“Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”
This great quote is often mistakenly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. Whether St. Francis actually said it or not, I love this quote, because it illustrates how our lives should reflect the life of Christ.
Those of us who call ourselves Christians must behave like Jesus Christ. That is literally what the word “Christian” means. It means “little Christ” or “Christ like.” In other words, when we become a Christian, we give our life to him and we no longer belong to ourselves, we belong to Christ. We are his. We are bought and paid for by his own blood. And when we behave like Jesus, we are preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to those around us. In the gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5, verses 15 and 16, Jesus told his disciples:
"No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly father."
So, as the old quote goes, we definitely should “preach the gospel at all times” by the way we live our lives; by the way we work, behave at home, participate in leisure activities, do our daily chores. In everything we do, our deeds should reflect Jesus Christ, so that the rest of the world will know and praise our heavenly father.
On the other hand, there is something I don’t like about that quote. It says “Use words if necessary.” I don’t like that part because I believe it is necessary to use words to preach the gospel. Please don’t misunderstand me, it’s not that I don’t think our actions don’t matter, as long as we preach the truth of the gospel. It’s just that there are far too many Christians living a so-called decent Christian lifestyle, but never telling anyone why we live the way we do. Far too many times I have heard my fellow believers say something like, “I’m not really good with words, so I’ll just share Christ by the way I live.” I appreciate their sentiment, but that just doesn’t really work, and this is why:
Some of the kindest, hardest-working, most honest people in this world are atheists or followers of false gods. From simply looking at outward behaviors, it may not be so easy to distinguish a true believer from an admirable non-believer. If both a believer and a non-believer are behaving nicely, then it doesn’t further the cause of the gospel, and our heavenly father doesn’t necessarily get the praise. Therefore, it takes more than simple good behavior to be an effective witness for Jesus Christ. It also takes words.
Perhaps St. Francis (or whoever originally said that quote) should have said something like this: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary. And, by the way, it is necessary to use words.” The point I’m trying to make is that it takes both our words and our actions to effectively preach the gospel. Simply using just one or the other is only telling half of the story. Of course, our words and our actions must match each other, or we are only being hypocritical. But we are also not fully following Christ if we are not using our words to tell those around us about him.
Most of the Christians I know probably won’t admit it, but we are actually afraid of verbally telling someone about Jesus. It is much easier to just live a good life without ever telling anyone about Jesus. And so, we use nice quotes like the one above to convince ourselves that we are doing enough by just by practicing so-called good Christian behavior. But the truth is, it isn’t enough. Maybe we’re afraid that we will say something wrong. Maybe we’re afraid that we’ll mess up someone’s eternal future by the words we use. And so, we just don’t say anything and hope that they’ll notice something about the way we live. However, we will definitely mess up someone’s eternal future if we don’t use our words to tell them about Jesus.
We have to use our words to reach people for Jesus Christ. Even if we’re not good at it. Even if we stumble and stutter over words, in order to be obedient, we must tell other people about Jesus. And the way we live our lives had better back up what we say.