Have you ever heard the old saying, “Preach the gospel always; if necessary use words”? It’s a catchy phrase that has been quoted in churches and small groups for many years. While I understand the point attempting to be made that Christians need to walk the walk if we are going to talk the talk, this catchy saying needs to be retired. Permanently.
In his book Gaining By Losing, J.D. Greear explains why:
Our ministry begins with, and focuses on, testifying to what Christ has done. Any “service” to our community that does not make that message clear disserves them. Acts of kindness apart from the gospel only make people more comfortable on their way to hell.
Maybe you’ve heard the old adage attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel; if necessary use words.” Quaint and tweetable, but very wrong. You cannot preach the gospel without words. The gospel is an explanation about an act that occurred in history once and for all. We testify through words that Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves by living the life we should have lived and dying the death we should have died, in our place, so that others can believe that message and trust in it. Saying, “Preach the gospel; if necessary use words,” is like me saying, “Tell me your phone number; if necessary, use digits.” Apart from digits, there is no phone number. Apart from words, there is no gospel.
Amen! If there are no words, then there is no gospel. That’s basically what Paul said in Romans 10:13-17: “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 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.”
Amen! Faith comes from hearing words. In particular, the words of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, you cannot preach the gospel without words.
Still, we cannot ignore the intention of the saying above. We must preach the gospel using words, but our lives must reflect the message that we proclaim to others. It’s not either/or, but both/and. We must proclaim the gospel AND live a life worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).
The best definition of evangelism that I have ever heard comes from my former seminary professor Chuck Lawless, who said this: “Evangelism is being, doing, and telling the good news of Jesus Christ. Evangelism is never less than the telling of the good news, but assumed is a lifestyle that supports the message.”
Preach the gospel; words are necessary so use them as you live your life on mission for Him!