(You can read the rest of the story in Acts 14...)
The speaker pointed out that, without words explaining the WHY and WHO behind our volunteering, people will fit our acts of service into their own worldview. Just like the citizens of Lystra did.
He described the work of some overseas missionaries, who shared scientific crop-growing principles with a tribe. Yet when the new methods helped produce a bigger crop, the tribe gave credit to their harvest god! Why? Because they hadn't come to know God as the Creator and Sustainer of all things.
So how can this principle play out in our own backyard? I've been pondering that, and I think I have a couple of ideas.
First, we will still encounter false gods - as well as false understandings of the true God. For instance, a "Prosperity Gospel" is prevalent in many of the communities in which Watermark members live or serve. So when people receive the blessings of our service, this could actually reinforce bad theology if no one in their lives is patiently explaining truth.
Likewise, those who follow other religions aren't generally going to turn to Christ just because someone "from a church" happened to serve them. Instead, it will usually require the sharing of the gospel that helps them understand that neither Allah nor various saints nor anyone but the true, loving God is responsible for their provision.
Second, we should keep in mind that simply sharing our time, talents, and treasures with the poor doesn't cause them automatically to live according to biblical principles. Their worldview may have led to conflict, self-medication, laziness, despair, gluttony, addiction, etc. So they're likely to persist in poverty if their relationships, finances, work, and other facets haven't been submitted to King Jesus. Not only do we need to use words to introduce people to Jesus, but they must come to see Him as King over all their lives.
Help All, But Use Words Often
Ultimately, there will be moments we serve when we're not able to use a lot of words. Or when we don't have the chance to use enough words! This principle is more about our ongoing efforts, as well as giving us a way to evaluate our service.
This principle probably does mean we should pursue fewer "one time" service activities and more often invest in places we can build relationships. It also heightens the value of serving with trusted ministry partners, who we know will share - in words - the truth of King Jesus.
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