Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Use Words if Necessary?

Francis of Assisi has been credited with saying, "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary."

I am not certain what he intended when he said those words, but I have seen the quote used to justify being silent about the gospel of Christ. The problem with such an application of Francis' words is: It's always necessary to use words to preach the gospel.

If one concentrates on doing good deeds without telling others about his motivation (the gospel), he risks stealing the glory away from God. Christ should be honored by the Christian's good deeds, but how will anyone know to honor Christ if the Christian is silent about him? As Max Lucado has said, "If we ever get to the point where our goal is to have people say, 'What a wonderful person,' we're missing the mark. Instead, our goal is to have people say, 'What a wonderful God this person serves.' Our task is to have people say, 'Tell me about your God,' and to point people to him." As Jesus Christ said, "(L)et your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

If someone is helping the poor and caring for the vulnerable, he may be doing God's work. However, if he is doing those things without letting anyone know about what Christ has done, he is not doing God's work. He is doing something that, at best, helps someone temporarily. At worst, he is doing those things to feel good about himself. In either case, he falls short of glorifying God. He sins.

The goal of Christians' good deeds is "so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive" (Titus 2:10). Good actions and attitudes enhance the credibility and attractiveness of the gospel, but they do not replace the gospel of what Christ has done. They are not intended to place the focus on Christians. They are intended to shift the focus to the Savior who has motivated and empowered us to love others.

In dying for our sins and being resurrected from the dead, Jesus Christ has done something worth mentioning to others. In ascending into heaven and promising to return, he motivates us to tell others about his accomplishments and promises. In sending the Holy Spirit to live in his people, he empowers us to lead God-honoring lives that point people to him as the Savior and Lord.

People need to hear about what Christ has done for them. Many are living in frustration, struggling with their sins, addictions, and inadequacies without help from above. They need to hear about the hope of heaven and the warnings of hell. They need the opportunity to believe. They need the opportunity to repent. They need the opportunity to bury their lives of futility and to be born again with a real reason to live.

We are doing no one any favors by remaining silent about Jesus. He has done something special, and everyone needs to know it.

Use words. They are necessary.

"He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16).


Flyawaynet said...

I don't know if you saw it or not but Bob over at "In the Clearing" wrote a very similar post to this that you might enjoy.
I actually thought maybe he had tweaked it and it was popping up in my google reader for some reason when I saw yours till I noticed it was your blog rather than his. Here is a link to it if you'd like to go read it.
The Little Word, "Word".

Terry Laudett said...

Thanks, Flyawaynet! I was not familiar with Bob's blog, but it was amazing to see how similarly he thinks about this issue.

Bobby Mathews said...

Terry, I think what I take out of St. Francis' words is simply this: let your deeds match your words. one of the reasons i think society has largely moved into a post-Christian phase is because Christians have done a pretty horrid job of actually following Christ.

We mouth the platitudes, but our hearts are unmoved by the widows and orphans. We pray over our meals while people go hungry.

I'm certainly not saying "don't speak about Jesus or God" -- but I *am* saying that words alone are a horrible witness. From a horrible Keith Green quote: "He is divine. We are de branches." I would also say that St. Francis' quote speaks to that as well. If you follow Christ and are filled with the Holy Spirit, you will "produce fruit" (man, I hate Christianese ... wish I had a better way to say that, but I know you get it).

Terry Laudett said...

You made a good point. I was addressing one extreme, but you are right in pointing to the problem of the other extreme (neglecting to act like a Christian should). I can't think of anything less attractive than saying the right things without appropriate actions and attitudes. Thanks for the comment!