“Preach the gospel always: when necessary use words.” This famous quote by St. Francis of Assisi is compelling, but it is also easy to hide behind in the current culture we live in.
I remember the first time I was asked to “use my words” and share the gospel with a stranger. It was during a youth conference I was attending. We were going door to door in the projects handing out food items and sharing Jesus. I was absolutely terrified. I remember my youth pastor telling me to “go for it” after watching his example. I’ll never forget the way I awkwardly shoved the food at the gentleman who opened the door, mumbling and stumbling my way through the message of Christ’s saving love.
Today I ask myself the question — why was I afraid? I wasn’t afraid for my safety; most likely I was afraid of offending someone, of being rejected, or of the reputation I was trying to uphold as a teenager. If you read the stories in VOM’s newsletter of our brothers and sisters around the world, the reasons they would have to be afraid would far outweigh any of mine. They face far more than to offend; often they must take into account that the response to their words could be violent and lead to dangerous reprisals.
We can agree with the quote above, but not if it’s used as an excuse not to ever “use our words.” Both actions and words are important, and they often complement each other. Here in the United States, with our right to freedom of speech protected, we won’t face the kind of persecution a Christian in Pakistan might, but we do face the possibility of rejection. Old or traditional tactics of evangelism are often frowned upon. Sometimes it’s tempting just to stick with more generally accepted things like social justice or kindness; after all, these are Christian traits as well. However, the Bible says that it’s when we confess with our mouths that we are saved (Romans 10:9). And you don’t have to worry about what to say; you can just be obedient to make yourself available and the Holy Spirit will lead you (Mark 13:11, Exodus 4:12). Although good deeds can point others to Christ, it’s not to be a replacement to speaking the truth of Jesus, and by God’s grace we even live in a country where we are free to do so.
St. Francis of Assisi himself regularly preached, or verbally proclaimed, the gospel. Pray for opportunities, and don’t let fear hold you back from speaking the truth. You might be surprised how many people in your neighborhood, community or workplace have yet to hear the true gospel of Christ. And more often than not, it will be necessary to “use your words.”
Your Turn: Do actions or words come easier for you? What things hinder you from “using your words” to share the gospel? How can we overcome this?
"Grace Taylor" serves on the staff of VOM. She was first introduced to the ministry of VOM by her parents and grandparents, who received the VOM newsletter, and through the VOM book Jesus Freaks. She has served in 12 different countries and is passionate about helping expand God’s Kingdom throughout the nations of the world.