Certainly the title is one that will probably elicit a variety of responses. Certainly these things are not wrong in and of themselves, but maybe simply for the sake of provocation, I offer the thought in order to introduce the present topic.
St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel everywhere you go. If necessary, use words.” It is a well known quote that many Christians have not only heard but have greatly appreciated. There are probably many who have the quote on their favorite quotes section on Facebook! Francis’ words are clearly a call to Christian service and love of neighbor. These things are obviously important and essential for anyone committed to Christ. However, Francis’ words must be examined with much caution, for the content of the gospel is far more than an act of Christian service and love. In reality, if I don’t use words, the gospel cannot be understood. What is to distinguish our kind deed from that of any other religion that teaches concern for others?
St. Francis’ words are particularly unhelpful when one considers the religious climate of the day here in America. Propositional truth claims are worthless and acts of compassion and service are discerned to be a more appropriate base for religious content. Political correctness and the inclination in this culture to be offended by anything that might sound even remotely disagreeable lead less courageous Christians to simply resort to a kind act. No one will be offended by that. It becomes an excusable way of not talking about the truth claims present in the Christian gospel. Thus, it becomes easy and popular to relegate Christian proclamation to community service. For crying out loud, practically every actor or actress in Hollywood has built a well in Africa or handed out food on Thanksgiving. Surely the gospel is more than this.
The Bible teaches that the work of Christ is a work of the heart first and foremost. It is a work that begins within the human soul, and then, and only then, produces a life of commitment and love on the outside. Meeting human needs is completely insufficient in and of itself to transform the human soul and bring spiritual life where there is only death. The message of the gospel, the truth of the gospel, is the only thing that can do that. Our concern must be not only for physical needs, but more importantly, for spiritual needs. If the opportunity to meet the former provides opportunities to meet the latter, then praise God. But it is not enough to stop there. Jesus came not simply to feed people and meet physical needs (though He certainly did this), but to address the deeper spiritual need of spirit regeneration.
Now certainly the gospel cannot be disconnected from a commitment to Christian love and service. The truth of the gospel must be seen both as we declare the gospel with our mouths as well as our lives. Our lives help make the gospel believable. Claiming high intimacy with God while fostering no intimacy with people is certainly a danger. Let us not cease from serving others and caring for those in need. It is biblical and Christian to do so. And yet, that will not be the challenge we face today in this country. The challenge will be not to disconnect the gospel from the vocal proclamation of man’s inherent sinfulness and need for spiritual rebirth, which comes about only through embracing and trusting in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The challenge will be whether we will be courageous enough to speak up about the true content of the gospel, even when it offends those around us. We must speak up, not simply live out. Paul tells us in Romans 10:14: “And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Paul speaks not necessarily of what they have not seen, but of what they have not heard. SINNERS MUST HEAR THE GOSPEL.
Let us remember that humanitarianism is not the gospel. We have not been faithful to the full biblical mandate to proclaim the gospel if we have simply been nice to those around us. Therefore, I conclude with this charge: Preach the gospel everywhere you go. And use words. It will be necessary.