Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.
Have you heard this needlepoint worthy quote before? It is commonly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, a renowned figure in church history who lived in the late 12th/early 13th century. You don’t have to dig too deep to find out that poor Francis is the frequently misquoted as he receives credit for this little quip. It is unclear where this catchy Christianism derives from, but it wasn’t Francis.
In hearing this phrase quoted in sermons over the years, I’ve often wondered about the mentality it breeds. Is this a valid posture on evangelism? After a more thorough examination, I think it is safe to say that the false dichotomy it creates is a Christianese crock. Scripture just doesn’t support this approach. Not even a little bit.
Our actions are important, and they certainly need to back up our claims of faith (the Epistle of James comes to mind here, as well as 1 John). But “preaching the gospel” in the Bible is clearly a verbal activity.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12, Paul described his ministry (alongside Silas and Timothy), in the city of Thessalonica. The result of that ministry was the birth of the Thessalonian church. Paul certainly addressed the Christ-centered conduct that they displayed with the Thessalonians:
- (v. 5): For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed- God is witness…
- (v. 6): Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others…
- (v. 7): But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children…
- (v. 9): You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you who believe.
It sounds like their actions were preaching a pretty sound gospel, right?
On closer examination, however, the entire context of these words is saturated with verbs of proclamation. While there are 4 references to their behavior among the Thessalonians, there are 8 references to the actual preaching of the “gospel of God” that they did.
- v. 2: “to declare”
- v. 3: “our appeal”
- v. 4: “so we speak”
- v. 8: “to share with you”
- v. 9: “while we proclaimed to you”
- v. 12: “we exhorted, we encouraged, and we charged you.”
What do we learn from this? First, can we set Francis free? As you study his life you find out that he was a phenomenal preacher and a man who lived out (and constantly proclaimed) the gospel. Second, let’s modify the phrase to reflect a more biblical mentality.
Preach the gospel at all times. And let your life be a place where the gospel rings true.