When Necessary Use Words. It Is Always Necessary.
It’s our nature to make excuses for ourselves and sometimes our excuses are so good that others borrow them. Sometimes these excuses catch on and become mottoes to live by. It is my loving advice to you that you be on your guard against such things. To lie to yourself is easy and you’ll find that you’re especially good at believing your own self-deception. But when others approve and even agree with your lies, the affirmation will make them all the more easy to believe. And when that deception becomes a motto, then, perhaps, it becomes almost impossible to dislodge. Always be on your guard. Test everything against scripture.
There are many such mottoes that make their way around Christendom. This letter is to address just one. The source of it is thought to be Francis of Assisi, and it will sound something like this:
“Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”
The really good deceptions will contain some, perhaps even much, truth. This little motto implies that to live the Gospel is enough, and on those occasions when it’s not, then words may be necessary. Now, while it is true that we should live as ambassadors for Christ, the lie of the saying is found in these two words: if necessary. It’s a lie because it counters clear scriptural teaching that tells us that words are indeed necessary. Consider a couple of passages:
- How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? (Rom 10:14-15)
We see actions. We hear words. This passage points to speaking, not actions. But words are difficult for us. They commit us. They reveal truths about us that we might rather stay camouflaged, one of those truths being that we believe all men are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. And that “falling short” is not a little-bit “falling short,” but a lot falling short, as in deserving of Hell-fires falling short. This truth is not popular as you might imagine. But to hide it is to hide the Gospel. Living a nice and friendly life, as we ought to do anyway, does not make anyone realize their plight, which from an eternal perspective is a horrible thing. And without that realization, Jesus is a joke to them, a mere curse word.
- ([Paul speaking]…and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph 6:19-20)
This passage leaves no room for the suggestion that we should only use words “when necessary.” According to scripture, it’s always necessary. But the having to say the words makes us prefer to simply live it out in our nice little lives.
So, with this in mind, here are a few pointers that might help. First, have compassion. Train your heart to see the lost with a desire that they be saved, that not only would their lives be better now, regardless of their circumstances, but that they may be able to say with the rest of the Kingdom of God that “I consider the sufferings of this present time not worth comparing to the Glory that will be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:18)
Second, you should understand that we are commanded to preach the Gospel but not to change hearts. You, in fact, cannot change a heart. You will never beg, reason, coerce, lure or frighten anyone into the Kingdom of God. As Paul pointed out in the Ephesians passage above, it really is a mystery that God uses your inept words in revealing the Gospel to some. Somehow, there are some who simply understand their condition before a holy and righteous God, and they seek the refuge that God provides in His Son.
Third, realize that sharing the Gospel is one of the most loving things you can do. The very life that you live right now is the result of someone sharing the Gospel with your father. But there are times when we love ourselves too much to subject ourselves to the possible ridicule that will most certainly come if we are in the habit of sharing the Gospel. So not sharing the Gospel with words is a loving thing to do also, but it is self-love.
I pray that you would ever be on your guard against mottoes that do more to console yourself than they do to advance the Kingdom. I also pray that your lives would be seasoned with love and compassion and that you would also “fearlessly make known the mysteries of the Gospel.”