Proverbs 20:10 NRSV
Even children make themselves known by their acts,
by whether what they do is pure and right.
Known by their acts. We are not who we say we are; we are who we show we are. The Lord Jesus taught that “either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” Matthew 12:33 NRSV
The idea of fruit is used in scripture to depict behavior that comes from the spirit. (Did you know that all behavior comes from a spirit?) And what’s interesting is that Galatians 5 begins the discussion about behavior with this verse:
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.Galatians 5:13 NRSV.
The entire concept of slavery–becoming a slave to another–is rather strange to us. We don’t have slaves in our society. We have employees (and sometimes it feels like working is a kind of slavery), but the fact is that we have the freedom to quit and go find another job. We have the freedom to leave at the end of our shift and go about whatever we choose. Slaves do not. Slaves are subject to the whims and desires of their master 24/7. There are no days off, no vacations, no time away from the demands of being a slave. They aren’t guaranteed time to eat or sleep or recreate. They cannot choose what to wear or who to marry and often are denied raising their own children. And yet it is this exact term that Paul uses when he talks about how we are to relate to each other. And if we are to be the kind of believers that we should be, then we will be known by these kinds of acts.
What’s interesting is that we often use one “obligation” to negate another. In other words, we might say, “Oh, I cannot help that person because I’m busy with my family” or “I cannot give sacrificially because then my kids won’t get birthday presents” or “I need to go to work and can’t stop to assist right now.” And yet, Paul told us that we are to love each other in such a way that we become slaves to one another. In other words, that other person’s goals, needs, desires become the priority and ours become . . . nothing.
How many of us deny even someone within our own family in order to fulfill our own needs? Unfortunately, the Church has become replete with the teaching that we must first meet our own needs before we can meet the needs of others, that we must look to ourselves first and then–with what’s left–we can reach out to those around us. That teaching is based in secular psychology, not in the doctrine of the Bible, and is leading us astray.
Rather than be like all those around us, worrying about our own needs, this is the time for the Church to step up to the plate and begin meeting the needs of those around us, even doing that sacrificially, at a cost to ourselves and to our families. We make ourselves known by what we do. If we do the righteous thing–loving those around us as Christ loved them and poured out His life for them–then we will be known as His, as Christians.