“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
The above quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi is one that many of us embrace as well as repeat to others. It does underscore our need as Christians to be ‘doers of the Word’ whose actions should always demonstrate our love for God and commitment to live in accordance with His will. But all too often we also like the quote because it gives us a justification for not speaking out and sharing the gospel with words, words that well may offend others. But words are necessary to pierce hearts with the truth, set people free from lies, and have the power to lead to salvation. None of us wants to offend anyone. But the truth is that the gospel IS an offense, and we have been commanded by Jesus to proclaim—or preach— the gospel with words, not just glorify Him by our actions as revealed when Jesus told His disciples to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Matthew 5:16; Matthew 16:15) In fact, when we make the focus on our actions rather than upon the finished work of Jesus on the cross, it easily becomes a man rather than God centered gospel. Our actions—no matter how ‘good’— will always be insufficient because there is only One Person Who has ever lived a perfect life and Whose life revealed the truth of Who God is.
The ‘truth that sets people free’ is the gospel that exalts Jesus and what He did on our behalf, and the Word says that when He is lifted up—not our actions—that men will be drawn to Him, the Source of salvation (John 12:32). Jesus’ actions most definitely testified to the truth of Who God is, but very importantly, He also spoke the truth and said He came to earth for the purpose of testifying to the truth (John 18:37). He is the ‘Living Word made flesh’, and His words were an even greater offense than His actions (John 1:1,14; Matthew 15:11-12; John 6:59-61) It was His claim to be the Son of God, and the only way to be reconciled to God the Father, that most offended people and led them to crucify Him (John 10:30-33; John 14:6). That truth offended the people in the days when He walked as a man on earth, and His faithful followers should be aware that when they share that same truth they too will offend others. However, it is only by speaking the truth of Who Jesus is and what He came to earth to do that others will come to the saving knowledge of Jesus and put their faith in what He did to set them free from the penalty and power of their sin.
We have been commanded to preach the word because faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
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. Romans 10:14-17 ESV (boldness added)
Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul penned much of the New Testament and wrote not only the passage above from Romans, he also wrote the passage below in 1 Corinthians where he highlights that the focus is not to be on us as human vessels, but upon Who Jesus is and what He has done:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV (boldness added)
What is the power of God? God lets us know that it is His Word! (Hebrews 4:12; Romans 1:16; 2 Timothy 3:15-16; 1 Peter 1:23; John 17:17; Isaiah 55:11; Isaiah 40:8) Specifically, the word of the gospel which has the power to save!
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16 ESV
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV
Paul exhorts us to know the Word and to speak the Word. He also warns us that the truth will not always be well-received, but we are to share it anyway, and to be willing to endure suffering as we do the work of an evangelist.
…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:2-5 ESV
It takes effort to be prepared ‘in and out of season’ to share the truth of God’s Word, and all too often we are lazy Christians. If we have a greater ‘fear of man’ than we do a reverent awe and fear of God, we won’t ‘preach, reprove, rebuke, exhort, admonish and teach’ others, because the ‘truth that sets the captives free’ is also foolishness and an offense to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18;23).
I was talking with someone the other day who ‘after push came to shove’ reluctantly said he believed Jesus died for his sin. But he quickly followed up that statement by saying that he would never try to ‘convert’ anyone else because he had no right to tell someone else that their belief was wrong. He revealed in that statement that he clearly doesn’t believe that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’; that ‘the wages of sin is death’; and that all will experience the wrath of God unless ‘they confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead’. (Romans 3:23; 6:23; 10:9-10) My question to him and to anyone else who doesn’t want to share the gospel with others is this: If you truly believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection delivered you from a death sentence, how can you remain silent? If you committed a felony and were condemned to die and your brother stepped in and took your place on the electric chair and died the death you deserved to die, wouldn’t you tell others about that kind of love? Or, if you were in a burning building and knew there was only one way to safety, would you remain silent for fear of offending others in the burning building with the truth that there was only one way out if they wanted to be saved?
An unwillingness to share the gospel is an indication of one of two things: 1)You don’t believe the truth of the Word of God that you are a sinner under the penalty of death and can only be saved by faith in Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection or 2) You love yourself more than you love God, and more than you love others. If you really loved God, you’d be willing to ‘lay down your life’ and risk offending others in order to obey His command to share the gospel so that those He loves would hear the truth that has the power to save them. And, if you love others as God has loved you, you will be willing to accept the risk of offending them in this life so that they can know Jesus, the One and Only Way to have abundant life on earth and eternal life in heaven.
It’s important for us to know that our works can never save anyone; only the finished work of Jesus on the cross can! People you know desperately need to hear from you what Jesus’ death and resurrection has purchased for them. Your ‘good works’ can point the way to Jesus because if your life has been transformed people are going to pay attention and want to hear why you love in a world full of hate, why you forgive those who do the unforgivable to you, why you live in every way counter to our sinful culture. Your good works are designed to glorify God and to draw people to want to listen to the gospel you preach (Matthew 5:16), but it is only in hearing the words of the gospel that people will be set free from their sin and accept Jesus as their personal Savior and Lord. Let us never be ashamed of the gospel which alone has the power to save!
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Luke 9:26 ESV
Lord, release me from all fear of man and the deception that my ‘good works’ have the power to save anyone! Increase my love for You and for others and give me a vision of eternity so that by the power of the Holy Spirit I will boldly proclaim the gospel, which alone has the power to save! May I never be ashamed of You Who willingly laid down your life for me! In Jesus’ Name. Amen.