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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Saying And Doing

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SAYING AND DOING.—The contrast between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’ is based on an axiomatic principle of the moral and spiritual life, which, notwithstanding its simplicity and obviousness, is apt to be overlooked, viz. the importance of character as distinguished from profession, the supreme value of ethical ideals and practice above ritual observance, the vital connexion between creed and conduct. The distinction thus suggested necessarily finds a large place in the teaching of our Lord, who, as the Founder of a religion of inward reality, frequently emphasized the importance of ‘doing’ rather than ‘saying.’ ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 7:21). Not that Jesus by any means underrated the importance of ‘saying’; He made confession of His name one of the most solemn obligations of discipleship (Matthew 10:32-33, cf. Luke 8:38-39). But a profession must rest upon a solid foundation of character. The recurrence, in various forms, of the phrase ‘to do the will of God,’ and the prominent place given to this conception, is a marked feature of Christ’s teaching; see Matthew 12:50; cf. Matthew 7:24-27; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:40; Matthew 25:45, Luke 10:30-37; Luke 11:28; Luke 13:6-9 etc. ‘Doing’ is the testing quality of the Christian life (Matthew 5:19; Matthew 5:47), and the sure and only way to spiritual enlightenment (John 7:17). Of this doing of God’s will Jesus Himself set the supreme and inspiring example (John 4:34; John 5:30; John 6:38). In contrast with this ideal of ‘doing,’ Jesus warned men against the subtle dangers of mere ‘saying.’ Even when sincerely meant, He checked the impulsiveness of a hasty and ill-considered profession (Matthew 8:19-20; cf. Matthew 26:33-34, Luke 14:28); but His severest rebukes were reserved for those who substituted a hollow and obtrusive pretension for the realities of moral and spiritual character. It was the great sin of the religious leaders of the time that they were so strong in profession and precept, and so neglectful of practical righteousness; ‘they say, and do not’ (Matthew 23:3); and many too readily followed their example of easy formalism,—‘This people honoureth me with their lips’ (Matthew 15:8). The same contrast is boldly presented in the parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32), with special reference on the one hand to the Pharisees and scribes, and on the other to the outwardly unpromising ‘publicans and sinners’ who welcomed the message of the Kingdom of heaven. Right action without profession, or even in contradiction to the profession, is better than promises unfulfilled by practice. In this, as in other ways, ‘many shall be last that are first; and first that are last’ (Matthew 19:30). The ‘acted parable’ of the withering of the barren fig-tree with its deceptive show of premature leaves, was a solemn warning against the danger and sin of ‘saying’ without ‘doing’ (Matthew 21:18-19, Mark 11:12-14). Better that the ‘saying’ should follow than outrun the ‘doing,’ and be inspired by a truthful and humble judgment of even our best efforts and achievements; ‘when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do’ (Luke 17:10).

Literature.—Dale, Evangel. Revival, 104; ExpT [Note: xpT Expository Times.] iii. [1892] 466, viii. [1896] 85; F. W. Robertson, Serm, ii. 94.

J. E. M‘Ouat.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Saying And Doing'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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Saturday, June 6th, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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