How we do is as important as what we do
There is a video making the rounds on YouTube under the title, "Video will change your life. I have no words left." It is a montage of segments in which various people confronted with different situations choose to respond with thoughtfulness, generosity or decency.
Each act is observed by a stranger who is then inspired to continue the benevolence — a sort of chain reaction of doing good. The power of this video lies in the way that each person's act of "love" sends a message to someone who observes it.
In Christian terms, we say each person was acting on his or her faith — giving substance to what we profess — bringing the light of Christ into the world. When we do this, God's love is made present through our actions and is available to be witnessed by others.
It's a lovely video and it occurred to me that this is one of the effects that our faithful stewardship is supposed to have on the world — if we do it in the right spirit.
Christian Stewardship calls us to act with responsibility toward all of creation — respecting it and honoring God with the way we hold it. However, in our zeal to accomplish our goals, be they social justice, human rights, dignity and sanctity of life, environmental conservation or any of a number of noble efforts, we must be careful of the spirit with which we do them.
This is the difference between being a promoter of a secular initiative and someone whose purpose is to represent Christ's love to the world.
How we do what we do is as important as what we do. In the words of the Apostle Paul's letter to the church at Corinth, "If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Cor 13:3).
As an example, if my goal is to prevent an abortion, but I do so by terrifying and traumatizing the would-be mother, how have I exemplified Christ's love to her and the world? If my response to gun violence is to attack and vandalize a store that sells firearms, how is this being the presence of God?
My point is not that these actions can never be justified. Maybe they can be, but it behooves us to always look carefully at the tactics we employ and the motives behind our actions. Quoting from the writer of Timothy, "The goal of [our work] is love, which comes from a pure heart … a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1Tim 1:5).
So, the spirit in which we act as Christian stewards should be the spirit of love — agape love or unconditional love. Paul's letter to the Corinthians reminds us that this love "is patient, [and] … kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. [It] does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes [and] always perseveres" (1 Cor 13:4-7). This is the spirit that must guide our actions as Christian stewards. This is the spirit God calls us to exemplify whatever we act as his agents in this world. What we do is important, and because our actions give testimony to the world, the spirit in which we do it is of equal, if not greater, importance.
Quoting from Paul's letter to the Colossians, "… as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience … And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, … Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly … And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col 3: 12-17). Amen.
(Walt Sears is a lay ecclesial minister in the Diocese of Oakland.)
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