The phrase “actions speak louder than words” has a rich history. It has become a modern-day proverb. Those exact words are not found in the Bible, so, is the proverb true? Do actions really speak louder than words?
The answer is both yes and no. To reveal the view from both sides we will look at the history of the proverb, what the Bible has to say about actions and words, and what really matters to God.
What Is the Origin of 'Actions Speak Louder Than Words'?
The origin of the proverb “actions speak louder than words” dates all the way back to the 1550s. It began with different wording and has changed throughout time.
It was first recorded by a French writer named Michel de Montaigne. His exact words were, “Saying is one thing and doing is another.”
Over a century later (1628), an Englishman named J. Pym wrote a variation. How he worded the proverb is: “A word spoken in season is like an Apple of Gold set in Pictures of Silver, and actions are more precious than words.”
Another century passed before A.M. Davis penned another variation in 1736. He wrote in a letter titled “Melancholy State of Province” in Colonial Currency: “Actions speak louder than words and are more to be regarded.”
Mark Twain (1835-1910) has is own version as well. He puts it like this: “Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.”
All these forms of the proverb illustrate a stark difference between words and actions, giving weight to actions.
What the Bible Says about 'Actions Speak Louder Than Words'
The Bible has much to say about actions and words. In Matthew 21, Jesus uses a story to illustrate how actions speak louder than words.
Jesus’ story is about two sons whose father told them to go and work in his vineyard. One said no, he would not go. The other said yes. However, the one who said no changed his mind and went to work, and the one who had said yes, did not go. Jesus ends the story with a question, “Which of the two did the will of his father?”
The son who said yes but did not follow through failed to love and honor his father. The apostle John puts it this way: “My little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).
Titus delivers a stern word about actions that contradict what is said. “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him” (Titus 1:16).
This is known as hypocrisy (behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe). Hypocrisy has a smell that repels. “Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
James addresses this “words and actions thing” by connecting it to faith because it takes faith to obey God, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without actions is also dead” (James 2:26, ISV).
When looking at these scriptures, do you find your actions betray you at times? Of course, they will because you are human. This is where what matters to God the most comes in.
What Matters Most to God
It may sound by what you have read so far that actions are the end-all, but that isn’t true. Consider the words of Jesus regarding a certain widow’s actions and others who had the same “action.”
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on” (Mark 12:41-44).
Both gave offerings but instead of the action being the focus, Jesus saw into the widow’s heart, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Paul instructs us to lean into the Lord in everything we both say and do, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
John reveals the heart of the matter of love being in a person.
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? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions (1 John3:17-18, NLT).
Jesus said it’s what’s inside us that comes out of us. This means our behavior flows out of our hearts. And he also states that we have the power over what is inside us — we have a choice.
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil (Matthew 12:33-35).
Paul teaches us in Romans 12 how to “make our tree good.” We do this by renewing our minds.
Titus gives us even more encouragement — the power of grace!
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2:11-14).
Grace teaches us that your actions will fall short at times no matter how much you love God and want to obey him. There is no such thing as perfect behavior. Jesus provided our perfection, and we receive it by faith.
We are all works in progress. The important thing is to take ownership of our mistakes. Put them under the blood, then change our mind and behavior like the son in the story who had said no, but then obeyed. Receiving forgiveness is an action, just as obedience is.
For further reading:
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Silvia Jansen
Danielle Bernock is an international, award-winning author, coach, and speaker who helps people embrace their value and heal their souls through the power of the love of God. She’s written Emerging With Wings, A Bird Named Payn, Love’s Manifesto, Because You Matter, and hosts the Victorious Souls Podcast. A long-time follower of Christ, Danielle lives with her husband in Michigan near her adult children and grandchildren. For more information or to connect with Danielle https://www.daniellebernock.com/
LISTEN: Being Complete in Jesus (Understanding Matthew 5:21-48)
Hearing Jesus is a devotional journey through the gospels, where we explore the teachings of Jesus chapter by chapter. If you're seeking to live a life that reflects God's, this podcast is for you.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
WATCH: 10 Sins Christians Downplay (and Why They're So Destructive)
Stock Footage & Music Courtesy of Soundstripe.com Thumbnail by Getty Images