“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” – Saint Francis of Assisi
These famous words of Saint Francis of Assisi are often quoted by those who are fed up with the church not practicing what it preaches. They are meant to illustrate the point that if we don’t actually live out the gospel, no lives will be changed. Recently this idea has been met with a lot of opposition by those of the opposite party who believe this theology is more of an excuse to not have to share the gospel with anyone than it is a motivator to live like Christ.
I believe both sides have excellent points. It’s interesting how we humans always tend towards extremes. Either dieting or exercise is the key to fitness. Either instruments are of the devil or are absolutely essential in proper worship. Either country music is what you live by or it is the most awful sound your ears have ever had the misfortune of hearing. You get the idea. In our efforts to disagree with the opposing party, we tend to retreat all the way to the opposite side of the spectrum in order to prove how wrong they are instead of finding a balance.
This case is no different. In an effort to highlight the lack of action in the church, Saint Francis told them to live out the gospel, using words only if necessary. Later, we came along and said “Wait a second, that’s not right. The gospel is supposed to be preached! How will anyone ever hear the good news when no one is saying it?” What if both sides were right? What if I told you that we as Christians need to both display the gospel with the way we live and with the things that we say?
Do you remember the Great Commision?
“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” – Mark 16:15
Jesus commanded us to proclaim the gospel. That necessitates words. If we never spoke the good news of Christ, no one would ever learn why we lived the way we did, and no one would ever be able to join us in our pursuit of Christ. One of God’s names is the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). Words matter. God gave us the ability to communicate through words so that we can understand Him better, worship Him, and communicate His truths with others. Words matter. The greatest thing we could ever do with words is tell others about the One who gave us our very lives.
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” – Galatians 5:14
On the other side, we have service. The second greatest commandment in all of scripture is to love your neighbor as yourself. This requires action. All the words and proclamations of love in the world mean nothing if they are not backed up by action. Actions prove the words to be true and give meaning behind them.
We need both words and actions. One or the other will not do. If we have words and no actions, we have an empty faith that doesn’t have strength enough to put its claims into action. If we have actions without words, we have a faith that helps others but is unable to truly lead others to Christ and show them what they are looking for.
Preach the Gospel at all times, and love others also.