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There is a statement floating around in mission circles that has been attributed to St. Francis. Likely he never said it, but lots of people like to repeat it. It goes: "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary."

This statement has then been used as a good excuse not to use words in verbal witness. A closer look at the data, however, would suggest that Paul and the apostles would have said, "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words and use your life."

In the attached document I examine the English translations of the Greek words that the Gospel writer Luke used to describe verbal communication.

After you have read through the list, consider the following questions:

  1. Dialogue has become a fashionable word in the news lately. You can read about Pope Francis going to UAE and Morocco to engage in ‘dialogue.’ When you look at all of the verbs used, how much emphasis does the Gospel writer place on it? How would he rank it beside ‘speaking boldly’ for example?
  2. At times in Christian circles, preaching and proclaiming is pitted against what seems to be a more cerebral exercise of defending, debating, and proving. How would you reconcile all of them? Or is it possible?
  3. After you examined all of the verbs, were you challenged? If so, how? Did you get the idea that the early church was more about speech that was pleasant at all times or did you get the idea that it might have been something else?


So, the author seems to have gone to great lengths to justify using words in communication. Well and good. I think though, that he misses the point of the words attributed to St.Francis of Assisi. St. Francis, if I recall correctly, was trying to teach his ambitious under study that being a great preacher is more than using words. One must also get into the trenches as it were, to be really effective for Christ. It’s sort of like the parable of the guy beaten up in the ditch. One guy couldn’t be bothered to notice , the second was too busy doing God’s work (preaching?) and the third had compassion and helped him out. Too many preachers today concentrate on the use many words at the expense of their actions. At least that’s my opinion.

Thanks Alex:

   It goes without saying that talk is cheap. As you will notice I suggested that I advocated that the quote supposedly attributed to St. Francis could and should be re-read and re-worked in light of the more authoritative and more determinative witness by the Bible. Thus you can see that I suggested that the quote be re-worked to state, "Preach the Gospel at all times: use your words and your life."

   Just wondering, Alex. What collective impression did you get from the Biblical data?



I think St. Francis made the point that actions speak louder than words. In your opening paragraph you appear to be disputing that premise, then use 19 pages to suggest words take precedence over actions, or are primary in witnessing Christ. So, in essence, I fail to see the point of this research. If you applied the same effort to examine all Jesus’ actions, and the actions of the apostles, you might end up with 19 or more pages of data. Again, it seems to me that the use of words is emphasized too much at our seminaries at the expense of actions being taught. In other words our congregations need more than preaching to be properly shepherded.

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