Ligon Duncan begins the conversation by sharing his and David Platt’s shared belief in the primacy of the Word just as God speaks and brings his people into being. Duncan says that as we image God as witnesses, we should speak his word of grace, and the Holy Spirit will use that to bring people to newness of life.
Duncan goes on to say that we want to see the Word come to fruition in the lives of the people we are speaking to, and that if we desire those people to come to faith in Christ, we should then want the Word coming to fruition in our own lives and through our testimonies.
Duncan thinks one reason that Christians are motivated to do deeds is not just for evangelistic reasons, but also because we are called to be a blessing to other people and to love our neighbor, at all times. Duncan says we as Christians don’t need an evangelistic motivation to love our neighbor.
In the context of evangelism, Duncan says that when people see us living out the life that we are proclaiming with our lips, it makes the words that we are saying especially compelling, and oftentimes, opens a door of someone’s heart to hear the Word of God.
Duncan thinks it’s helpful for us to see ourselves as followers of Jesus—called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind. Second, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are intended to look to others’ interests and ask, “How can I serve, how can I care?” Duncan says this is the character of Christ in us, and the greatest love we can show to someone else is to share the good news of how they can be reconciled with God.
Platt agrees and says the greatest way we can show love to another human being is to care about their eternal wellbeing, not just their temporal wellbeing. Platt says that caring about the eternal wellbeing does not mean that we don’t care about the temporal wellbeing, because we care about people who are embodied, they are enfleshed, they are in a context, and because we love them, we should care about all those things.
Duncan shares a story about a time he attended a conference with a missionary working in a closed Muslim country, and when the missionary told Duncan what country he was in, knowing that many of the men who flew planes into buildings on 9/11 had actually come from that country, Duncan wondered how he was ministering there. Duncan asked him what ministering in word looked like and realized it was only displayed through deed.
Duncan says his hope for the listener of this conversation is to have zealous commitment to love neighbors as ourselves. To see physical needs and to ask, “What can we do to show the love of Christ?” Duncan says that question must be then coupled with and driven by a desire to proclaim the gospel.
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This episode was produced by Heather Calvillo and Steven Morales.
David Platt: How would you describe and how should we understand the relationship between word and deed in evangelism? So, the gospel proclaimed and the gospel demonstrated in our lives in ministry?
Ligon Duncan: I think we both probably strongly believe in the primacy of the word just as God speaks and brings his people into being by his word, so also, we as we image him as witnesses, speak his word of grace and the Holy Spirit uses that to bring people to newness of life. Now, what we want to see is we want to see that word come to fruition in the lives of the people that we are speaking to.
And if we want that to happen with the people that we’re speaking to who are coming to faith in Christ, we certainly want that to be a part of our own life. And we know that the Lord uses that as a testimony to the reality of the word. I think one reason that Christians are motivated to do deeds is not just for evangelistic reasons, we’re called to be a blessing to other people, we’re called to love our neighbor. We don’t need an evangelistic motivation to love our neighbor. We’re supposed to love our neighbors. We’re to do that at all times.
But in the context of evangelism, I do think we would say, when people see you living out the life that you are proclaiming with your lips, it makes the words that you’re saying especially compelling and oftentimes opens a door of their heart to hear the word. You know, just as students learn best by people who know and love them, so often, the hearts of people will be opened by acts of love and care and concern for them.
But again, ultimately, we’re not loving people as a means to some ulterior end. We love them because they’re created in the image of God, we’re called to love our neighbors, but we do want the words that we speak to be grounded in a reality that can be seen. And I think that’s one thing that comes to mind. Now, you’ve done this not only as a minister in a local church bearing witness in a city, but leading mission teams and being a missionary yourself. Talk to me how you see this playing out?
David Platt: I think to build off what you were saying, I think it’s pretty helpful to see ourselves as followers of Jesus’ greatest command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and strength,” and straight second, like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Like, that is our life. We are intended to look to others, not look to our own interest, to others’ interests. To be looking at how can I serve, how can I care?
This is the character of Christ in us. And then the greatest love we can show to someone else is to share the good news of how they can be reconciled with God. So, yes, there are so many different ways we can show love to others the way Jesus has commanded us to, compels us to, his spirit in us compels us to. At the same time, think, “Okay. How has he loved us?” Well, he has loved us most by giving his life for our sins, by making a way for us to be forgiven of our sins, reconciled to God.
And so, I’ve been studying Mark 2 the last few days and the paralytic, and you see this physical need and yet Jesus goes right for the jugular, so to speak, when it comes to this man’s most urgent need was spiritual, was forgiveness of sins. And that’s it, forgiveness is God’s greatest gift to us because it meets our greatest need, reconciliation to God.
So, when I think about going around the world, or right outside my doorstep in Metro Washington, D.C., I want to love people as myself. I want to show the love of Christ. We are called to do that. And the greatest way we can do that is by proclaiming the gospel. And so, these don’t…and so many of the ways you talked about, they don’t work against each other, they supplement one another. At the same time, what you said at the very beginning, like, primary would be proclamation of the word.
Ligon Duncan: And, you know, I was helped by both John Piper and Tim Keller on this at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. Probably, you and I probably have a mutual friend in Christopher Wright. Really appreciate Chris Wright… He’s very much in the…you know, he’ll articulate the John Stott two-wings thing, you have to have word and deed to do ministry.
I really thought John Piper and Tim Keller’s articulation of that was much better and more biblical than the way Chris normally articulates that. And, John, for instance, was talking about human suffering, and he said, “Christians care about all kinds of suffering, especially eternal suffering.” So, just like you said, the greatest way you can show love to another human being is to care about their eternal well-being, not just their temporal well-being, which we should care about.
And by the way, caring about the eternal well-being does not mean that we don’t care about the temporal well-being, because we care about people and those people are embodied. They are in fleshed, they are in a context, they are in a situation. And so, because we love them, we care about all those things. But so often, I have seen folks that want to have some sort of a balance or parity between word and deed actually end up giving short shrift to the word.
And at that very conference, in which Tim and John so helpfully articulated the primacy of the word in evangelism, I was with a missionary that was working in a closed Muslim country. And when he told me what country he was in, and knowing that many of the men who flew planes into buildings in 9/11 had actually come from that country, I thought, “Wow, how are you ministering there?” You know, and he was quite defensive about that.
He was…you know, like, you want a missionary to love the people that he’s in the midst of and be defensive of and for them. But then I just started asking, he was there, I think they were building wells. And I said, “So, what’s your word ministry like in that context?” There was none, at all. And it’s interesting to me, Mark Galli at Christianity Today was talking about Christianity Today taking some criticism for always being…talking about deeds and not about word evangelism.
And he said, “You’ve got to see the amount of submissions that I get coming from people for articles. I can’t get people to talk about evangelizing in word. Everybody wants to talk about deed.” So, I do think it’s really important for young folks that are thinking this through to realize it actually, in our world and in our culture, and in this particular cultural moment, it’s really easy to downplay the ministry of the word. And I want Christians to demonstrate the love of Christ and love for neighbor in all of life. I want them to. I need to do more of that myself.
But we cannot not speak the word of life. We cannot not speak the truth because people…the deed witness that we give will not be sufficient to explain the gospel because the gospel is something that God does, not that we do. We don’t do the gospel, God does the gospel, and he has to speak that word to us. And “how will they hear without a preacher?” someone once said.
You know, so, I love…I mean, your generation frankly does…cares more about loving people tangibly than maybe my generation did. And I’m humbled and rebuked by that and instructed by that, and I appreciate that. But also, I’ve always appreciated your emphasis on not losing the primacy of sharing the word, the gospel, and you gotta use words to do that.
David Platt: I hope maybe the takeaway from listening to this, well, even us having this conversation, and others listening to it would be a zealous commitment to love neighbors as ourselves, to see physical needs, and to say “what can we do to show the love of Christ?” And then that must be coupled with and even driven by ultimately a desire to proclaim the gospel. And so, may God raise up all kinds of pictures in our lives personally and in our churches and ministries of love for neighbor that has at the center the greatest way we can love our neighbor is by proclaiming the gospel.
Ligon Duncan: Amen.