“Preach the gospel; when necessary, use words.”
We love to hide behind this quote. It’s probably one of our favorites, and it sounds almost Biblical… but is it?
I’m sure St. Francis of Assisi had good intentions when he wrote it, and there is truth in the fact that we have to live the gospel, by putting words into action. However, we do not get to “practise what we preach” if we’re not preaching anything.
For a very long time, I also held to this saying, especially since we’re living in a foreign country where we are unable to speak the local language effectively. It seems like justification for “preaching the gospel without words”. Studying Thai somehow eases my guilty conscience: at least I’m in the process of perhaps one day being able to use words to share the Good News with the citizens of this Buddhist nation.
We are deceived if we think that our good intentions and hopes for salvation for others observing our “wonderful lives” without the spoken Word will ensure them of eternal life. We fail to realize that the gospel has nothing to do with our good intentions and everything to do with our flawed, sinful nature that cries out for a Saviour. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. The Word must be spoken to be heard and to be planted in a heart.
Without Jesus we have no gospel. Without the gospel we have nothing but bad news to share.
“But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” – Romans 10:8-15 KJV
We find it easy to believe that only some are called to be “teachers”, “preachers”, “missionaries”, etc, so we use various titles to either put people on pedestals or to judge them harder than others when they fall or fail, because they’re supposed to be the “holy ones”.
Moreover, if we somehow believe that it is possible to preach the gospel without words, why do we expect one to study Theology for seven years before standing at a pulpit to minister to others?
We utter thousands of words every day (sometimes way too many in vain), but when we actually get an opportunity to open our mouths to share the most important message we have been commissioned to share, our tongues are tied.
Perhaps we are at a loss for words because we do not really know the Word. We have neglected to take up the only weapon we have against the inner battle of darkness. So, when the Accuser comes saying: “Who are you to preach? Your testimony doesn’t count. You have nothing to teach. You have no religious title”, it becomes easy to accept the lie that we are not sent, nor called, nor chosen. Besides, who would listen to us anyway?
Perhaps we will never find the right words to explain how our messy lives became wrapped up in grace. How the One who so loved the world loved us while we were yet sinners and how His ultimate sacrifice set us free.
Maybe we will never be able to adequately describe the joy, share enough about the love, or testify of all the hope that lives within us in a way that the world will understand. But the challenge is to preach the gospel by opening our mouths to call out to those who are still drowning and to offer them a life line to safety.
Let us challenge ourselves and each other today to preach the gospel AND use words, for the Word is Spirit and is life.