Does Your Faith Move You to Action?
THE army officer was convinced that Jesus could cure the paralysis of the officer’s slave. But the army officer did not invite Jesus into his home, perhaps because he felt unworthy or because he was a Gentile. Instead, the officer had some older men of the Jews approach Jesus and say: “Sir, I am not a fit man for you to enter under my roof, but just say the word and my manservant will be healed.” Noting that the army officer believed that Jesus could heal even from a distance, Jesus told the crowd following him: “I tell you the truth, With no one in Israel have I found so great a faith.”—Matthew 8:5-10; Luke 7:1-10.
This experience can help us focus on an essential element of faith. True faith is not passive belief; it is backed up by action. The Bible writer James explained: “Faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself.” (James 2:17) This fact becomes even clearer when we consider a real example of what can happen when faith becomes inactive.
In 1513 B.C.E., the nation of Israel was joined to Jehovah God by means of the Law covenant. As mediator of that covenant, Moses conveyed God’s word to the sons of Israel: “If you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then you will certainly become . . . a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:3-6) Yes, Israel’s holiness was dependent on obedience.
Many centuries later, the Jews began to attach more importance to a study of the Law than to the application of its principles. In his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim wrote: “The [rabbis]—the ‘great ones of the world’ had long settled it, that study was before works.”
Granted, the ancient Israelites were commanded to study God’s requirements diligently. God himself said: “These words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) But did Jehovah ever mean for a study of the Law to take precedence over actions in harmony with it or indicated by it? Let us see.
Placing extreme emphasis on a study of the Law might have made sense to the Israelites, since a certain Jewish tradition held that God himself spent three hours every day studying the Law. You can see why some Jews might reason, ‘If God regularly studies the Law, should not his earthly creatures be consumed with doing the same?’
By the first century C.E., the rabbis’ obsession with dissecting and interpreting the Law had completely distorted their thinking. “The scribes and the Pharisees . . . say but do not perform,” said Jesus. “They bind up heavy loads and put them upon the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger.” (Matthew 23:2-4) Those religious leaders weighed the common people down with innumerable rules and regulations, but they themselves hypocritically created loopholes that would exclude them from observing those same laws. Moreover, those men who concentrated on scholarly efforts “disregarded the weightier matters of the Law, namely, justice and mercy and faithfulness.”—Matthew 23:16-24.
How ironic that in seeking to establish their own righteousness, the scribes and the Pharisees ended up violating the very Law that they claimed to uphold! All the centuries of debates over words and other minutiae of the Law did not bring them closer to God. The effect was similar to the deviation caused by what the apostle Paul called “empty speeches,” “contradictions,” and false “knowledge.” (1 Timothy 6:20, 21) Another serious problem, though, was the impact that endless research had on them. They did not come to have the sort of faith that moved them to right action.
Intelligent Minds, Faithless Hearts
How different the thinking of the Jewish religious leaders was from that of God! Shortly before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses told them: “Apply your hearts to all the words that I am speaking in warning to you today, that you may command your sons to take care to do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 32:46) Clearly, God’s people were to be not just scholars of the Law but doers of the Law.
Time and again, however, the nation of Israel proved unfaithful to Jehovah. Instead of doing the right sort of works, the sons of Israel “did not exercise faith toward him and did not listen to his voice.” (Deuteronomy 9:23; Judges 2:15, 16; 2 Chronicles 24:18, 19; Jeremiah 25:4-7) Finally, the Jews committed their ultimate act of unfaithfulness when they rejected Jesus as the Messiah. (John 19:14-16) Accordingly, Jehovah God rejected Israel and turned his attention to the nations.—Acts 13:46.
We certainly need to be careful not to fall into the same trap—thinking that we can worship God with intelligent minds but faithless hearts. To put it another way, our study of the Bible needs to be more than an academic exercise. Accurate knowledge must reach our hearts to affect our lives for the good. Would it make sense to study vegetable gardening but never plant any seeds? Granted, we might gain a certain amount of knowledge about how to cultivate a garden, but we would never harvest anything! Similarly, people who learn God’s requirements through a study of the Bible must allow seeds of truth to reach the heart in order for those seeds to sprout and move them to action.—Matthew 13:3-9, 19-23.
“Become Doers of the Word”
The apostle Paul said that “faith follows the thing heard.” (Romans 10:17) This natural progression from hearing the Word of God to exercising faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, puts us in line for everlasting life. Yes, something more is required than simply saying, ‘I believe in God and Christ.’
Jesus urged his followers to have the kind of faith that would move them to action: “My Father is glorified in this, that you keep bearing much fruit and prove yourselves my disciples.” (John 15:8) Later, Jesus’ half brother James wrote: “Become doers of the word, and not hearers only.” (James 1:22) How, though, can we know what to do? By word and example, Jesus indicated what we need to do to please God.
While on earth, Jesus worked hard to promote Kingdom interests and to glorify his Father’s name. (John 17:4-8) In what way? Many people may call to mind Jesus’ miracles of healing the sick and the crippled. But Matthew’s Gospel makes clear the principal way: “Jesus set out on a tour of all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom.” Notably, Jesus did not limit his ministry to speaking casually to a few friends and acquaintances or to those he came in contact with locally. He exerted himself vigorously, using whatever means were available to him to visit people “throughout the whole of Galilee.”—Matthew 4:23, 24; 9:35.
Jesus directed his followers to share in the disciple-making work as well. Indeed, he provided a perfect example for them to imitate. (1 Peter 2:21) Jesus told his faithful disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.
Admittedly, sharing in the preaching activity presents a real challenge. Jesus himself said: “Look! I am sending you forth as lambs in among wolves.” (Luke 10:3) When we are faced with opposition, a natural tendency is to shrink back in order to spare ourselves unnecessary grief or anxiety. That is what happened on the evening of Jesus’ arrest. The apostles fled after being overcome by fear. Later that evening, Peter three times denied knowing Jesus.—Matthew 26:56, 69-75.
Furthermore, you may be surprised to learn that even the apostle Paul said that he struggled to preach the good news. He wrote to the congregation in Thessalonica: “We mustered up boldness by means of our God to speak to you the good news of God with a great deal of struggling.”—1 Thessalonians 2:1, 2.
Paul and his fellow apostles were able to overcome any fear of speaking to others about God’s Kingdom, and so can you. How? The most important step is to lean on Jehovah. If we put full faith in Jehovah, that faith will move us to action, and we will be able to do his will.—Acts 4:17-20; 5:18, 27-29.
There Exists a Reward for Your Activity
Jehovah is well-aware of the effort we put forth to serve him. He knows, for example, when we are sick or weary. He is aware of our insecurities and self-doubts. When financial burdens weigh us down or when our health or our emotions seem to betray us, Jehovah is ever mindful of our situation.—2 Chronicles 16:9; 1 Peter 3:12.
How delighted Jehovah must be when despite our imperfections and difficulties, our faith moves us to action! The tender regard that Jehovah has for his faithful servants is not just a vague feeling—it is backed up with a promise. Under divine inspiration, the apostle Paul wrote: “God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name, in that you have ministered to the holy ones and continue ministering.”—Hebrews 6:10.
You can trust the Bible’s description of Jehovah as “a God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice,” and as “the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Deuteronomy 32:4; Hebrews 11:6) For example, a woman in California, U.S.A., recalls: “My father served as a full-time minister for ten years before he began raising a family. He delighted me with stories of how Jehovah sustained him in the ministry. Many a time he spent his last dollar for gas in order to go out in the ministry. When he got home from the ministry, there would often be unexpected provisions waiting for him at the door.”
In addition to material support, “the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort” gives us emotional and spiritual support. (2 Corinthians 1:3) “Relying on Jehovah is a comfortable feeling,” says one Witness who has endured many trials over the years. “It gives you the opportunity to trust in Jehovah and see him in action as he helps you.” You can humbly approach the “Hearer of prayer,” assured that he will give attention to your personal concerns.—Psalm 65:2.
The blessings and rewards that spiritual harvest workers receive are many. (Matthew 9:37, 38) Sharing in the public ministry has brought health benefits to many, and it may do so for you. More important, though, witnessing to others helps us to strengthen a good relationship with God.—James 2:23.
Keep Doing Good
It would be a mistake for one of God’s servants to conclude that Jehovah is disappointed if infirmities or old age somehow prevents him from doing all that he would like to do in the ministry. The same holds true regarding those who are limited by poor health, family responsibilities, or other circumstances.
Recall that when the apostle Paul felt hampered by an infirmity or obstacle, he “three times entreated the Lord that it might depart” from him. Rather than cure Paul so that he might accomplish more in Jehovah’s service, God said: “My undeserved kindness is sufficient for you; for my power is being made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) Therefore, rest assured that despite any difficult circumstances you may be enduring, your heavenly Father appreciates whatever you may be able to do to advance his interests.—Hebrews 13:15, 16.
Our loving Creator does not require more of us than we can give. He simply asks that we have the kind of faith that moves us to action.
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Was studying the Law enough?
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Our faith needs to be backed up by works