“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”—Matthew 5:14-16

“Preach the Gospel at all times.  Use words if necessary.”—attributed to Francis of Assisi

One of the above statements was made by Jesus, the Son of God, whose words come from the very heart and mind of God.  As believers, we build our lives on His words, because everything He ever said is perfectly true.  The other statement was made by a human being, and human beings, if you didn’t know, occasionally get things wrong.

The truth is that it’s doubtful St. Francis even made that famous statement, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming popular.  People love the idea that they can get credit for proclaiming the Gospel without actually using words, because putting God’s truth into words is offensive and uncomfortable.  Telling someone that they’re a sinner in need of a Savior is difficult; it’s much easier just to do a “random act of kindness” and hope that somehow they’ll get the message about the saving love of God.

Jesus said something different.  He said that for His followers, acts of kindness aren’t random at all, they are opportunities for people to become aware of God’s goodness and greatness.

It’s always good to do good deeds, but we need to be honest about the fact that we can do them for a wide variety of reasons.  We do good things for others because we love people, or because we love our community.  But we also do them so that people will notice how loving and good we are.  We do them because it makes us feel good.  We do them because we think we are earning points with God.  We do them because we feel guilty about having more than others.  Sometimes we do good deeds because someone we respect, such as a parent or a pastor, told us to, and we’re simply being obedient.

Jesus thought the best reason to do good deeds was the glory of God.  He did not say:

“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and be impressed with how selfless you are.”

He did not say:

“Let your light shine before others, because serving people makes you feel good inside.”

He did not even say:

“Let your light shine before others, because it will make the world a better place.”

For Jesus, good deeds were a tool, not the goal.  They were something God could use to shine the spotlight on Himself, for the purpose of drawing people to Himself.  He told us to do good deeds so that people would see them and glorify God.  This implies that, somehow, those people need to know that we are representing God in the things we’re doing.  Which means that, at some point, we’re going to have to use words.  We’re going to have to tell them that we are followers of Jesus, doing the things we do because we love Jesus, in the hope that they will experience the love of Jesus.

I’m proud to be a part of a church that excels in good deeds.  Community Church loves Susanville and its people well.  We provide backpacks for foster children, and lunches for hundreds of kids each summer.  We clean up the park twice a year, and we work hard to push back against poverty, abuse, and human trafficking through our Justice Task Force.  At times, we even partner with community organizations that don’t necessarily share our mission of spreading the Gospel, because of our commitment to the common good.

I wonder, though, if those we serve always connect the dots, and understand that we do what we do because of the love of God?  I wonder if sometimes we ourselves forget that these good deeds are not the ultimate goal, but simply a tool?  I recently heard a pastor describe how he and his staff have helped the people of their church understand the true purpose of community service, and I really liked it:

We do good deeds to gain good will so we can share the Good News.

As Christians, we have an essential message we need to bring to the world: this thing we call the Gospel.  And the Gospel absolutely must be expressed in words.  The Good News is not “I love you, so I’ll do something nice for you.”  The Good News is not even “God loves you, so I’ll do something nice for you.”  The Good News is that Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, because that’s how much God loves us.  He offers us forgiveness and a new life that carries on into eternity, if we will trust Him and surrender our lives to Him.

If someone has not understood this basic message, they have not received the Good News, no matter how many acts of kindness we have showered them with.  The acts of kindness are important, because we really do care about people, and because they show that our lives are consistent with our message.  But it’s the message, not just the actions, that brings someone face to face with God’s offer of salvation and new life.

Are good deeds a regular part of your life?  If they’re not, please pray about how God would have you put His love into action.  If they are, please don’t stop!  Instead, ask yourself the next question: Through my actions, the way that I behave in this community, and I earning the good will of others?  Does their contact with me increase their respect for the things I stand for?  And am I praying for this good will to create an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ?  Let’s love the people around us by serving them and by telling them the Truth.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?—Romans 10:14

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