Since the book of Acts, a debate has been waged regarding how our faith in Jesus is best experienced and expressed. This has created an unfounded dichotomy between doctrine and deed, heads and hands or, as the title reads, nouns and verbs. In reality, we need to explore anything that, when evident, accurately depicts faith. If we focus on theology but ignore imitating Jesus in His passion for the poor and shepherd-less, we will fall short (James 1:22–27 and 2:14–26). On the other hand, if we focus on action and activism powered by our zeal, rather than biblical certitude, to inform and support our efforts, we can easily wander off the narrow path (Matthew 7:21–23). Sound biblical knowledge (i.e., theology) should underpin good deeds, which in turn, are the evidence and expression of our beliefs.
Metaphorically, we do need nouns. They describe, for example, who you are, what you believe, your affiliations and other anchors in the sentence that describes another noun — your life. As an organisation, our nouns convey our history, our demographics, our shared vision and the corporate structures that contribute to our success. Nouns contain our being.
Verbs, on the other hand, are dynamic, responsive, creative and inspirational; they express our doing. Take subjects like love and compassion: Nouns can define them in relation to core values, but verbs exude vitality and ignite sparks of faith. Nouns assure people; verbs motivate people. Living a life that harmonises the walk and talk of Jesus is the ultimate goal of every believer.
Acts 3 tells of a man lame from birth, who was publicly healed by Peter and John in full view of the religious leaders that also heard the gospel of Jesus. Acts 4:13 states, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that those men had been with Jesus” (NIV). I cannot imagine a better education than walking with Christ! Do the people we interact with get that same impression of us?
Jesus Himself emphasised the importance of living our faith through our actions, stating in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (NIV). This emphasis on action has been central to missional teaching to turn our knowledge into action by caring for the poor and vulnerable, and working for justice and peace in the world. Living a courageous life worthy of Christ emulates the love, compassion and selflessness that Jesus embodied. The call to live a Christ-like life is the ultimate purpose of every believer.
Ultimately, the duality between knowledge and action reminds us that our faith is not just a matter of belief but also of action. As James writes to the early Christian communities, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22, ESV). In other words, we are called to not just know the teachings of Christ, but to also live them out in our daily lives. By keeping our nouns and verbs in harmony, we become more fully committed to our faith and more effective in living out our values in the world.
Many churches have, over time, neglected the verbal aspect of their identity and, today, are crumbling nouns of forgotten traditions. Let us beware and learn. Let’s ask God for astonishing verbs that express the fulness of the Spirit within us that people around us cannot ignore —reaching, stretching, disruptive, empowering verbs worthy of Jesus.
Lawrence Tong, from Singapore, is OM’s International Director, cultivating the vision and providing guidance to the Global Leadership Team. He studied Communications and has a master’s degree in Business Administration. He loves seeing individuals living abundantly for God. He started serving with OM in 1978 when he joined Doulos and met his wife, Susan. He spent five years each on OM’s ships, Logos, Logos II and Doulos: worked in the Ship’s head office in Mosbach and served as the director for OM in China and Taiwan. His excitement to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers within walking distance of everyone on earth is what propels him into motion daily.