Imagine an anniversary, in which a husband walks through the door with flowers, candy, and a card and tosses them casually on the couch where his wife is sitting and says, “Happy anniversary,” in a monotone. He does sort of air-kiss in her direction, though he keeps his eyes on the TV. He’s technically hit all the marks, but it’s not likely that his wife will be happy; because it’s not just what you do, it’s also how you do it.
Imagine a congressional hearing. The person called in for questioning shows up in a clown suit with Groucho Marx glasses (complete with big nose, mustache, and bushy eyebrows). He answers questions with a high squeaky voice and an affected lisp, just for fun. Though the witness shall have shown up as required and answered questions as required, there would be a number of very unhappy congressmen and women who would rightfully feel that their hearing had been taken lightly and mocked. Because its not just what you do, it’s also how you do it.
It’s this way in the spiritual world as well. We must not only obey the technical command, we must also do it in the right way. For example…
- It’s not just what we say, it’s the way we say it. Everyone understands that words are only part of communication — and not even the majority of it! Facial expression, vocal tone and inflection, body language, and more are all part of the equation, when we speak to each other. We must, for instance, do more than simply tell the Gospel; we must speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), with urgency (1 Tim. 4:2), in a kind way (Eph. 4:32), with gentleness (Php. 4:5), with persuasiveness (2 Cor. 5:11), with grace (Eph. 4:29), and with all seriousness (Acts 26:25). When we find ourselves in disagreement with others, we must speak respectfully (1 Tim. 5:1,2), kindly (Eph. 4:32), and wholesomely (Eph. 4:29) — without sneer, glower, condescension, or insolence (Rom. 1:30; 2 Cor. 12:20; 2 Tim. 3:2).
- It’s not just that we serve the Lord, it is also the way we serve. Attitudes count with the Lord, the same way they count to us parents; and there’s a zillion of them — many of them not so great. Service to the Lord and to others (in many cases, they are one and the same thing) can be done with resentment or joy, with bitterness or enthusiasm, silly or seriously, with apathy or passion, and with selfishness or selflessness (see Php. 2:5ff). And it matters; God cares (see, for example, the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12), and others care.
- It is not just the sins we abstain from, it also the way we abstain. We can restrain our hands from doing something evil, while we drool over the sinful pleasure we’re missing at the same time. We can say no to a temptation, while our eyes and hearts are saying yes. Matthew 5:21ff gives numerous examples of how the deeds may look right, but the heart may be dead-wrong — not murdering, but hating; not committing adultery, but lusting; not lying, but not exactly telling the truth either.
- It’s not just that we worshipped God in the five acts of worship in church, it also the way that we offer that worship. Jesus, in John 4, spoke about appropriate worship having the qualities of both spirit and truth — not just one or the other. Paul (1 Cor. 11-14) gives us several ways in which it should be done: In appropriate solemnity and focus (as in the teaching on the Lord’s Supper), with the brothers leading (14:34), decently and in order (14:40), with both the spirit and the mind (14:15), and with appropriate restraint (14:32,33).
Too often we get wrapped up in physical compliance to the physical deeds we are commanded to do, thinking that the spirit, the attitudes, or the manner in which we do things doesn’t really matter all that much. But they do! It’s a carnal vs. spiritual issue. It’s about avoiding the washing of cups only on the outside and whitewashing tombs — pretty on the outside, but unlovely on the inside (see Matt. 23:25-28). The inside does matter. It’s not just about what we do, it’s also about the way we do it.