How many times have we heard that message? That we share the Gospel by the way we live and only tell people the Gospel “when it’s necessary?” One man’s research shows that the attribution of that statement to Francis is indeed apocryphal.
I think it was Ray Comfort (UPDATE 5/31/09 – the actual Ray Comfort citation is below, with the entire original article in its entirety) who said this statement is comparable to saying “feed the hungry – if necessary, use food.” The Gospel is a statement of fact – a proposition that needs to a) be presented/proclaimed and then b) understood and assented to by the hearer.
There are many people who live lives that are “in line” with Christian living. Many pagans make wonderful neighbors and perform many humanitarian acts and show kindness and generosity – but is that the Gospel? Are they “preaching” by the way they live? Doesn’t Scripture say that without faith it is impossible to please God? That whatever is not done from faith is sin? But how does a pagan distinguish between acts performed by thr redeemed and those performed by his/her fellow pagans? The acts would appear, to them, to be equal in motivation and “goodness.” In reality, they aren’t. That’s why the Gospel needs to be proclaimed through preaching – individual and corporate – and through distribution of the Word of God.
Ray Comfort on St Francis and the preaching of the Gospel:
One hundred and fifty thousand children had been on the brink of starving to death, but thanks to the kind gift of a very generous billionaire, every child now had enough food to keep him alive. That gift had arrived in the form of one big check. The horror was now over. It was finished. It was just a matter of distributing the food using the few relief workers we had. Without them to get the food to the children, there would have been many more deaths.
Some days later, a frantic worker burst into the camp and cried, “Some of the relief workers have stopped distributing food. Masses of children are dying!”
Why would the workers stop when there was plenty of food? It didn’t make sense. The distraught man said, “It’s because one of them held up a sign that said, ‘Feed the starving children. Where necessary, use food.’ That has caused some of the workers to simply befriend the starving children without giving them food. It’s insane!”
The first time I ever heard of Saint Francis of Assisi was back in 1965. It was during the surf movie “The Endless Summer.” Four surfers who were chasing the sun discovered the perfect wave, at a place in South Africa called “Cape Saint Francis.” The sight of the perfect wave excited me beyond words.
The Unspeakable Gift
The next time I heard of him was when I heard that he said “Preach the Gospel at all times. Where necessary, use words.” That statement upset me beyond words, because it was a philosophy that I knew sounded deeply spiritual . . . to those who were spiritually shallow. It made as much sense as “Feed starving children. Where necessary, use food.”
On 16 July 1228 Francis of Assisi was pronounced a saint by Pope Gregory IX. That’s a long time ago, so it’s a little late for questions, but if I could I would like to find out why anyone would say such a strange thing? Was it because he was fearful to use actual words to preach the truth of the Gospel? Or was it because he thought that people would see that he had good works and hear the message of salvation without a preacher, something contrary to Scripture’s “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).
Whatever the case, 800 years since Francis we have many who profess faith in Jesus, and are no doubt using this popular philosophy to justify being speechless. To them salvation truly is an “unspeakable” gift.
Recently someone told me about a conference where 100,000 Christians gathered to worship God. When I asked if they were exhorted to go out and preach the Gospel to every creature, it was no surprise to me that they weren’t. Instead, they were exhorted to live a life of worship. Again, that sounds spiritual, but you can’t worship God without obedience to His Word, and His Word commands us to preach the Gospel to every creature.
I regularly meet those who think they can obey the Great Commission without using words. When they hear the Gospel preached that are usually offended and say things like, “I appreciate what you are saying, but I don’t like the way you are saying it.” With a little probing, they are the relationship folks, who think preaching the Gospel means building relationships with the lost, and never mentioning words like “sin,” “Hell,” and “Judgment Day.” They think that real love is to withhold the Bread of life from those that are starving to death. Remember that Jesus said, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38, italics added).
According to the dictionary, a “sissy” is “a timid or cowardly person.” From what I understand of Saint Francis, he was no sissy. He was a loving man who was not afraid to use words when he preached. He wasn’t frightened to preach repentance to a sinful world. However, there have been times when I could have been called that name. I have felt the grip of fear and have wanted to drop words such as sin, Hell, repentance and Judgment Day when I have preached to sinners. I don’t want to come across as being unloving or judgmental, but I fear God more than I fear man. So when God’s Word tells me to use words, I use words, despite the consequences.
Listen to the Apostle Paul’s sobering warning to his hearers: “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20: 26-27). Perhaps he spoke about being free from their blood because he was familiar with God Himself warning Ezekiel of his responsibility to warn his generation: “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezekiel 3:18, italics added).
When someone thinks that they can feed starving children and not use food, that’s their business. But when their philosophy spreads throughout the camp, it becomes an unspeakable tragedy. If we become passive about the Great Commission because we are more concerned about ourselves than the eternal well-being of others, we may be able to hide our motives from man, but not from God. He warns, “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Surely we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?” (Proverbs 24:11-12).
There’s an interesting irony to this story. After a little research I came across a quote about the famous saying. It is from someone who had been a Franciscan monk for 28 years–and had earned an M.A. in Franciscan studies. He co ntacted some of the most eminent Franciscan scholars in the world to try and verify the saying. He said, “It is clearly not in any of Francis’ writings. After a couple weeks of searching, no scholar could find this quote in a story written within 200 years of Francis’ death.” (1.)
So if it wasn’t Saint Francis who said not to use words, who was it? Who is it that would like to see the truth of the Gospel hindered from being preached to every creature? That doesn’t need to be answered.
The time is short. The laborers are few. Please, cast off your fears and equip yourself to preach the Gospel with words. They are necessary.