You remember the old Christian T-Shirt “Preach the Gospel. Use words if Necessary.” – I actually owned one of these. This is a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, who, was the founder of the Franciscan order of monks. However, while it appears that he never actually said this, it does correspond with much of this Roman Catholic Saint’s theology.
So .. is it true?
Many today in what some call the “Emerging” stream of Evangelicalism would say this is gospel truth. That you don’t need to share your faith verbally, but all you need to do good deeds, because, as we are commanded, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). The whole law, says the apostle Paul, is summed up in this word (Gal. 5:14).
Others might say that the statement is complete nonsense. After all, Paul also says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Rom. 10:14, emphasis mine).
So which is it?
The reality is, it’s kind of both. We must all proclaim Christ with our mouths and with our lives.
Living and Proclaiming Christ
We are repeatedly given the command to love one another (with a particular emphasis on fellow believers and a general application to non-believers). This command is central to all Christian doctrine because it is a critical indicator of the legitimacy of one’s profession of faith. James, the half-brother of Jesus wrote extensively about this in his letter to the churches in exile.
He tells his readers, that we are to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:22-25).
Peter admonishes his readers to press on in doing good, even as they face suffering and opposition. They are to continue to live a life honoring Christ, so that they will have an opportunity to make a defense—to share the gospel with their words, and their good behavior in Christ will bring validity.
They are to live Christ, so that they may proclaim Christ. That is the call of every believer, in every circumstance.
But too often, when people say, “Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words,” it’s actually intended as an excuse to not proclaim the gospel—to not give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15). They appear, in a very real sense, to be ashamed of Him.
J.D. Greer said it was to say, “Here’s my phone number, if necessary use digits.”
Those who claims the name of Christ must never be ashamed of Him.
If anyone professes Christ, and does many great works, but refuses to proclaim Him, that person is only doing goodwill. And goodwill does not save people from the wrath of God.
Our actions demonstrate the love of Christ working itself out in our lives, but our words proclaim Him. The two, like the greatest commandments, to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, are inseparable. It is our joy both to love Him and others with our actions, and to love Him and others with our words.