It may sound a little nerdy, but I’ve set myself a goal of reading a little bit of Shakespeare every day until Christmas. I’m doing this because I’ve been feeling a little like I’ve been using some of the same words too often in my writing, and I know one sure way to expand one’s vocabulary is by reading from finer literature.
I took some time to read a little bit from Othello this morning, which is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and I came across a line that caught my attention.
“Our new heraldry is hands not hearts.” (III, iv. 48)
First of all, this caught my attention because of the word “heraldry.” Of course, I know the word “herald.” It can be both a noun and a verb. At Christmas time you’ll hear it used both ways in one of our most beloved hymns. You’ll hear of angels calling “Hark!” as they serve to herald the good news of the birth of Jesus. Shakespeare uses it here in a way that I’ve never used it, calling various messages into a general school of heralding that has one very important reason for existing.
Second, it caught my attention because of what it actually meant in context, especially since I’ve been spending some time in the adult bible class on Sunday mornings talking about how it’s one thing to believe something, but it’s something entirely different to act on that belief. It’s one thing to preach and teach and claim allegiance to the Gospel while living as though the Gospel has no real sway in your life. Here in this particular sentence, the listener is being urged by a different kind of message. The one speaking is beyond the moment of a rallying cry. He is now heralding that your heart is useless in any cause if you are not also willing to offer your hands to the effort. If you’ve been listening in the adult bible class, you’ve heard this. And I’ve said this same thing before, just in a different way, especially as it meets our efforts to engage as a congregation in challenges both internally and externally. You’ve heard me say before that it’s of little value for you to say to anyone going into a challenge in which you, too, are more than capable of helping, “I’m with you in spirit.” I can assure you that while it sounds nice, it isn’t enough to best the opposing forces, and it might not be all that inspiring to the rest of us in the darkest hours of the sweat and tears of the challenge. What’s needed is for you to get into the match and take every opportunity to drive the effort forward toward the victory, to jump in alongside and help, to rend your hands and not just your heart.
And by the way, all of this should already sound very familiar to any of the regular church goers within earshot of this particular heraldry. I’m not saying anything new, and neither was Shakespeare. Saint James already made this point to the Christians in the second chapter of his epistle when he wrote:
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds” (James 2:14-18).
You and I both know we won’t always find ourselves courageous enough to take that little step from comfort into discomfort for the sake of doing what’s right in service to the truth of Christ and His Word. It won’t be easy, especially when it means our reputations could be scarred, our relationships could be jeopardized, and maybe even our pocketbooks made a little thinner. But there’s one thing I can tell you for sure: You’ll never find the courage to live a life born of the Gospel if you aren’t being fed by the Gospel. You’ll never be able to flex the muscle of Christian freedom, service, love, mercy, and all of the other wonders that come from being a child of the living Savior unless you remain a branch firmly attached to Him as the nourishing vine.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)
Jesus wasn’t just saying something that sounded nice. He meant those words. And what’s truly spectacular is that such a heraldry from Jesus Himself has an innate power to convince you to believe the very point His precise vocabulary is in place to communicate.
God’s Word has the power not only to retool you to be one who is mindfully praying for and supporting the effort, but also to be one struck by a courage for rising from your knees, suiting up, and getting into the game.
My prayer for you at this very moment is that you will hear the Lord’s Word, that you will be moved by the Gospel of His wonderful sacrifice for your sins, and you will respond by this wonderfully rich grace to pitch in and help where you can—whether that be by way of your diligent prayers, your tithes and offerings, or your physical service. Stirred by the Gospel, these efforts become good works in the eyes of God because they are efforts born of a humble faith that knows and clings to Jesus alone for salvation.