Seth Udinski, FISM News
How, then, can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? – Romans 10:14
A famous quote in American evangelical Christianity is the exhortation allegedly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:
Preach the gospel; if necessary, use words.
We should always be ready to make much of the name of Jesus by how we live. But is this quote an excuse to simply be nice, show kindness, and never open our mouth? Are words ever unnecessary in gospel preaching? Let’s explore this famous quote.
To begin, we must set the record straight. There is no tangible or historical evidence that Francis of Assisi, the 13th century Italian theologian and author of the famous hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King,” ever said these words. Most likely, this quote appeared in the Christian vernacular in the late twentieth century evangelical movement in the United States, and was falsely attributed to Francis.
Second, let’s explore what this quote gets right. We should always live in such a way that when people look at our life, they know we belong to Christ. Our preaching of the gospel must extend beyond our words to the way we live. Our deeds must match our creed.
But please do not use this quote as your guide for how you share the gospel. The fundamental problem with this quote is that it suggests that there may be a time when words are unnecessary. Fellow Christian, words are always necessary. The Apostle Paul asks the rhetorical question in Romans 10:14 – How can anyone believe the gospel unless someone tells them? Indeed, we believe the gospel when we hear it. Someone had to tell us. Words are always necessary.
Obviously, you may be in a situation where you cannot speak to someone. Perhaps physical distance or relational brokenness has rendered it impossible to have a conversation with them. It is here that we must be especially aware of a core truth of the gospel: Salvation is of the Lord, and of the Lord alone. We contribute nothing to it. God does all the work and God gets the all the glory. In this situation, we must pray that God would reveal Himself to them through the faithful words of another.
Please do not assume that I am telling you to forsake kindness. We must love unbelievers with our actions and conduct. But please do not think your “niceness” will be enough for them to know and understand the gospel. It is not enough. You need to open your mouth. You need to tell them about God’s holiness, and our utter sinfulness, and Christ’s perfect death and resurrection, and that if they simply believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, they will be saved (Acts 16:31).
So preach the gospel, and use words because they are necessary. Pray that God would give you the words to say, trusting that salvation is ultimately up to Him. In His great love for us, He has chosen to use His rescued people to rescue more people from sin. Let’s humbly obey our Savior, who invites us to share this good news boldly and confidently.