“Preach the gospel always, if necessary, use words.”
There are some who think that St. Francis never said this, but the popularity of the quote and the persistence in attribution to St. Francis remain.
St. Francis (or the mystery writer) rightly reminds us that our actions are important. The Apostle John provides a similar thought:
“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
The point is that our actions should lay a foundation so that when we do preach the gospel, we are credible. We cannot ask anyone to believe a gospel that has little or no positive effect on the preacher.
I borrow the following illustration from Howard Hendricks.
If you have seen my profile picture anywhere, you would know that I shave my head. I do so because if my hair grew out, my hairstyle would be in the style of an inverse mohawk. In other words, I would have nothing on the top and a little on the sides.
With that background in mind, would you buy hair restoration oil from me? Would you not rightly ask why it did not work for me? The lack of hair on my head belies the claims of efficacy of the product.
The danger is that we can carry this thought too far and assume that our actions alone are capable of conveying the gospel. They are not.
It is necessary to use words. While we may, by our actions, lead someone into being different on the outside, it is only the gospel that can change someone on the inside. The gospel that changes people on the inside must be conveyed in words.
Peter tells us that we should be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). This is an indication that displaying hope is not enough, words are required to explain the hope.
Words must be matched with appropriate action, but the words are indeed necessary (Tweet This).