Word and Deed Together

Word and deed ministry should always go together in the mission of the church.  I take this from (1) the example of Jesus, (2) the mission of the Twelve, and (3) the practice of the early church.

I believe Matthew 4:23 and 9:35 are intentional summaries of the earthly mission of Jesus.  They encapsulate the word and deed ministry of Jesus together.  Consider the similarities:

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
Matthew 4:23

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.
Matthew 9:35

I think Matthew has these summary actions (preaching, teaching, and healing) placed to serve as a sort-of book ends for Matthew 5-9 wherein the relationship of word and deed is unpacked in various scenes from the life of Jesus.  The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) highlights Jesus’ word ministry while Matthew 8-9 highlights His deed ministry (lepers, demon-possessed, paralytics, dead girl, blind men, etc.).  Both of them are intended to indicate two things: the kingdom of heaven is “at hand” and Jesus’ authority is unparalleled and reveals that He is not just any man, but the God-man.

Then comes Matthew 10 where he calls His disciples to join Him on the mission.  But notice that the same word and deed togetherness comes with the mission of the Twelve (and generally ours as well). Jesus says:

7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.
Matthew 10:7-8

Verse 7 = word ministry. Verse 8 = deed ministry.  What kind of word ministry?  The very words John the Baptist (3:2) and Jesus proclaimed (4:17).  What kind of deed ministry?  The very kind of deeds Jesus performed in Matthew 8-9 (healing sick (8:14-17), raising the dead (9:18-26), cleansing lepers (8:1-4), and casting out demons (8:28-34).  Basically, what you see Jesus proclaiming, you proclaim.  What you see Jesus doing, you do.

The question we should ask ourselves is whether the early church understood the mission of the church in word and deed.  Again, consider two summaries of the early church from the book of Acts.

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Acts 2:42-45

32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Acts 4:32-25

Again, it is quite remarkable to see the similarities here.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (2:42) and were “giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (4:33) which speaks to the emphasis of WORD ministry.  At the same time, they “were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all” (2:45) and “sold (their houses and lands) and brought the proceeds . . . to be distributed to each as any had need (4:34-35) which speaks to the emphasis of DEED ministry.

Like Matthew, Luke unpacks these summaries, revealing the interplay between word and deed.  In fact, you can basically break down the first eight chapters of the book of Acts accordingly:

Word: Peter’s Sermon (2:14-41)
Deed: Lame Beggar Healed (3:1-9)
Word: Peter’s Gospel Explanation (3:11-26)
Word: Peter and John’s Defense (4:1-31)
Deed: Signs and Wonders of Apostles (5:12-16)
Word: Temple Preaching (5:17-42)
Deed: Daily Distribution Need (6:1-6)
Word: Word of God Spread (6:7)
Deed: Signs and Wonders by Stephen (6:8-15)
Word: Stephen’s Sermon (7:1-7:53)
Word and Deed: in Samaria (8:4-8)

Notice that the deed ministry of healing the lame beggar led to multiple word ministry opportunities (and nearly two chapters of gospel exposition).  The same is true in Acts 6 with the deed ministry office of the deacon and appointing of Stephen as a deacon who was “doing great wonders and signs among them” (6:8).  This deed ministry led to Stephen’s powerful explanation of the gospel in word ministry (and eventually scattering the church in Samaria where word and deed continued to flourish together).

There is so much more that could be said about this relationship of word and deed ministry together, but I want to succinctly lay out some of the biblical rationale why I believe it is so important.  We can err on either side, emphasizing one to the neglect of the other, but the mission entrusted to us by Jesus is one where the in-breaking of the kingdom is manifested through kingdom words and the realization of the kingdom is manifested through kingdom deeds.  May we be faithful to both aspects of our mission!

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9 Comments on “Word and Deed Together”

  1. Bryant King Says:

    Where does the role of earning money come in to play in all of this, Timmy? Perhaps that is too big of a question. In Matthew 10: 7-8, they proclaimed the Word while they healed the sick, raise the dead, cleansed the lepers, and cast out demons. If we are to heal the sick, we are going to send doctors or other medical professionals, no? Are we anticipating raising the dead? Presumably no lepers will be found today and I am afraid to ask about casting out demons. All of this they are to do without pay. I have to wonder if this is normative or if this was a special instance in Scripture. How would we apply that today? Is our only recourse to send preaching doctors near and far?

    I guess that I don’t know how this looks right here, right now. As a dentist, am I suppose to stop charging for all of my services and heal people’s teeth only after I have preached to them all at no charge? If so, what do we make of Paul working as a tent maker? Why did he seem to work instead of finding a place that had people in desperate needs of tents, then going there and making tents for free? If he was charging for his tents, was he the Walmart or Neimann Marcus of tent suppliers?

    If I understand you correctly, your admonition is that we spend time in the Word, then preach the Word, while caring for others at no charge. Will that really work or are the tent makers subsidizing the preachers and the paying customers subsidizing the impoverished? Is this all applied differently if we are here in the U.S. or in a third world country?

    Bryant King

    • Bryant,

      You asked a ton of questions which I cannot adequately answer all here. If I may, let me try to approach these questions generically with the hope that it might shape the thought process a little more.

      As Christians, we live between two worlds (heaven and earth) and are called to live in the culture with a counter-cultural ethic (kingdom living). Within that framework, Christians are to fulfill their vocational calling whatever it may be as “unto the Lord,” realizing that many if not most believers will be financially supported through gainful employment in a “secular” environment. So as a dentist, I would charge whatever is appropriate for the goods and services I offer to uphold not only the common grace ethic but also that of the kingdom. This means that there would be times where you would be led by God to offer your services free of charge to those who cannot afford it, but that should not be out of obligatory compulsion or guilt. If you look at the example of Paul, he worked hard with his own hands to not only meet his own personal needs but that of others (e.g, Acts 20). For this to be possible, he to earn an income which means conducting in honorable business practices in the world.

      My admonition is much simpler than I think what you are making it out to be. Our mission should have kingdom priority expressing by a passion to proclaim the gospel to the lost (word) and a compassion to demonstrate the love of Christ through acts of mercy and service to others (deed). These should go together organically in the natural outworking of the kingdom ethic in a counter-cultural community shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  2. Steve Says:

    The Word and the Deeds or the Word and the Works. We are to be word-workers.

  3. […] Timmy Brister: Word and deed ministry should always go together in the mission of the church […]

  4. Great summary here, Tim!

    Our “accept Jesus & get to heaven” theology is so far truncated that we forget that Jesus is Lord of All. And we are His ambassadors, taking His whole Gospel to whole people (broken people, to make them whole). Especially good comment above: “passion to proclaim the gospel to the lost (word) and a compassion to demonstrate the love of Christ through acts of mercy and service to others (deed). ”

    Thanks for these thoughts, and especially how they flow from the Text, and through the Text.

    Also, Steve, I like that: “word-workers.”

  5. Jim Pemberton Says:

    I’ve been thinking much about this. Deed ministry, where immediate needs are met that can clear the way for the gospel, is often considered to be material needs only. But these also include emotional and sociological needs where people are influenced by the people they know or the condition of their environment. Simply bringing someone out of poverty for a time doesn’t remove the effects of the poverty they have known. Common proverbial wisdom of this may go something like this: “You can the person off the street, but you can’t take the street out of the person.” But I do believe that we can go farther than we think in taking the “street” out of the person. But it may be a painstaking and time consuming work – sacrifice worthy of the gospel we proclaim.

    Jesus did this as well. He spent time with otherwise undesirable people. He was derided for spending time with sinners. He went out of his way to get to know a promiscuous half-breed (Samaritan) woman. He stopped when a poor blind man called out to him through the clamor of the crowd. He went down to the smelly, rugged fishermen to find disciples. He even spent time with pharisees understanding full well the shadow of darkness that poisoned their souls.

    Unfortunately, this is an uncomfortable pattern of life for the disciple that many church members turn their nose up at. We may may hear righteous excuses like that we should not associate with people like that, they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or they simply don’t feel called to such ministry. But I believe it is integral to the proclamation of the gospel to the extent that it is incumbent on every believer to normalize the gospel in the lives of people who have been raised in veritable godlessness and therein give them the hope of the gospel that the message can be understood and believed.

  6. Bob Klein Says:

    Great post – I said virtually same points, especially about Acts 1-8 in my recent series of messages on Acts. Check out:
    http://www.harbormiramesa.org/sermon/ready-to-answer-questions/ and http://www.harbormiramesa.org/sermon/the-church-persecuted-scattered–spreading/

  7. […] I argue that the most effective starting/entry point for engaging the culture is the physical tier where practical needs of the community are met by an enduring presence and endearing passion to love your neighbors well. We know that God loves us because He gave Himself to us by sending His Son in the flesh to die in our place. Likewise, the culture around us will know that we love them by giving ourselves as a sent people who serve with an undying compassion put in them through the sacrificial death of their Savior.  In many ways, the deeds of mercy and justice performed by Jesus opened the door for the word of salvation, and this pattern is also demonstrated in the early church. […]

  8. Christiane Says:

    That word ‘truncated’ to describe a type of ‘evangelicalism’ devoid of acts of charity in Christ’s Name;
    that is a GOOD word.

    The Gospel is so much more than that ‘truncated’ message.

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