believers they can find about the good news of Jesus Christ.
On the Jewish Sabbath, they went outside the city gates and headed down to the river. In that time, it was traditional for Jews who lived far away from a synagogue, to gather together in such a place on the Sabbath day. And so Paul and his friends went to the banks of the river hoping to find a core group of believers. As it turns out, in that place are so few Jews, that there are no men and the only followers of God that they can find are women. One of those was a woman named Lydia who wasn’t even Jewish. She was a person, a Gentile, who had come to believe in Israel’s God and who worshipped God, but who had not yet made a formal conversion. Lydia was a business woman who had learned how to make an expensive purple dye which, historians and archaeologists believe, had to be made from some sort of shellfish. This purple dye, and the clothing made from it, was so expensive that only royalty and the very rich could afford it. For this reason, Lydia was probably a person of at least moderate wealth. And of course, Paul and his friends began to share the stories that they knew about Jesus.
And that brings us to the second example, and that is Lydia. Lydia hears the good news of Jesus Christ, responds to his invitation, she and her entire household are baptized and then she wants to know what to do next. Her act of obedience is to use what she has to grow the Kingdom of God. Paul heard the call of God and went to Macedonia, but God doesn’t call Lydia to be a missionary and so she simply uses what she has in the place where she already lives. She hears the call of God, and opens her house for Paul and his friends to stay while they preach in Macedonia. Lydia’s house becomes the home of the church in that city and Lydia herself becomes a leader, possibly the pastor, in that church.
This is the model for our lives.
Giving the word of God lip service and saying that we believe and then not doing anything about it makes us like the polite son who put on a good show but never showed up for work. Instead, the model for our lives is to be like Paul and like Lydia, to hear, go, and share. When we hear the call of God, our response must be to do the things that God calls us to do and along the way, share the stories of Jesus.
The mission statement for Trinity Church mirrors this model because we say that our mission is to know Jesus Christ, to grow in relationship with him, and then to go and share with others.
Like Lydia, not all of us are called to be pastors or missionaries, but we are still called by God to take action and to use what we have been given to grow the Kingdom of God.
And so, from time to time we should all ask ourselves, “If I have been called to be a follower of Jesus, and if actions speak louder than words, what do my actions say about my faith?”
Did you benefit from reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.