By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
Generally speaking, people love proverbs. After all, these short, wise sayings pack a big punch, cause you to think, and (when applied) can help guide your actions or decisions. Proverbs will typically originate in the hearts and minds of wise men and women.
There is also an entire collection of biblical proverbs known as the book of Proverbs. The difference between these and other proverbs is that biblical proverbs have their origin in the heart and mind of God.
With that being said, I want to put to the test one proverb that is quoted often and I am sure you have said yourself: actions speak louder than words. We’ll consider these questions:
- Is ‘actions speak louder than words’ a biblical proverb?
- Does it originate from the heart of God or the heart of man?
Not a Proverb, but a Principle
If you want to be technical, that proverb written in those exact words does not appear in the bible. The closest thought to this is found in 1 John 3:18:
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
While you can’t make a claim that this proverb comes from Scripture, there is clear evidence that God puts priority not just on what you say, but also on what you do. So ‘actions speak louder than words’ isn’t an exact biblical proverb, however, I would call it a biblical principle.
We know for a fact that words are powerful, but so are your actions. To understand this better, I want to share four important things we learn from actions:
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1. Actions Can Reveal
They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. – Titus 1:16
Actions have the ability to reveal what’s in a person’s heart. There is an expression people use: “talk a good game.” This means a person says one thing but when the rubber meets the road and the truth is revealed they are lacking.
Here in Titus, Paul is describing some people who he calls corrupt and unbelieving. These corrupt, unbelieving people talk a good game with their mouths, but their lifestyle and their actions don’t match their talk.
Their actions reveal that they don’t really know God.
2. Actions Can Conceal
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. – Matthew 6:1
As powerful as actions are in revealing, they don’t always tell the whole story. Sometimes actions conceal what’s really in the heart.
Here in Matthew, Jesus is giving instruction about the motivation behind what you do. He is establishing a principle that what you do is important, but why you do it is equally important.
Some people act simply to create an image of who they are. They want people to applaud and appreciate them for what they do. This is their sole motivation. While the actions they take are good, they conceal the true inspiration behind them.
Sadly, people who act with this motivation may get the applause of men but that is all they will ever get.
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3. Actions Can Confuse
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. – Proverbs 25:21
Actions have the ability to confuse those around you, especially when you treat someone different than they expected or they feel they deserve. Such as:
- when someone expects an angry response and you show them mercy, or
- when someone wrongs you and you repay them with kindness.
This also works in reverse, if someone is kind to you and you treat them badly. The unexpected nature of your actions can cause confusion especially when they are different from the anticipated response. If you’re a parent, I’m sure your kids can relate to this statement.
In fact, one of the ways that we confuse our enemy, Satan, is when we can still worship God and call him good even when bad things happen. This throws him off his game because this is not the expected response.
All your actions have the potential to do this.
4. Actions Can Confirm
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. – John 13:35
Your actions have the ability to confirm the work that God is doing in your life. Such as:
- when you respond with patience where you used to fly off the handle
- when you exercise self-control over a habit or besetting sin that has been nagging you for years
- when you exhibit kindness and compassion for others when you used to be self-centered
- when you show love for people you used to despise
All these are actions that can confirm your maturity in Christ—and that you are his disciple.
As you can see, even though we can’t say 'actions speak louder than words' is a biblical proverb, the principle of this is in plain sight throughout Scripture. As mentioned earlier, actions reveal and proverbs make you think.
As Christians, we engage in actions (or disciplines) where words are futile unless they are backed by your actions. I want to challenge you to think about these four areas in your life and what your actions reveal:
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Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. – Philippians 4:6 (NLT)
Why do we pray? Because we believe God will come through on our behalf. Even though prayer is more than just asking, it is one of the things we do in prayer.
Why do we not pray? Because we don’t believe it’s important enough or that God will come through.
Simply put, the action of prayer reveals how much you truly believe what you say. You can’t say you believe in the power of prayer if you never pray. God has wonderful things in store for your life—but they won’t be accomplished if you don’t pray.
2. Reading/Studying the Bible
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. – Ephesians 4:14
One of the keys to your maturity in Christ is tied to your connection to the word of God. Many people talk about wanting to grow in their walk with God, yet they never take time to read the Bible.
You cannot grow and become mature in Christ if you never open the Bible. If you say you want to grow, then that talk must be accompanied by the action of reading and studying God’s word. This applies, even as wonderful as it is to hear it preached. Or, as great as it is to listen to awesome bible teachers.
I encourage you to read and study on your own. If you take this action, you will grow and mature in Christ. If you don’t, you won’t.
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If you love me, keep my commands. – John 14:15
The greatest demonstration of your love for Jesus is if you obey. More than any words that can ever come out of your mouth, the proof of your love for Christ is in your obedience. In fact, because Jesus’ words are true that means the opposite of this is true. If you don’t keep his commands, you don’t love Jesus.
It’s not enough to know what he says, you have to do what he says. When you do, you will show how much you truly love God or as James puts it:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. – James 1:22
4. Loving Your Neighbors
If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? – 1 John 3:17
The ultimate display of love for our brothers and sisters, and people in general, is how we treat them. This verse puts the principles of actions speaking louder than words front and center.
If I see your need and I can help you but I don’t, then I don’t love you. It doesn’t matter what words ever come out of my mouth.
Tying Together Actions and Words
Let’s go back to the original question: is 'actions speak louder than words' a biblical proverb? I think we have made the case that while it’s not a specific biblical proverb, it is clearly what God intends for us.
The things we do have the potential to speak much greater volumes than what we say.
There may be a few exceptions to this, but the words of John at the beginning are the words that ring true now. Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. For your actions speak louder than your words.
Help me to be aware of what I say and what I do. Help me to let my actions reflect the love I have for you and the love I have for people. Amen.
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