|Our Speaking & Our Doing
More than Performance
THE DISCREPANCY between saying and doing is common enough. None of us, except the Christ, always say what we mean. Sometimes, I suppose, the cause for our inadequacy is that we often speak without really thinking a matter through. We simply speak too quickly. We may make a promise to do something we really cannot fulfill, and as a result, our friends lose confidence in us. We promise, but we do not perform. We over-promised; we under-delivered.
This dichotomy between speaking and doing is a mirror of the inner self. Our words reflect who we are just as our actions disclose what we are like inside. A kind man will use kind words, as well as act in a kind way toward others. As Wordworth has noted, the best portion of a good man’s life is found in his small, and unremembered acts of kindness. The good man portends no pretense. He does not have to think either about his words or his actions. It is in his nature to be mild, his nature to be generous, his nature to be kind. The Lord, of course, went about doing good (Acts 10:38). He who was God in the flesh had to act godly. The Christ was meek and gentle.
This interplay, though, between saying and doing causes us to reflect further. People form an opinion about my tone of voice as well as my choice of words. An ignorant man may seek to impress us with his anger, but his crude obscenities also depict him as an ignorant man with limited vocabulary. Usually, he repeats the same vile word over and over again. He is literally stuck, mired in the mud of his own life and of his own making. He may think he impresses others with his outbursts of anger, but only those like himself find his drama engaging. Most people are not interested in listening to a bore, especially an insensitive bore.
In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord uses a metaphor of a man who built his own house on sand, a senseless plan which could only result in disaster:
Every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. – Matthew 7:26, 27
A house without a foundation has to collapse. Like the man who built a house on a rock, this man also built a house. The two builders both heard the Lord, but one heard and did. The other heard and did nothing. The intrigue in this metaphor brings further insight, however. Whether we are speaking or listening, both activities are linked to sound, but sound is dynamic, ephemeral. Sound cannot last but for a moment. Sound fades into a vanishing echo. However, when I speak evil, that evil does not fade; the words that I utter may vanish into invisible air, but not the life I have breathed into those words.
My listening to advice is no different. If I do not heed what is said, even the best advice can never make a difference in me. I hear. I may listen politely, but I do nothing else. In effect, I build on sand. The advice evaporates into thin air. Indeed, a man may listen to the words of Christ, but remain unaffected by the sermon he hears. Some that day heard the words of the Christ himself, but left as they had come. It may be enough for us to speak evil, but it is not enough to hear good. We must do more than listen. You might say that unless we put good into practice, even the words of Christ are no good.