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

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Colossians 1:24 NRSV

I am now rejoicing in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

CONSIDER THIS

Somewhere along the way we got the impression that sharing the gospel with another person meant telling him or her 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 to Life” diagram or some other approach. Paul gives us a profound image today of what sharing the gospel means and looks like:

I am now rejoicing in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. (v. 24 NRSV)

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-bea-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 someone may not remember what you said, but he or she 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 Saint Francis didn’t say it. For crying out loud, Saint Francis preached the Gospel to animals—with words!)

In summary, 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 toward 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” (Col. 1:24b NRSV).

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.

When we get involved with Jesus, he stretches our lives in the shape of the cross. It’s why we are calling Domino #1/24 The Stretcher. 

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?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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We will send a full update later this week, but here’s a short sneak peek. We are approaching $100,000 in funds received and 100% of it is being sent straight to the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary to support their extraordinary efforts on the ground to rescue the perishing, care for the dying, and otherwise carry the banner of the Kingdom of Jesus in one of the most dangerous and devastated places on the planet at this time. Did you hear that Sower Nation? Almost $100,000 so far!!! Praise God from whom all blessings flow. We will be in touch soon with some detail about how the funding is being deployed. 

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Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.

10 COMMENTS

  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.

  2. JD, in answer to you first question: This gets back to the difference between knowing a lot about Jesus and actually knowing Jesus. The first is sharing relevant information, the other is showing Jesus in word and deed. As to good deeds without words: This causes the Church to appear to the unbelieving world to be just another social organization. I believe the reason many of us are uncomfortable sharing the Gospel with strangers is because there has to be some sort of relationship established before our testimony (both word and deed) can be trusted. This is why it’s important that our “ talk match the walk”, many times it doesn’t.

  3. 1) Historically church has tended to have one man talk about the Gospel every week with little or no demonstrating of the actual presence of the risen Jesus. Talking about Jesus without demonstrating His presence and reality falls short of sharing the Gospel. As you said, JD: “The Gospel is more than an explanation about Jesus. It is a demonstration of Jesus.”

    2) Doing good things for people is nice, however, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews and people from every other religion can do that. Even nonreligious people do good things for others. Thus, being nice and serving others demonstrates human kindness, but it doesn’t necessarily demonstrate the presence and love of the living, present, and active Jesus.

    3) I’ve always tended to be uncomfortable telling people about Jesus. I’m better at sharing Jesus thru writing and speaking to groups than talking to people one to one. I guess that is because I still struggle with shyness, fear of man, and the intimidation of the devil. I’ve tried to overcome that by will power and self-help. I’ve also prayed to be bolder talking about Jesus to people one on one. For 5 1/2 years I was a counselor and chaplain in a Salvation Army alcohol and drug rehab center with 86 beds. In that setting I found that I was able to freely talk about Jesus to individual men without intimidation. Another thing that helps me is that I find it easier to ask someone if I can pray for him or her. The majority of people I ask say yes, so I close my eyes and talk to Jesus on their behalf. Many times, people will have tears in their eyes afterwards.

  4. After making my previous comment I had a few more thoughts:

    I think that if churches would give people the opportunity to talk about Jesus by giving their salvation testimony during church services, it would help train Christians to talk about Jesus to others. It would be quite simple for a church to schedule one or two people each week and put them on the Sunday program to give their salvation testimony. That simple action would make a powerful difference in any church courageous enough to implement it.

    The risen Jesus lives inside of Christ-followers and can express Himself thru them. All we need to do is to listen to His voice and then say and/or do whatever He tells us to. This results in supernatural demonstrations of His presence.

    Jesus said: “I will build My town meeting.” (The Greek word that Jesus is quoted as saying in that statement is ekklesia, which was the official name of the town meeting in Greek city/states.) A Jesus town meeting is a forum for Him to express Himself thru everyday Christians.

    • Steve, I couldn’t agree you more about providing an opportunity for folks to share their faith with the gathered Saints where they worship. How are disciples gain the confidence to share their faith with unbelievers if they can’t practice doing so in a non threatening environment first? Just another reason to advocate for a more organic form of gathering.

      • Well said, Bob! It’s unrealistic to expect believers to share their faith with unbelievers when they’ve never been allowed to gain experience and confidence by sharing it with unbelievers. It’s kind of like expecting someone to operate on a loved one when they’ve only heard lectures about medicine.

  5. Wow, Brother- again a home run. I am taking a class on the early Church and the thing that keeps coming out is their value on Humility. “Gladly putting others first”. My little church is boldly (GOD BLESS THEM) tackling Dinner Church, and I am praying we stand firm in front of the enemy’s arrows, which are inevitable if we’re taking back the kingdom. This endeavor makes me fight anxiety of the unknown daily, but I know the Holy Spirit equips us. I am taking your Seed today as confirmation we are doing as God desires, and that He will bless all those participating and bring in the harvest as we serve His people in community. Blessings on you, faithful bearer of the Word!

  6. My knowledge is that God the Father sent His Son Jesus to suffer and die on the Cross to save me from the penalty of death in sin.
    Now I must experience and know the sufferings of beating my cross for Jesus. l must die to self in order to live in Christ that I can overcome the grip of darkness and sin.
    Only then can I truly understand what Christ has done for me.
    Roy

  7. My knowledge is that God the Father sent His Son Jesus to suffer and die on the Cross to save me from the penalty of death from sin.
    Now I must experience and “know” my sufferings from bearing my cross for Jesus. I must die to self in order to live in Christ and overcome the grip of sin and darkness.
    Only then can I truly understand what Christ has done for me.
    Roy

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