The American statesman Benjamin Franklin corresponded with the evangelist George Whitefield about Christianity. In spite of Whitefield’s efforts, Franklin never turned to Christ. On one occasion Franklin wrote a criticism of the Christian faith as was practiced in America, “The faith you mention has certainly its use in the world. I do not desire to see it diminished, nor would I endeavor to lessen it in any man. But I wish it were more productive of good works, than I have generally seen it; I mean real good works; works of kindness, charity, mercy, and public spirit; not holiday-keeping, sermon-reading or hearing; performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers, filled with flatteries and compliments, despised even by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity. The worship of God is a duty; the hearing and reading of sermons may be useful; but if men rest in hearing and praying, as too many do, it is as if a tree should value itself on being watered and putting forth leaves, though it never produced any fruit.” (Personal correspondence from Benjamin Franklin to George Whitefield.) Unfortunately at times Church ministry in America can be more about entertainment than it can be about addressing real needs with real help.

The Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:15 speak of love in action. In its context this verse points to the fact that speaking the truth in love is a part of the process of maturing spiritually. Ephesians 4:14 speaks of achieving a level of spiritual maturity that comes as a result of speaking the truth in this way. According to this verse speaking the truth in love works to safe guard the believer and prevents him from being bantered about by false teaching. It states: “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting . . . .”

We must admit that sometimes actions are more effective in conveying our feelings and ideas than our words. The old axiom: “Actions speak louder than words” is true. We must keep this idea in mind when we read Ephesians 4:15, “. . . speaking the truth in love . . . .” Paul’s point can be glossed over and misunderstood. We assume if we have knowledge of Bible doctrine it will keep us from straying, but in its context Paul is suggesting a slightly different point. His point is that if we learn to live our faith, it keeps us from straying. Paul is talking about integration of the truth rather than a useless knowledge of the truth. Take a closer look at Ephesians 4:15. Notice it doesn’t just say “speak the truth,” and it doesn’t only refer to knowing the truth. It says, “. . . speaking the truth in love . . . .” There is more here than the idea of hollow obedience in communicating Biblical truth. This command involves the idea of integrating the truth in how we think and live. We are to allow the Word to touch every facet of our lives.

The church aspires to be purpose driven, but based upon the results, we are forced to ask, “What purpose really drives the American church?” A business approach to Christianity and a message of self-aggrandizement drives much of what is taking place in American church culture. The church falls into a pattern of entertaining people rather than helping them. In this environment, the church’s practical priorities are more about the lady’s tea, men’s softball, the Christmas bazaar, get rich schemes, etc. Preaching and worship are designed to attract, humor, and entertain new parishioners. James Cymbala, the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, wrote “As a preacher myself, let me be blunt here. Preaching itself can easily become just a subtle form of entertainment. When I stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ, he is not going to ask me if I was a clever orator. He is not going to ask me how many books I wrote.” (James Cymbala, Fresh Wind Fresh Fire, p. 59.) Cymbala later again wrote about how preaching should stir people to action and prayer: “God will someday ask, ‘Did you bring people to where the action could be found … at the throne of grace?’ If you just entertained them, if you just tickled their ears and gave them a warm, fuzzy moment, woe unto you. At the throne of grace, I could have changed their lives” (James Cymbala, Fresh Wind Fresh Fire, p. 84.) The kind of preaching that fails to lead listeners to respond with action is entertainment. Ironically, too many Christians have a theology that speaks of the value of prayer but rarely pray. Similarly, worship that fails to energize us to greater service is also little more than self amusement. (The underlying meaning of the word “amuse” means to divert someone’s attention from serious thought.) Isn’t this the kind of behavior that James warned against, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.” (James 1:23-24.)

The fact that our actions are to be in harmony with our word is emphasized many times in Scripture. Even in Psalm 51:6 we learn that God isn’t just looking for outward obedience but inward conformity as well. “Behold,You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.” We must recognize that our life must be in agreement with our words. Ours is a message of love and our actions must convey the same spirit from the core of our being.

Remember what Colossians 3:16 instructs us to do. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . . .” It is in this vein that 2 Corinthians 3:3 speaks of Christians being “living epistles.” When our knowledge of the truth is integrated into our lives it helps keep us from being drawn into error in our behavior and our thinking. We must guard against just collecting novel and interesting Bible facts. It is possible to become only a storage compartment for offbeat theological truths while just taking up space waiting for Christ’s return. When our knowledge of the truth is only at a mechanical, technical level we are still vulnerable to spiritual attack. Could it be that so many fine Bible teachers and pastors in America have fallen into sin because they failed to go beyond a superficial understanding of the Bible?

There is a danger in knowing Biblical truth while failing to live Biblical truth. It can make you believe you are something that you are not. It can make you think you are strong and invincible when you are really vulnerable and weak.

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(Permission is granted to use the material as long as the URL and source information are given. Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2010.)

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