Yesterday, I wrote about three different meanings of the common church word, gospel. In summary, gospel can mean the way a story is told (referring to the kind of literature that describes the life and death of Jesus), the events of the story of Jesus’ life and death itself, or the meaning of the story of Jesus’ life and death for all people. I wanted to followup today with an additional word on the distinction between the latter two definitions. While subtle, that distinction is incredibly significant, because there is a fundamental difference between sharing news and sharing the implications of news.
Perhaps you have heard the quote often attributed to Francis of Assisi:
Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.
Usually employed to (rightly) encourage people to let their “manner of life be worthy of the gospel” (Phil 1:27), the quote is helpful if it is imploring people to share the benefits of the gospel in both deed and word. I can share the good news of my adoption into God’s family (a gospel benefit) in the way I treat other people. And I should do this, by warmly and lovingly accepting people without condition, as I have been accepted by God. But, even if I pursue that task faithfully and well, I am not sharing the news of Christ’s death and resurrection. Presumably, I could be loving and accepting of people for a lifetime without those people ever hearing the story or news of Jesus – even, perhaps, the name of Jesus.
Sharing the benefits of the gospel through our deeds is commendable, but it should never supplant sharing the story of the gospel with our words. Because the gospel is historical…because it is story, it must be shared with words. It is possible to communicate many realities through your lifestyle and actions, but it is quite impossible to share the story of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection without words. All believers in Christ, humbled and awed by the grace and mercy the gospel story communicates to them, should pursue every opportunity and any means available to share it. Words will be essential.
“What, then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Phil 1:18)