Why You Shouldn’t “Preach the Gospel at All Times and Use Words When Necessary”

ZA Blog on June 27th, 2016. Tagged under ,.

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There’s a famous quote. You’ve probably heard it:

“Preach the gospel at all times. Use words only when necessary.”

The original quote is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It’s been echoed by generations of Christians.

The spirit of the quote is good, and it makes a good point. Our actions matter. What’s more: actions usually speak louder than words. People are watching what we do.

But there are some good reasons why this quote does not present a good approach in relating with others.

The first reason is that, in many cases, people use it as an excuse to avoid articulating their faith.

How many times has the gospel not been shared, because we’ve embraced a version of Christianity where words don’t matter?

The second reason is more important:

The Bible tells us that there are certain truths. Faith comes by hearing. And hearing by the word of God. Other people hear when someone declares the message.

You can love people, serve people, care for people and model a great life. Your actions will nudge people. They will create curiosity. They will open hearts to an interest in the gospel.

Others may even model your actions—and this is a good thing.

But there will come a moment when you will need to tell your story. When you will need to tell the story from start to finish: sin and redemption, death and resurrection—and why it matters.

You need to be equipped and prepared to tell the story and articulate your faith.

The truth is that no matter how much we try to live in a way that reveals the presence of Jesus, words will still be needed. At some point along the way, everyone needs to hear and comprehend the content of the gospel.

Learn how to tell the story

Learn practical, biblical principles for sharing your faith with others. Sign up for a free online mini-course, Sharing the Good News: The Law of Love, taught by Kevin Harney.

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The above post was adapted from material in the Organic Outreach online course, taught by Kevin Harney.

  • Nathanael 2 years ago

    I did some research on that quote trying to discover its origins and as far as I can tell there are no references to it prior to the early 1990s. So, Francis certainly didn’t say it and it’s a stretch to say that generations of Christians have echoed it.

  • Thomas Heller 2 years ago

    The quote is light sarcasm. It means use words and actions. How can you not get that?

  • L. A. Meyers 8 months ago

    A very protestant thing to say.

  • L. A. Meyers 8 months ago

    Moderation means we will not post things that may result in a dialogue.

  • TJ 6 days ago

    The second half of the quote already addresses what you’re saying: when necessary, use words. The quote doesn’t say example only and never words.

    If it is indeed attributable to St Francis, then of course it wasn’t meant to negate preaching. St. Francis, and his Order of Friars Minor, certainly did and do preach. His good friend St. Dominic was the founder of the Order of Preachers. So, obviously he wouldn’t have meant not to use words at all. Gotta look at the whole context (again, if it can indeed be attributed to St. Francis) and the whole quote.

    I agree with you that people use this, and other excuses, not to articulate their faith. I also think many people do the “using words” part without the deeds part, especially since Luther, Calvin and Knox came along and decided it’s “faith alone” (which isn’t what the original Greek says) and not works at all, certainly something St. James would take issue with, as would Jesus, considering what He says in Matthew 25, Luke 10, etc. I would argue that the latter do more harm, for people who focus on words and fail in deeds set themselves up as Christians, and turning out not to be, cause great scandal. Jesus addresses this idea in the parable of the two sons, one who says he’ll go to work and doesn’t, and the other who says he won’t and then does (Matthew 21). Jesus clearly puts deeds above words, but words are still at times “necessary”, as the quote in question says.

    God bless you and draw you close to Him!