Friday, November 13, 2009

In Word and Deed

Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3.17)

The Name

The Bible frequently tells us to do, pray, or speak “in the name of…” Sometimes it’s simply “in Jesus’s name.” Other times it’s more general: “in the name of the Lord.” And still other scriptures spell out the entire Godhead: “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We end our prayers in this fashion, just as we baptize, bless, and bury believers in Christ’s name. Indeed, many Christians start and end their lives in some form of Jesus’s name. Whether spoken audibly or in gesture via the sign of the cross, the name of Jesus is such a fixture in our worship and devotion it very easily can become a commonplace of life—a thing we do reflexively without consideration of what it means. This is by and large a result of modern indifference to names. Today, a person’s name is just a moniker; position in life signifies importance. And when anyone speaks or acts on another’s behalf, we evaluate his/her position as well. If the person isn’t legitimately connected to the other personally, professionally, or legally, his/her authority to represent the third party is dismissed.

In Biblical times, however, names were extremely important. A person who acted or spoke in another’s name without prior consent faced great peril. In contrast, the words and deeds of anyone legitimately authorized to do so were taken as those of the individual he/she represented. With this in mind, it’s good to remind ourselves that when we do anything in Jesus’s name, we act as His surrogate. In effect, we’re executing His power of attorney. Thus, when we pray in the name of Jesus, we’re actually praying as Him on our behalf. Jesus deeds us this right in John 14.13: “And I will do whatever your ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” Furthermore, as we discover in Colossians 3.17, our authority to speak and act in His name extends beyond prayer. It covers everything we do.

Do It All

“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,” the scripture says. If we didn’t know better, we might misread this as carte blanche to act on our whims and misconstrue this right as a convenience. Sadly, this is often the case. God alone knows how many wars and cruelties have been waged on innocent people in Jesus’s name. I would venture even as I write this someone somewhere is hurting—even hating—someone else in Christ’s name. And were we to challenge the misguided individual about this, we’d be sternly told the Bible gives every believer power to speak or act in Jesus’s name. But that’s not correct. Scripture authorizes us to represent Christ, a far different matter than doing what we will on His authority.

When Paul instructs us to “do it all in the name of the Lord,” he’s sharpening our sense that every word and behavior should reflect favorably on Christ. In 2 Thessalonians 1.11-12, he explains this more clearly: “We constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you.” All we do, then, should be driven by “good purpose” and prompted by faith. Words and deeds driven by harmful desires or triggered by fear offer no glory to His name. Yet checking everything we do and say against Christ’s example surely demands more insight and energy than any human possibly possesses. It’s a recipe for failure. But that's the last thing Paul wants for us. What he’s talking about is awareness—an underlying keenness to words and deeds that misrepresent Christ. If we approach this as an aspiration, we gradually develop sensibilities and habits that steer us from failure. We learn to act and speak in good faith.

Giving Thanks

The final clause in Paul’s admonition—“giving thanks to God the Father through Him”—seems rather odd in this context. He’s hands us an enormous task and then wraps it up by encouraging us to be thankful. What is he asking us to do, exactly? Once we catch our breath so the entire statement settles in our thoughts, though, we begin to understand what “giving thanks” means. Words and deeds worthy of Jesus’s name are themselves thankful expressions. They pay tribute to Him and convey gratitude to God for sacrificing His Son to reconcile us to Him. Everything we do befitting the name of Christ celebrates God’s unconditional love. Pleasing Him is a joy we could never afford on our own.

In my youth, I often heard older believers say, “I thank God for Jesus.” This struck me as strangely redundant, since God and Jesus are one and the same. Yet as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to understand what they were saying. Following Jesus is the greatest opportunity humanity has ever been given. Abiding by His words and emulating His example brings untold benefits we could never receive on our own. Aspiring to be worthy of His name endows us with profound peace and confidence. It shields us from danger and turns our lives in healthy, productive directions. Doing all we can in the name of Christ demonstrates our gratitude to God for saving us. In word and deed, it says, “Thank You.”

Our lives turn in healthy, productive directions when we speak and act in ways worthy of Jesus’s name. Every word and deed says, “Thank You.”

(Next: Hidden Thanks)

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