The country of Papua New Guinea lies just north of Australia in the Pacific Ocean. Residents of this country have the freedom of speech, thought, and belief and 96% of their population identify themselves as members of the Christian church. The vast majority of these Christians take their faith very seriously. Before I tell you why I bring up Papua New Guinea, let me first ask you a question: Do you call yourself a Christian?
There’s a famous quote that is often misquoted to the early Catholic Church leader, Saint Francis of Assisi, but the origin of this quote is unknown: “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” This quote is a good sentiment and I think all of us would agree that we are supposed to demonstrate the gospel in our actions and in our speech, but there are two major problems with this quote. Firstly, as we’ve already stated, St. Francis never said it, and secondly, this is terrible theology.
The gospel is good news—that’s what the word literally means. Any news, good or bad, is told and shown, not one or the other. If no one is telling the news, then no one is showing the news. Showing and telling go hand-in-hand, it’s what gets kids excited about Show and Tell in school. As a kid, when I had the opportunity to bring something to school for Show and Tell, I got excited! I had the opportunity to bring something that I enjoyed and I hoped my friends, classmates and teacher thought the same. How silly would I look if during Show and Tell, instead of bringing something in to show and talk about, I brought nothing and talked about how neat it would be if I actually had something to show?
I heard a good comparison of the quote, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” The comparison went, “Feed the hungry at all times; if necessary, use food.” How can we feed the hungry if we don’t have food? How can we preach the gospel if we don’t use words? Christians love evangelism as long as someone else is doing the work. A recent study shows that 80% of churchgoing Christians believe they have a responsibility to share their faith, which is lower than I assumed it would be considering how much Jesus talked about discipleship and evangelism. Of those 80% who believe it’s their responsibility to share their faith, only 39% have actually shared how to become a Christian with someone in the past six months.
The horrible theology of this St. Francis misquote has run rampant in the church today and we’ve exchanged gospel telling for a diluted excuse of showing the gospel through our actions. It’s extremely important to live out the gospel in your life, but if you’re expecting your good deeds and pleasant smile to win others over to Christ, then you would be gravely mistaken. When Peter preached in Acts 2 and 3,000 souls were added, they weren’t added because Peter smiled and hoped they would noticed how Christ-like he was being; 3,000 souls were added that day because Peter got up at an unscheduled event and gave an unscripted sermon (Acts 2:14-41). No invitations were sent, no planning went on, Peter didn’t share anything on his Facebook about his sermon at Pentecost—Peter got up around a large group of people and shared the life changing message of the gospel.
I shared a little about Papua New Guinea for a reason. In their country, if you’re a Christian, which most are, it would be almost like a disgrace to be asked if you were a Christian. Christians in Papua New Guinea want you to see that they’re followers of Christ, not have to be told. In their mind, if you ask them if they’re Christian’s, they believe they are doing a bad job of representing Christ and that it’s not evident in their actions. I love this idea and I hope it causes you to look more intently at your life, but if all you’re doing is living your life hoping people will notice how Christ-like you’re being and that’s your way of evangelizing, then you are doing a major disservice to the gospel, to yourself, and to the person you hope will see Christ because of your life.
I encourage you to live your life to glorify God—I think a lot can be accomplished if more of us lived our lives to be examples for others, but please don’t let that be your escape for actually evangelizing. You have to talk and share what Christ has done for you and what he can do for others. I encourage you to be more proactive in sharing the gospel with others. I know it can be scary and you may think people wouldn’t listen to you, but check out this statistic: 78% of people would be willing to listen if someone wanted to tell them what they believed about Christianity and younger people are even more likely to say they would be willing to listen. The problem isn’t that people don’t want to listen, the problem lies in the ones who have the gospel to share. Jesus said the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Luke 10:2). The harvest is still plentiful and we have more workers than the early church did, but we have to mobilize to plant the seeds. If we aren’t sharing the gospel, then who is? We cannot neglect our calling and assume someone else will pick up the slack. If you’re a Christian then it’s time to start talking about him.
Acts 2:14-41 // Luke 10:2 // Matthew 28:16-20 // John 14:15 // Matthew 5:44-45 // Romans 1:16