Many of us Postmodern Christians love to use the quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi “Preach the gospel, if necessary, use words.” I get why we love it. It gives us freedom. It means that we can fully embrace lifestyle evangelism on the authority of one of the heroes of the faith. It gives us ammo to our oft held belief that we should be examples of Christ and not ram the gospel down anyones throat.
But its wrong. Its not true. Its not from Assisi. Its not Biblical.
Lets put aside for a minute the fact that we have embraced this thought without any research, passing it on to congregations and friends as, pardon the pun, Gospel. Lets get straight to the truth, and what we are to do about it.
Assisi wrote (in Chapter XVII of Rule 1211 if you must know) that the friars he was training to spread the gospel were not to do so unless they were given permission. He did follow it up with “Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds.” So, I suppose, you can get there with what he really said. But that isn’t his intention.
The Bible is full of places where it talks about the power of the tongue, the power of words. When you pray “SAY” Jesus taught His disciples. Use words. Life and death are in the power of the tongue. With the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Jesus himself is the Word of God. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word from God. Words, words, spoken words. So why is it that we want to reduce the gospel to action?
Certainly action is critical. James says that faith without works, or actions is dead. We are created in Christ Jesus for good works, and so on. But lets go to the Word to find out how we are supposed to reconcile the faith/works/word thing.
Titus 2:6-8 says “Likewise exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.”
Here Paul echos the good works theme but adds good doctrine (of which the Assisi attributed quote is not) and sound speech.
What about Acts 4:29 that says “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word”
What?!? Huh?!? I could go on and on here but lets just ask, where does this leave us?
Sorry folks. You gotta use words. You gotta let the Word of God be in your mouth. Be your sword. Its gotta be in your heart before it can be in your mouth though. Out of the heart flow the issues of life, and from the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. So, while we maybe cant control that tongue of ours, we can control (or give God control) of our heart. Then, our actions and our words will line up.
Oh, and you gotta have the right actions too, or the word in your mouth thing gets nullified.