Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Why famous quotes can be dangerous
“Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”
The first, and less important issue, is whether or not St. Francis actually wrote or spoke these words. Most scholars agree that this phrase does not appear in any of his writings, although the spirit of this quote is very Franciscan in nature. Thus, it is likely Francis said and demonstrated many things in his life that were consistent with the idea portrayed in this quote.
Regardless of where this quote originated, it is a very popular quote and can be quite misleading. It is true that the fruit of our lives should point people to Christ and the gospel, but we must use our words as well. This quote implies that you could preach the gospel to your neighbor by mowing his yard. This is simply not true. Now, I am not saying that you shouldn't mow your neighbor's yard. This is a great example of the humility and service that should characterize the life of Jesus' disciples. But doing a good deed for your neighbor will not bring him or her to faith if they do not know Christ. It might open the door to a relationship, or the opportunity to share the gospel, but at this point words must be spoken.
To imply that we can preach the gospel without words is as ridiculous as saying, "Tell me how to spell your name, use letters if necessary."
Most of the time this quote becomes nothing more than an excuse for Christians to not share the gospel with others. I understand, because I too find it difficult to share Christ in a one-on-one setting. I am afraid of awkwardness, rejection, pushing someone farther away, being too pushy.....it is much easier to hide behind a quote, an idea that if I just keep being a nice person this might in some way help people find their way to the cross.
"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!' But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?' So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." Romans 10:14-17 (ESV)
What do you think? Have I misunderstood the quote? Can we preach the gospel with our actions?