Saturday, February 23, 2013

Learning to Walk the Talk

A man had two sons; and coming to the first, he said, "Son, go work today in my vineyard." He answered, "I will, sir," but went not. And coming to the second, he said the same. And he answering, said, "I will not;" but afterwards repenting, he went. Which of the two performed the father's will? They say, "The latter."            

-Matthew 21:28-31, Emphatic Diaglott

This passage from Matthew is one of the lesser-known of Jesus' ministry. This may be due, in part, to the fact that it is shorter than the majority of Jesus' parables. While less known and shorter, however, it is no less meaningful.

In this parable, Jesus paints the picture of two sons who react in opposing ways to their father's request. The first son states that he will do what his father requests but does not keep his word, while the second initially refuses and then changes his mind. Jesus asks, "Which of the two performed the father's will?" The correct answer, as indicated in the text, is the son who actually does his father's will in spite of initially saying he wouldn't.

How often do you say "no" to God when initially confronted with His will? Each and every one of us can identify with one of the two brothers in this parable with nearly every major decision in our lives. We tend to either say "yes" but not act upon our word, or say "no" and eventually do what is right.

We've all heard the slogan, "You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?" Unlike the majority of Christendom's mantras, this one is actually valid. In His parable of the two sons, Jesus depicts one son who merely says (talks), while another actually does (walks). The son who "walks" is given credit as the one who does his father's will, in spite of his initial refusal.

This parable teaches us two important lessons. First: we do no not have to say "yes" from the outset to do God's will. What's important is that we eventually do it! Second: our actions are more important than our words. What we actually do is more meaningful than what we merely say we will do.

Throughout my life, I have, at times, said that I would do certain things and have delayed doing them or, even, never done them. In each instance where I have neglected to act, the results have not been favorable. On the other hand, I have occasionally refused to act at first but have decided to act at a later date. In those cases, the results have been favorable.

In Jesus' story, the son who said "yes" would have been viewed more favorably by his father for his initial obedience. Without hesitation, he agreed to do what his father asked. On the contrary, the other son whose heart seemed, at first, to be rebellious, would have been viewed less favorably by his father. When all was said and done and the father knew what each son had done, he would have viewed each son in an opposite light. The one son's words mean nothing when he doesn't act; the other son's eventual action means everything in spite of his negative words.

I meet many people who struggle with doing, at first, what they know to be right. These people allow their fears to prevent them from being unquestionably obedient to God. This makes sense, of course, given the fact that a life of faith is filled with trial and suffering which nobody welcomes with open arms. In Jesus' story about the two sons, neither son wanted to work in the father's vineyard; neither welcomed the idea of manual labor in the hot sun. Their willingness to work or not work was dependent on their desire to obey their father and trust in his judgment. The same can be said of us. When confronted with God's will in our personal lives, we will rarely want to do it. It will seem in nearly every case to be the harder road. Faithfulness, then, demands trust in God's promises which leads us to obey.

Jesus taught this story to demonstrate to the self-righteous Pharisees that it was not enough for them to merely say "yes" to God. Their words made them appear obedient, but their actions proved that they were disobedient. No doubt, this hypocritical paradigm is every bit as common among the religious elite today.

In Jesus' example of the two sons, neither son is entirely in the right; neither is completely mature. While the righteous son does eventually do his father's will, his initial response was not what it should have been. Rather than say "no" and eventually do his father's will, he should have said "yes" and immediately done it. The more we mature in our faith, the more we will say "yes" like the one son and do as God instructs like the other. We should strive to both say and do what is right.

Ask yourself which son you tend to align with. Do you say "yes" to God but never act accordingly, or do you say "no" and eventually overcome your fears? If your actions don't line up with your words, understand that it is not enough to merely say "yes." Your words are meaningless when they are not supported with action. On the other hand, if you tend to be defiant out of fear but eventually do what is right, make a commitment to be bold in your faith. Recognize that while following God may mean more trial at first, it means more blessing in the long run. Let your words and your deeds demonstrate a life of faithful obedience. Let your "walk" always match your "talk."

© 2013 by Stephen Hill

No comments:

Post a Comment