“Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”
Regardless of whether it is historically accurate to ascribe this quote to St. Francis is another conversation and one that you can learn more about through other writings. However it does bring up a good discussion around the idea of how we as God’s creation are to spread His Gospel message. How does God expect us to spread His “good news” to the world? Is it through our actions or our words?
This has been become a bit of a paradox as I’ve thought about our world today.
The technological age has landed on us like a sumo wrestler at an all you can eat buffet. We have started to feed ourselves with social media, smart phones, computers, and higher tech gadgets that not even the Jetsons could have imagined. It has changed our society and there is no sign that we pushing back from this table any time soon. We prefer to interact and communicate through our interface rather than face-to-face because it’s safe and controlled. We have the ability to dictate the message we send out to others while also crafting it in a way that our point is loud and clear.
So why is this a paradox?
It’s a paradox because although we are in an age where communicating everything from what we are eating for breakfast to the announcement of a new baby through social media is completely natural and normal it’s not how we prefer to share our faith. When it comes to letting people know what we believe about God we would rather do the St. Francis method and let our actions do the talking. “Please don’t make me talk to my friends about Christ. I will just be an example to them. Yeah, by my actions they will know I’m a Christian.”
I see three problems with this line of thinking when it comes to sharing our faith.
#1 – Showing Your Faith Requires Interaction. I just said that our world has become prone to interface relationships rather than face-to-face. We don’t see one another in real time so how are we able to show our Faith to them in real time? Don’t actions that are written down on a Facebook wall just become well crafted fairy tales along the same lines of a fish story that only gets bigger through the generations? Jesus does tell us in John 13:35 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples”, but if we are to share our Faith by our love or actions it needs to be seen by people and we aren’t around people. Therefore we must still use words.
#2 – God’s Primary Vehicle For Creation Was Words. I’m not sure if we realize this but God’s method of creating the entire world was through His words. As He breathed life into everything we see He was preaching a sermon of God’s greatness that proved and displayed His majesty. After each element of creation He crafted we read “God said” and He would instruct creation to do what He designed them to do. We even read that after He steps back from the canvas of life, “God saw all that he had made and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) God is a God of action but those actions were done through speaking and breathing life into that which had none.
#3 – Jesus’s Ministry Used Words. Throughout Jesus’ time on earth, He did amazing things. He walked on water, healed the sick, cast out demons, and on and on I could go. However, Jesus never just strolled through town silently zapping people like a mute X-Man superhero. No, in each case He would begin or end His miracle with a message or teaching. In Mark 9 we read about a young boy possessed with a demon. His father approaches Jesus to have him heal his son. Before doing so he take a moment to speak to the man’s faith. After the man presents his situation Jesus says, “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.” (Mark 9:23) Jesus takes a moment to preach a sermon of faith and trust in God before His action is done. In a situation where action was what was needed Jesus chose words first and action second. Jesus does go on to heal the boy by saying to the demon, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you come out of him and never enter him again.” (Mark 9:25b) However, it’s important to remember that Jesus was a man of words as well as action.
The reason that the St Francis method of evangelism is a bit of a paradox is that it seems to be untrue when we look at what God set forth as our example to follow. Yes, Jesus told us to “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”, (Matthew 28:19) but He did so within the framework of a sermon. A sermon that used words.
So my encouragement to you is to continue to live in such a way that people can see Christ in you, but don’t be naïve enough to think you will never have to open your mouth about God. Find confidence knowing that the power of God working in and through you will give you the words to say at just the right time. If God can use a stuttering, unconfident, murder in Moses to lead his people out of Egypt through a series of sermons to a Pharaoh then He can help you talk to your friend in the cube next to you. We would be wise to head Peter’s words when he says “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)
That answer is going to require you to use your words and tell the story of how God captured your heart and lives and moves in your life. Believe me, it’s a great story and one that people want to hear. God will give you the strength to do it, but you have to open your mouth.