Christians love to post quotes of Facebook and Twitter, I am one of them. We hear a quote and think “the world needs to hear this!” The problem however is sometimes the quotes Christians use are not theologically or biblically sound. The sounds like great words of wisdom, but in reality there is little truth in what is being quoted. I did a blog series on some of the Bible’s most misquoted Bible verses, and I got over 700 hits on those blogs. I did not do it to make anyone feel bad, but to inform them and show them what I saw the power of those verses were. My intent with going through these quotes is to look at them and see if they are biblically accurate.
“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words”
This quoted is credited by most people to St. Francis of Assisi, Founder of the Franciscan Order. The quote is essentially saying live you life in such a way that it just screams out Jesus. The truth of the matter is we have no way in proving St. Francis actually ever said this. None of disciples, early, or late biographers have this written down from his sayings. It also is not found anywhere in any of his personal writings. So when people quote St. Francis with this, they are flat-out wrong. There is zero historical evidence to support that St. Francis ever said this. The closest he came to saying anything like this would be:
“No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister . . All the Friars should preach by their deeds.”
Simply put, practice what you preach. If you look at his disciples, biographers, and his writings the credited quote to him is in no way how he lived his life. This quote does not line up in any way in the thinking and theology of St. Francis. So the first thing we must realize is St. Francis never said this to our knowledge.
Why it is wrong:
1. The quote is wrong for many reasons, one way is that it spews arrogance. I live my life in such a way that people see Christ through my actions. Now, I do believe we should live worthy of the calling we have received as Paul put it in Ephesians. We must remember though that our righteous works are like filthy rags.
2. It can be used as a cop-out sadly. People will use this justify not evangelizing. That the way they live tells people about Jesus. This simply not what the Bible teaches.
3. If someone has not idea who Jesus, how will they gather who he is just by how you live your life? Duane Liftin said it best:
“It’s simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behavior.”
Also, Paul has a good word in Romans 10:14;
“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?”
4. Romans 10:17 “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Simple enough.
5. The gospel is the declaration of something that actually happened. That is why Jesus commanded us to go to the nations and tell them. He did not command us to go live among them in a holy way, and let our actions preach. And since the gospel is the saving work of Jesus, it isn’t something we can do, but it is something we must announce. We do live out its implications, but if we are to make the gospel known, we will do so through words. I can appreciate the heart and intent of why people post that quote, but let us not live our lives that way. Let the Gospel come out of our mouths truthfully and constantly. (credit Ed Stetzer to much of this point)
The gospel requires, demands even, words. So, let’s preach the gospel, and let’s use words, since they’re necessary. May they be clear and bold words that call those inside and outside the church to follow Jesus. I’ll leave you with this quote from Mark Galli:
“”Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets, Jesus, and Paul put on preaching. Of course, we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns.”