The question is like asking the proverbial question, “which came first the chicken or the egg?” The answer is that one is intrinsic to the other.
Many wrestle with which comes first or, more to the point, which is more important – Word or deed? My answer is ‘and/both. ’ They are both essential to the other.
Jesus didn’t separate the two when he sent his disciples out and neither should we. What we need more than ever today is a whole Gospel for the whole person for that is what Jesus taught his disciples.
In Luke 10 we read about a training exercise that Jesus sent seventy-two of his disciples out on. This story has been rediscovered for the powerful principles it teaches us about making disciples (more on that in another post). Today, I want to focus on two important points from this story, as they relate to the whole Gospel.
I. The whole Gospel includes Prayer and Action
We read in Luke 10:1-2, “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'"
Many today know this passage as a call to prayer for laborers. It certainly is that. Praying Luke 10:2 is even a prayer initiative, with thousands taking a moment to pray at 10:02am each morning for more workers. Prayer is vital to the mission of God. But we cannot stop at prayer because Jesus didn’t. He continues.
“Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3).
When I teach Perspectives students this passage the question I always ask is, “do you know what happens next?” The seventy-two go out on a short-term mission trip to the cities Jesus was going to visit. They become the answer to their own prayers for laborers for the harvest.
Many today believe they are called to intercession alone. While there are certainly Biblical and historical examples of men and women given to intercession, Jesus never separated prayer from action, praying and going must work together. What we really need for the Kingdom today is not simply more prayer for laborers. Our first priority must be more praying laborers.
William Carey, one of the great pioneer missionaries of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, takes away the excuse from those who simply want to be pray-ers when he said: "If you want the Kingdom speeded, go out and speed it yourselves. Only obedience rationalizes prayer. Only Missions can redeem your intercessions from insincerity."
II. The whole Gospel is Word and Deed
As we pray and go what should our message be? What should we do? Jesus gives further instruction in verse 9 when he instructs the seventy-two that they are to “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (NIV)
Many assume that this healing of the sick was miraculous and being myself a recipient of miraculous healing I don’t discount that this may have been so in some cases. We do see miraculous healing power at work in Peter's ministry, in the Book of Acts (Acts 4:30). But there is no evidence to suggest that these disciples were performing miracles and we should not read that into the text.
Instead, what we see is Jesus instructing his disciples to serve the needs of the those who are weak, infirm, feeble – the vulnerable and marginalized, the outcast and broken, the confused and despairing – the sinner. The word “sick” is translated from the Greek ‘asthenēs’ which means all of these things.
We know that Jesus came to seek and save the least (Matthew 25:40), the last (Matthew 19:30) and the lost (Luke 19:10). He sent his disciples out to do likewise, in his authority. He calls us to a life of service (Mark 9:35).
Jesus sent his disciples out to “heal the sick.” The Greek for 'heal' is ‘therapeuō’ from which we get our word ‘therapy.’ In the Greek, ‘therapeuō’ means to serve, do service, to heal, cure, restore to health. Jesus was as concerned with the physical, emotional and financial (read proper attitude about money) wellbeing of people, as he was with their spiritual condition.
Jesus also taught his disciples to share the good news that the Kingdom of God had come near. There was now hope for restoration and redemption. Salvation had finally come in the person of the Messiah. This was more than sharing good news, a salvation message, but "proclaiming" a new reality – the Kingdom of God was breaking in. The offer was to repent and believe (Mark 1:15) to receive the new life being offered.
Is it instructive that Jesus put the “heal the sick” before the “tell them" about the kingdom of God? It was as if Jesus was saying, “Demonstrate my love and mercy by acts of service so that my message will be received.” But the message is of paramount importance because without repentance and believing no one can enter the Kingdom of God, present and future.
Rethinking the Gospel
Like the chicken and the egg, both word and deed are in fact intrinsic to the other. Only God knows the answer to the “chicken or egg” quandary.
So which are we to put first? I have dear friends who have distinct differences on this point. Some insist that we must put the “tell them" first. Others insist that the “Heal the sick” part comes first.
Some add the additional requirement that we need to earn the right to share the Gospel. I don’t know how many times I have heard or seen this thought, of earning the right, expressed today in our Christian culture. There is however no Biblical support for the idea.
In fact, there is no logical reason why we must earn the right to share good news. Do you need to earn the right to give someone a free gift, something that you also have freely received? People do not have to receive the gift, we are not force it on anyone (another instruction given in Luke 10), but there is no reasonable way to earn a right to pass along something that is free. It must be offered graciously - freely we have received, freely give.
What we must do is allow the Holy Spirit to direct which comes first as we continue to live our lives as sent ones.
Certainly there are times when the “heal the sick” should come first. Someone starving needs to be fed. But there are many times when what people need the most is a message of hope. Many today need authentic relationship, which Jesus also taught about in Luke 10 (which is for another post).
We are called to live a whole Gospel life, because that is the Gospel Jesus preached and taught his disciples to live out. The “whole” Gospel speaks to the Hebrew concept of shalom and we need to recapture the essence of this reality for Christianity in the 21st Century.
We must minister to the spiritual needs of people, as well as their physical, emotional and financial needs. If any one of these four is not in right order, there is a lack of wholeness, of shalom, and we need to apply the Gospel in that area.
Asking the question, "which comes first," isn’t asking the right question. The right question is what should I do about both? Word and deed, prayer and action must come together into a cohesive whole, as we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus taught and sent his disciples out to “preach” a whole Gospel, as seen in Luke 10. That is the way we must “go” for living sent today.
What do you think?