Words get a bad rap. “All talk, no action” is a legitimate complaint. Christians, especially, shouldn’t be talkers only but doers.
First John 3:18 says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (ESV). If someone is suffering and we say “go in peace” without doing what we can to relieve that suffering, that isn’t love.
Still, we mustn’t be dismissive of words, especially when representing Jesus. This divide between words and actions is a uniquely human condition. God has no such conflict.
Christ is the Living Word who spoke the world into being. Right thoughts, right words, and right actions characterize Him. He has such integrity within himself that His words and actions are entirely unified.
Sin is what seeps into the fissures of human motives, creating a divide between words and behavior. So, we have every reason to hope! Jesus defeated sin on the cross and set us free to follow a unique path. As we walk in obedience to Jesus, we will find our words and actions merging into integrated lives that profoundly impact the world.
I’ve been guilty of being dismissive of words, but the journey God has walked me through since 2020 has helped me better understand the interplay in a believer’s life between words and actions. Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith and I co-wrote a book about conversations that have forever changed my behavior.
Colorful Connections would appear to be a book about words. We talk back and forth about what it’s like to be in our skin in these times. Men and women of other skin colors also share their experiences. We introduce twelve questions we believe lead to healthy conversations about racial healing. We encourage talking.
Where is the prescribed action? What good is there in more talk? More than we can even imagine. Here is what’s vital to discern.
We know a variety of foods are available to us, but all foods aren’t equal. Some nourish our bodies and lead to health, while others either do damage or pass through us, doing no good at all. It’s the same with words.
The world is full of chatter. Talking heads abound over every form of media, and much of it is like conversational junk food, passing through our system like empty verbal calories or worse. Some of these unhealthy words leave dangerous deposits on our minds and souls. We walk away with the bloat of discouragement or the arterial plaque of fear and division that opens us to the danger of losing heart.
There are, however, words and conversations that result in godly action. For instance, speaking frankly with our doctor provides her information so she can act toward a remedy. Words to a judge or a legislator can lead to actions bettering our community. Couples converse, leading to marriage and families. Conversation with God leads to action, not only in the world we see but also in the unseen realm.
Conversations around skin color can result in healing and justice, as well as deeper bonds between individuals and united communities as we invest in one another and build the house God desires. Godly words encourage godly thoughts that lead to godly actions empowering people to love, celebrate differences, and include others joyfully, not begrudgingly, based on respect and relationship.
Just because there has been much talk that led nowhere doesn’t mean talk is useless any more than believing that since junk food has led to poor health, starvation is the solution. There is a time for silence, but silence as a default is a false shelter or a fallout inspired by fear, shame, or lost heart. This type of silence is not God’s will for His people. Those who abandon the gift of words that lead to informed actions aren’t exhibiting godly wisdom but are falling prey to a dangerous deception, creating a truth vacuum so God’s enemy can fill the air with more lies.
Action is vital. We must act on behalf of one another out of love—caring for practical needs, advocating for justice, and building ministries and communities that reflect the variety of humanity God loves.
But blind action can lead to greater misunderstanding and hurt. Conversations motivated by love, marked by mutual respect, and informed by the Holy Spirit incite right actions that light up the world. God’s people should be leaders in conversations about bringing people of all ethnicities together around justice and healing and then do what we say.
There is foolish talk that occurs around the question of race. It’s not helpful to only talk with people who look like us. Another talk that isn’t helpful is grumbling that someone (else) should “do something.” Complaining about “those other people.” Uninformed and hurtful comments about this being an “old topic” or wishing it would just “go away.” These are all words that only add to the problem—verbal junk food. Taking the humble action, however, of going to a brother or sister who looks different from us and offering to listen to their story—leads to words that heal. This healing can then lead to a relationship, which will lead to loving, just, informed action. This is the way the church of God ministers and heals.
Let us resolve in 2023 to embrace renewed hope in God’s gift of words. We follow the Living Word, so we know that words have power to inspire and inform action. Let us reflect on our words and prayerfully assess which conversations lead to right action and which can be eliminated from our daily speech. Let us ask God to restore our faith in prayer and in healthy, godly conversation with others.
Then, let us act. Doing what is within our power to do to create homes, churches, ministries, and communities that reflect the variety God created and loves, so not part suffers, and all thrive.