Preach the Gospel, use words if necessary…
I have heard it many times. Its an old adage – maybe even a cliche – often attributed to this guy but he probably didn’t say it. Christian people sometimes squabble over the idea. Some (who like it) want to ensure that Good News never gets divorced from Good Deeds. Some (who don’t like it) find it is misses the nature of the Gospel and is possibly an evasion of the duty to proclaim. I’m usually firmly in the second camp, but first:
Why It Might Not Be So Bad…
When people say it, they might just mean:
-our lives should reflect the goodness of our message – we shouldn’t object! Peter says similar.
-we should be living out the implications of the Gospel – hey! that’s in the Bible!
-our lives can visibly reflect God’s goodness – that sounds like Jesus.
If somebody is just meaning something along the lines of these, than the sentiment behind “preach, use words if necessary” really isn’t all that bad.
It still isn’t entirely accurate and is a little misleading. That’s because the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus – is words. It is a message, a story, a set of truths, that is communicated by speaking one person to another. Heed this:
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? –Paul, Romans 10:14
The Good News of Jesus is exactly that, News. News consists of understandable words. Communicating who Jesus is and what He has done without using words is a bit like saying: Give me your phone number, use numerals if necessary. We should never absolve ourselves from doing good to our neighbours and accomplishing good deeds in the name of Christ. But likewise, we should never absolve ourselves from the need to speak when we need to speak. Converting faith comes from hearing.
Perhaps we sometimes lean on sentiments like “Preach the Gospel, use words if necessary” because we would really rather do anything than speak about Jesus to someone. In my experience, the opening of the yap – to talk in a simple way about Christ, His Cross, and our need for both – is one of the most daunting things we can do.
What if we only had five minutes with someone? Not enough time to live a good life before their eyes. What would we tell them? Do we have the words?