One of my favorite quotes is accredited to Saint Francis of Assisi, who died in 1226. It is a popular quote, and one you have probably heard: “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” He also said, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach, unless our walking is our preaching.” Both of these quotes complement and reinforce each other. What is obvious in both quotes is that we must live out the Gospel. The first part of the quote, “Preach the Gospel at all times,” fits hand in glove with Scriptures such as I Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing…” How are we to preach the Gospel at all times? The same way we pray without ceasing. It is obvious that we cannot spend every moment of our lives with our heads bowed in prayer, so what does it mean? Simply put, live our lives with our spirit aligned and communicating with God at all times. By putting God truly first in our lives, and aligning ourselves with Him, a state of continual prayer can be achieved. By the same principle, we can preach the Gospel at all times. Although not spoken verbally, it is shown (preached) in our actions in our daily lives.
I sat in church one day when the preacher spoke of this very same quote by Francis of Assisi. The preacher said that this quote could not be further from the truth. He emphatically put his fist on the pulpit and stated, “We must preach the Gospel, preach the Gospel, preach the Gospel, and we must use words.” I understand where the preacher was coming from on the surface. But I also realize that modern Christianity has replaced “living out” of the Gospel with way too many words, describing it with greeting card style slogans, marketing strategies, etc.– too often aimed at sales, selling this counterfeit Gospel to gullible passersby in an effort to fill coffers and seats—much like the hawkers in the Temple whom Jesus tossed on their backsides. For example, just today, a pastor shared a link for an E-book comparing Easter to the Superbowl of Christianity. The book was a guide/manual to show pastors how they could capitalize on the Easter rush, so to speak. If churches put on a performance for Easter crowds on Sunday in order to get the people to return, I guess my question is, Do I keep up the performance in an attempt to get them to keep returning? Too often, I think the answer is Yes. The church is suffering from years of this type of behavior.
The two quotes together made by Francis of Assisi bring to our minds an altogether different Gospel than what is prevalent today. If I live out the Gospel before you, I am preaching to you every time you are in my presence. I can also preach to you by my actions, whereas, if I tried verbally preaching to you, regarding some aspect of your life, you might not hear it or you might reject it and walk away. Remember two other famous quotes, “Actions speak louder than words,” and “A picture is worth a thousand words.” I live it out before you, and when necessary, such as when you ask me a question, or when we are in conversation, I use words. And through words, I explain what I am displaying and living out in my life, and why I am living it out.
In the second quote by Francis of Assisi, “It is no use walking…” he is conveying the truth that if we do not live out the Gospel, our mere words ring shallow and untrue to the hearers. It is similar to someone who wants to comfort you but who doesn’t really know how you feel saying, “I am so sorry for your loss. I know what you are going through,” or “I know how you feel. I am so sorry that this happened to you.” The intentions may be good, but it falls short.
When both quotes by Francis of Assisi are taken together, in context, it is plain to me that he is saying that if we live out the Gospel in our daily lives, few words are needed to explain it; and if we do not live it out, no amount of words can explain it. However, when asked, or when appropriate, it is necessary to explain with words why we do the things we do. Francis of Assisi did say, “When necessary…” not “if necessary.” He knew that at times it would be.
These words were spoken/written by a man nearly 800 years ago. He lived in a completely different culture than I do. What troubles me, when looking at his quotes and filtering and applying them to modern times, is the sad fact that it has now become acceptable to only live out the Gospel while within the church walls and to disregard Gospel centered speech and actions while outside those walls. In so doing, we give the appearance of living out the Gospel on Sunday from 11 to 12 (or whatever hour or two we choose to enter the church building that week), but in reality we are far from living out the Gospel (being a living sacrifice) all day, every day, as we were commanded by our Lord, and as we were reminded by Francis of Assisi.
One Sunday after services at a church we were visiting, we were asked to go out to eat. We accepted and were offered a ride with one of the deacons of the church. The man whom I had witnessed that morning during services being so somber and serious about his faith, became a new person once the truck doors shut. His speech went from Godly to worldly, and his vocabulary from reverent to colorful, literally before we left the parking lot. And this person was a pillar of the church. And although I did not know him well, he was comfortable enough to exhibit this around me and my wife. There is an old saying that you might have heard, “I want to be the same Monday as I am on Sunday.” I guess I kind of look at that a different way. I want to be the same on Sunday that I was on Saturday. The first saying brings to mind someone who puts on a clean front for Sunday which he hopes to be able to carry throughout the week. I don’t look at Christianity that way. I look at it this way: “If I am where/how I am supposed to be on Saturday, I won’t have to change for Sunday. It is me. All the time. Living out the Gospel. Wherever I am. Whomever I’m with. ‘Preach[ing] the Gospel at all times. [And] When necessary, us[ing] words.’”