There is a famous quote among Christians that goes like this:
“Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.”
The quote basically means “demonstrate the gospel all the time by the way you live and treat people, even if you don’t have the chance to preach with words. Be kind, be considerate, be joyful, and people will see that there is something different about you.” It’s a good principle to live by - our actions should demonstrate the love of God, even if it’s just holding a door for the stranger behind us, or how we conduct ourselves while driving our cars.
But this quote isn’t the whole truth. For one thing, it’s not from the Bible at all. People often attribute the quote to Saint Francis of Assisi, but it’s not likely that he said it either. Assissi did believe in embodying the gospel message in one's lifestyle and did say things similar to this, but this specific quote is a misattribution.
The point is, this attitude is only a partial fulfilment of what Christians are called to do. We absolutely must use words, because the gospel is a message. Jesus both demonstrated and spoke the truth of his Kingdom, never letting one be more important than the other.
Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news!” (ESV) Good deeds and kindness are necessary, but if they are used as an excuse to avoid using words at all, we have failed to preach the gospel.
In chapters 9 through 11 of the book of Romans, Paul expresses his grief over the fact that many of his own people had not accepted the gospel message. When speaking about those who had not heard or believed, Paul says: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (Romans 9:2 NIV). He hoped that he could inspire some of his own people to follow Jesus when they saw the blessings that came to other people who followed him (Romans 11:13-14). Paul was willing to allow for an indirect approach to demonstrate the goodness of the gospel, but he was sure to always use words and make the message clear.
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15 NIV)
Over the course of our series on Christian Service, we have tried to highlight the importance of communicating the gospel through both explicit speech and lived example. Lifestyle, friendship, kindness, compassion, and other practical virtues are all essential in inseparable from Jesus' Great Commission. Jesus specifically envisioned his gospel going to the whole world, down to every last people group and language and tribe. This mission has to be carried out carefully, both in preaching the correct message and exemplifying the values of the Kingdom of God.
Christians have at times arrived in places proclaiming the true faith but living a very different example. Violence, persecution, forced assimilation, and other atrocities have often accompanied the spread of Christianity. This is a betrayal of Jesus and his gospel, and is a problem that Christians need to repent of and seek to rectify.
The opposite is also a mistake: to demonstrate the kindness and love of Jesus without ever explicitly explaining that Jesus is the motivation for that behavior is to undersell the gospel and ultimately to fail at spreading it.
There are still masses of unreached people in the world. The gospel of the Kingdom of God is meant to open up a pathway to new life, to restoration, to hope, peace, joy, and fulfilment in the love of God. It is wrong to deprive people of the opportunity of knowing God through Jesus.
This is true in every part of the world - whether in a far off place or in the neighborhood near you. If you don't think you are become a foreign missionary for some reason, you can begin today in spreading the gospel in your own area. Some people who have been "reached" really need to be reached again with a fresh perspective on God, the Bible, and Jesus.
Lecrae puts it well in this Isaiah 52:7 inspired song Beautiful Feet:
Carlos was born in killa Cali, was walking down an alley
He caught a bullet in his head that left him bleeding badly
He lost everything at that moment except his life
He lost his hearing, lost his movement, even lost his sight
He laid there in a coma, but man nobody cared
The Gospel preached in his neighborhood? Nobody dared
But 'Los got up out the coma got and was able to hear
A missionary shared the gospel to his open ears
He got saved, got trained, got discipled
Back to hood you could find him preaching the Bible
He led a homie to Christ that's from his same hood
Part of Church plant - Come on now, ain't His name good?
This is a blessing, I’m stressing, but this is not the norm
We need leaders and believers to help carry it on
But who would minister in a sinister part of town?
I pray if Jesus is calling you, you would be found
Eric used to go to Bible study as a kid
He got older, started doing what the hood did
A rival gang caught him slippin', tried to take his life
But then the gun jammed on 'em so them beat him nice
He woke up in the hospital singing Bible songs
- Praise God he had a place to learn the Bible from! -
But then he gets saved and wanna preach Christ
They make him change his whole culture, whole way of life
He gotta get him a bachelors, wear a suit and tie
Go to seminary, by then all his boys will die
Jesus came to win their culture outta Nazareth
And used a couple fisherman who people saw as hazardous
The feet are beautiful if only they go
If ain't nobody in hood preaching, how will they know?
See Eric is better used taught truths in his context
Somebody please plant a church in his projects
In Luke 4:16 on down to 21
Jesus says he's Messiah, says he's the chosen one
But more than that he quotes Isaiah, that shows our Savior
Targets oppressed, captive, blind, and the broken, I'm saying
Had a heart for the poor, had a heart for the low
And 1 John 2:6 is way we should go
In Deuteronomy even tho they under the law
The tithes every third year, the poor would get 'em all
And I ain't sayin you wrong if you livin' in 'burbs
I'm sayin turn your attention to the hood, we hurtin'
Man if you ain't burdened please pick up your Word and
Tho this world is going down while we here we can serve him
We bring this to the streets because we knew the streets
I pray that more would be burdened to have beautiful feet
You never knew the streets, but truth is what you preach
I pray to God you'd be burdened to have beautiful feet
You hold the truth that saves so run and shout it to the world
They can't believe in something they ain't never heard
So go, go, go and run with those beautiful feet
This song speaks to an incredibly important truth that resonates in the urban context that Lecrae is describing, as well as in numerous other contexts all over the world. There is a hesitancy and quietness among Christians that doesn't match the power and magnitude of the Gospel. God loves this world immeasurably. Jesus lived and died to give each of us a chance at new life. The stakes are infinitely too high to be passive, scared, timid, and wishy-washy. It's simply not an option.
So tell the story of Jesus! It is the hope for the whole world, and the best news in history. He is renewing humanity and our whole world. Everyone should have the chance to know him.
It’s time for a braver philosophy of mission for Christians: Preach the gospel at all times. Use actions. Use words.
- Read Philippians 1:12-19. What points do you see Paul making here about the need to explicitly preach the gospel? Do you see any points in favour of also using an indirect approach, implicitly demonstrating the gospel?
- See also Phil 1:9-11, 27-30. Do these parts of the chapter focus more on outright preaching by Christians, or their lived example to others?
- Read 1 Peter 3:8-12. Does this section focus more on preaching or living out a good example? What rationale does Peter give for doing this?
- Read 1 Peter 3:13-17. Is there a relationship between demonstrating the gospel with your lifestyle and explaining it with your words? Should we emphasize one more than the other?
- Read 1 Corinthians 2:1-15 and answer the following questions:
- Do you have to be an expert in the Bible and theology in order to preach about Jesus?
- If you do not have great expertise on every part of Christian teaching, what do you have that can help you preach Christ?
- What do you think is the difference between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of the Spirit? Why do you think Paul specifically says that the rulers of the world cannot understand this wisdom? Check 1 Corinthians 1:18-29 for help answering this question.
- Why would a crucified Messiah come across as a foolish plan to the powerful rulers of the world? What are your thoughts?
- What do Pauls words in these first two chapters of 1 Corinthians tell us about how we should approach preaching the gospel? What kind of attitude should we have when doing so?
- What other interesting, new, or life-changing things do you notice in these scriptures you have just read? Does anything stand out? Are there any confusing parts?
- Read John 1:1-18 and answer the following questions:
- The "Word" in this passage is a borrowed Greek concept called "the Logos" (Λόγος) which means "word, discourse, or reason" - a supernatural entity that John uses to describe Jesus as a divine being before he was born as a human. What does the first part of this passage say that the Logos did/does? How does John describe the Logos?
- Does this passage present Jesus' mission to earth as being more about preaching, or more about lived experience, or both?
- Take note of 1:14. If a supernatural being like God The Son (the Logos) can come down to the human level and make himself at home among sinners that he wants to save, what does that mean for our own efforts to reach others with the gospel?
- Read 1:16-18. What is the result of the Logos coming close to humanity? Why do you think God chose this plan rather than just, for example, shouting his instructions down from the sky? Why become a human being and live among us?
- What lessons about outreach and mission do you gain from the Lecrae song quoted above? What points did he make that you find valuable? Anything that you find there to disagree with?
- How did Lecrae use Bible quotes in that song? What point does he make about those passages?