The Problem with St. Francis’ Most Famous Quote That He Never Really Said

October 11, 2017

Colossians 1:24

24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 

CONSIDER THIS

Somewhere along the way we got the impression that sharing the Gospel with another person meant telling them the plan of salvation. You know what I’m talking about—telling another person the four spiritual laws or the Roman Road or drawing the famous “Bridge” diagram or some other approach. Paul gives us a profound image today of what sharing the Gospel means and looks like.

24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 

While the Gospel can never be less than recounting the story of Jesus Christ, it must be much more than this. The Gospel moves on the muscles of love and the muscles of love grow through acts of un-self-interested giving, a.k.a. suffering. By suffering, I don’t mean a grit your teeth and bear it kind of activity but a gladly putting others first kind of activity. When suffering is done with love it does  not feel like suffering but like joy. Hence, Paul rejoices!

The Gospel is complete in and of itself. It is the perfect offering of the love of God for us. Though it is complete, it must be extended, and it must be extended with the same character with which it was first given. I am becoming more and more convinced that we can tell people about Jesus all day long and still not extend the Gospel. Why? Because the Gospel is more than simply telling people about Jesus. The Gospel is more than an explanation about Jesus. It is a demonstration of Jesus. In fact if you have to make a choice between telling someone about Jesus and showing them Jesus you should probably do the latter. Why? Because they may not remember what you said, but they will never forget what you did.

We’ve all heard the apocryphal quote oft attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel everywhere. If necessary use words.” Can we be honest? People tend to like this because they would rather avoid the awkwardness of talking about Jesus. Permit me a moment of unvarnished “keeping-it-real” truth-telling. The nature and character of the Gospel do not tend to come through the deeds of a person who does not want to talk about Jesus. (And because I know I will be hearing from my Dad about my use of the term “apocryphal,” I’ll get out in front of that by saying apocryphal means St. Francis didn’t say it. For crying out loud, St. Francis preached the Gospel to animals—with words!”)

Summarizing, to share the Gospel is a fully embodied act of ordinary yet supernatural love for other people. It involves our words, our deeds, our dispositions and our overall posture and bearing towards other people. It means “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”

When we truly share the Gospel, it always comes at a cost to ourselves and yet it always makes us more than we were before. This is the why the power of the Gospel is found only in the way of the Cross.

THE PRAYER

Abba Father, we thank you for your son, Jesus, in whose whole life we see the whole Cross; in whose love we see the mystery of suffering; and in whose suffering we see our calling to live a life of self giving love for others. Bring this truth to reality in my life. Reveal to me what holds me back. We pray in Jesus name, Amen.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. What do you think of this assertion that we can tell people about Jesus all day long and not be sharing the Gospel?
  2. What about the notion that we can do good things for people all day long and not be sharing the Gospel?
  3. Are you uncomfortable with telling other people about Jesus? Why? What do you learn about yourself in this?

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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. jd.walt@seedbed.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. This is so good, J.D.! Thank you. You have touched on something that is an important conversation at our church, and I would imagine so many around the world. You aren’t just talking about talking. You aren’t just talking about doing. You’re talking about “being.” Here is the rub. We have to learn how to teach our laity about how to “be.” We have to talk to teach. We have to do to learn. We have so many in bible studies who are getting great information with no transformation. We have so many who are serving with no transformation. How do we bridge the gap? We need to do better defining discipleship and transformation. They are just words that are being thrown around in our churches. We need common vocabulary, but we need it in doses that are not seminary level materials, but are also more than merely devotional. This is a good article for that discussion. Thank you.

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