Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words. This graphic is ubiquitous on social media. I have seen it — or others like it — many times on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram, as well as other sites. This particular example comes from Pinterest.
Roman Catholics, who think highly of the founder of the Franciscans, post it, as do evangelical Christians, who tend to also think well of St. Francis of Assisi.
There are several inherent problems with the saying. The first is that there is no record of St. Francis having said that. In fact, St. Francis was an outspoken and courageous preacher and used words on many (and probably all) occasions. The second problem is that no one, including the posters of this graphic, lives a life so perfect that it conveys in and by itself the Gospel. The third problem is that it shows a total misunderstanding of what is the Gospel. And the fourth and most concerning is that it contradicts the Word of God.
Do you really think your life — your way of living — is so awesome that people will see the Gospel by watching you? Does your life express the truth of Christ so purely that people will come flocking to him? How many have done so? The truth of the matter is that even if your life was perfect, it wouldn’t have the force of a fly. The Lord Jesus Christ lived a perfect and sinless life yet there is no record of any surrendering to God by virtue of that demonstration. He was perfect and undefiled yet people called him a glutton and a drunkard. They said he did his miracles by the power of Satan. They were, for the most part, put off by his life.
What is the Gospel?
The sentiment expressed in this graphic uncovers the ignorance of those who perpetuate it as to what the Gospel is. What is the Gospel? You say, “It’s the good news of Jesus Christ.” What do you mean by ‘good news’? Why is it good news? Which Jesus Christ are you talking about? Is it the Jesus of Islam? of Mormonism? of New Age philosophy? How will your impeccable life convey your answer? You can’t even win at a game of charades, yet you think you can preach the Gospel by your actions?
What is the Gospel? The Gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, came to save sinners from the guilt and penalty of sin and to make them righteous and to fit them for Heaven. How do you convey all that by your life? I have preached numerous evangelistic sermons and have felt insufficient in each case to convey the Gospel with words.
I would add, too that the Gospel is not, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” The Gospel is so much more than that. In order to preach the Gospel you must prepare the way for it to take effect. People need to know that in their fallen state they are enemies of God, that they are so marred as to be useless to Him, that they are dead in trespasses and sin, that they have offended a holy God and are under the just judgment of his wrath. That’s the bad news which stands against the good news. Then, having been made aware of their sinful and lost state, people need to repent. The Gospel message without repentance is no Gospel at all. People must let go of their sins, for we must “Follow … holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord,” (Hebrews 12:14). And this they cannot do on their own. And here enters the good news: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners….,” (1 Timothy 1:15). It is Christ that saves us. He took the initiative to come into the world on our behalf. He took the initiative to live and die for us. He takes the initiative in drawing us to himself. From beginning to end our salvation is all of him. How does one “preach” this without words?
Contrary to the Word of God
Finally, the idea that one can preach the Gospel without words is not only ludicrous, but contrary to the Word of God. Can you cite one example in the entire New Testament where someone actually did? Of course not.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 10: “ For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” He then goes on to ask a series of rhetorical questions.
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who hath believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Preaching always uses words! Preaching is active. It is proclamation! It is the command of the Great Commission (Mark 16:15).
Finally, with respect to this point, I would direct your attention to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand; By which also you are saved, if you keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
Now I say all this, not to embarrass anyone. We all say and write inaccurate things. I hope this will encourage you to look more carefully and closely at the stuff you see posted on social media. Challenge your thinking. Become immersed in the Word of God and meditate on it so that you will develop discretionary skills and critical thinking.
What I did not address and what is probably the thought behind the graphic, is that our actions speak louder than words. Our lives must support our words. When what we do conflicts with what we say we cause confusion and distrust and undermine our message and our desire to win people for Christ. But that’s a subject for another blog post.