Have you eve seen the statement, “Preach the gospel and when necessary use words” attributed to St. Francis of Assisi?
You might have heard this statement posted on a meme on social media. Sounds good, but there are several problems with this quote. First, let me say that there is an element of truth in it, before I criticize it in its entirety. On the positive, we should live out as followers of Jesus in a way that is consistent with the Gospel. Paul said, “Watch your life and your doctrine closely.” (1 Timothy 4:16) Also, if you are in a marriage, and you become a Christian but your spouse has not converted, Peter wrote that wives can actually win their husbands by the way they conduct their lives, and not by their words. (1 Peter 3) However, this quote is frequently used and posted on social media as an excuse not to evangelize. Did you know that only 3% of professing believers in America actively proclaim the gospel to unbelievers? So this is my critique of the statement: “Preach the gospel and when necessary use words.”
1. The First Problem is that St. Francis NEVER said it!
It does not look like St. Francis actually said these words in history, but it was attributed to him many years later.
2. This Statement is Self-contradictory, Because it Contains WORDS.
It’s like saying, “I can’t write a word of English, in English.” Notice, that this quote is proclaiming something about the gospel, using words.
3. It’s Unbiblical. The Bible says that the Gospel must be spoken IN WORDS.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:13-14)
4. It Can Actually be Self-Righteous, Focused On Our Works More than Christ’s Work.
Although it is true that we should let light our light shine before others and model what we preach. It is self-righteous to believe that our behavior is so morally superior, that the normative of Gospel proclamation should be about our life without words. Should we think that others will constantly come up to us and ask about the Gospel? This does happen sometimes, but most of the time, we must go out and initiate the conversation about Jesus’ death and resurrection, rather than depending on our lifestyle to be the gospel that converts others.
After all, the gospel is not about primarily our story and how good we are, rather it is first and foremost about HIS story. The Gospel is that that Christ died and rose again. Although he has declared us righteous, he is still sanctifying us and making us more like him. But the Gospel is about Christ’s work, not ours.