When Necessary Use Words. It Is Always Necessary.*
It is 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. It is my loving advice to you that you be on your guard against such things. To lie to yourself is easy, and you will be especially good at believing your own self deceptions. But when others approve, and even agree with your lies, this makes them all the more easy to believe because of the affirmation it gives you. And when that deception becomes a motto, then, perhaps, it is almost impossible 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 this one 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, even much, truth. This little motto implies that to live the Gospel is enough. And it’s true that we shouldn’t live hypocritical lives. But the deception can be found in these two words, “if necessary”. It is a lie because it counters clear scriptural teaching which tells us that words are necessary. Consider a couple of passages:
(1) 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 alludes to speaking, not acting. 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, 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.
Here is another passage that you might consider:
(2)[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 idea that we should only use words “when necessary”. According to scripture, it is always necessary. But using words is difficult to the extreme, which is why so many prefer to simply “live it out”, or hint and hope. Here are a couple of pointers that might help:
First, have compassion. Christians are often made into a caricature of a wild-eyed fanatic, exclusively and gleefully fixated on the Hell fires and the wrath of God. But the caricature is devoid of compassion. Train your heart to see the lost with a desire that they be saved, that not only that their lives would be better here in the here and now regardless of their circumstances, but that they may be able to say with all 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 need to understand that it is a requirement to preach the Gospel, but not to change hearts. You, in fact, cannot change hearts. 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 it to some. Somehow, some simply understand their condition before a holy and righteous God and seek the refuge that God provides in His Son.
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”.