“Preach the Gospel at all times…”
by Ben Smart
We’ve all seen this quote thrown around at some point or another, and perhaps you’ve even quoted it yourself: “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” – St. Francis of Assisi.
Seems like a good quote – it sounds pretty spiritual, and you definitely get extra points for quoting an old monk.
The only problem is that St. Francis of Assisi never said any such thing. Search as you may, you won’t find any record of St. Francis saying this. In fact, Francis was a highly active preacher, often preaching up to five times a day (and yes, to clarify, he was preaching ‘with words’). This widely spread quote turns out to be pseudepigraphical.
There is certainly truth in this (mis)quote: we can’t simply preach the gospel with words if we don’t back it up with how we live. This is totally true, and very important. If we don’t practice what we preach, our words very quickly start to look empty. And I think this is the sentiment that people are often going for when they (mis)quote St. Francis of Assisi, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
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Despite this nugget of truth, however, the overall message is actually quite pernicious.
The danger of this quote is that we can be encouraged by it to justify the fact that we don’t preach the gospel (i.e. with words) by the fact that we live a pretty good life. We see this quote, and we think, “oh, I can’t remember the last time I actually articulated the good news of Jesus to anyone recently, but hey, at least I live a pretty good life.”
But here’s the thing: if you are simply living a good life, but not proclaiming the good news of Jesus, how are you any different from a morally upright Buddhist? How will your witness be any different from a philanthropic atheist?