St Francis of Assisi is said to have said something to the effect of “preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.”
In their zeal for the gospel many have taken to social media to post and tweet this quote to convey the message that your life must preach a gospel without necessarily communicating it verbally.
Such a quote is problematic because this is not what the Bible teaches. It is further problematic because no one can actually prove that Francis said this.
None of the biographies written in the 200 years after his death contain a reference to such a quote. It somehow made it into the folklore, and social media is taking it as fact.
Contrary to his modern image of a gentle soul, Francis was known not only for his finesse but also for his severity in sermons.
Early biographers wrote: “He denounced evil whenever he found it and made no effort to palliate it; from him a life of sin met with outspoken rebuke, not support. His words were neither hollow nor ridiculous, but filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, penetrating the marrow of the heart, so that listeners were turned to great amazement.”
Known as a preacher who sometimes preached as many as five sermons per day, it is unlikely that Francis of Assisi would have said this quote.
Evangelism is absolutely dependent on verbal communication, with nonverbal action playing a supporting role, and definitely not the other way around.
Jesus said in Mark 16:15 “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” This entails telling, speaking, and preaching the good news.
And one of my favorite verses, Romans 10:14 “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?”
The world must hear our preaching. Your unsaved friend must hear the good news. Your neighbor must hear you telling them the Gospel.
Let’s alter this quote into “preach the gospel at all times, and it is necessary to use words!”