I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Preach the gospel at all times; and if necessary, use words.” It’s become a popular cliché amongst Christians today. We use it with regards to the idea of doing evangelism in our workplaces, schools, communities, etc. The principle behind it is that we should let our actions speak louder than our words.
So don’t tell people to be honest; be honest yourself. Don’t tell people to be kind-hearted; be kind-hearted yourself. Don’t tell people that you are a Christian…show them that you are one! Let people “see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Very nice…very spiritual-sounding…very true indeed. No one can disagree with the concept.
But the question is this: is that enough? Or do we sometimes need to do more? We all agree that our witness should BEGIN with our actions, but should it END there as well?
Let’s be honest. Sometimes we use that idea - “I preach with my actions” – as an excuse. It’s an excuse to escape uncomfortable conversations that might cause people to reject us or dislike us or classify us as “preachy.” But is that really a valid excuse to ignore one of the final commandments Jesus gave before He left this earth?
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)
Preaching implies speaking – with our mouths, not just our actions. Again, I am not negating the importance of letting our actions be a witness; but all I’m saying is that sometimes, our actions might not be enough.
For example, let’s say you and I go hiking together up a mountain trail. You’re new to this trail but I’ve been there several times. Because of that, I know that this trail is notorious for being filled with one thing….ANIMAL POOP! Lots and lots of poop. Horse poop…dog poop…cow poop…all the different shapes and sizes of poop that you can think of. And if you’re not careful, it’s easy to step right into some without noticing.
So we’re walking together on this trail – I’m in front and you’re behind me – and I see some poop coming. It’s right smack dab in the middle of the trail but it’s not easy to see because it’s hidden by some leaves.
So just before I get to the poop (remember, you’re behind me), I veer slightly to the right side of the trail – not by much, just enough to miss the poop and continue on my journey unharmed.
And as I’m about to tell you “hey watch out for the poop,” I think to myself “should I say something or no? I guess it’s better to lead by actions and that’s what I did. I set the example by walking to the right of the poop and I guess that’s enough. Actions are always the best way to witness, not words.”
What do you think? Are you ok with that? Is that enough in this situation? Are you ok with me just letting “my actions do the talking?”
Of course not! You’d want me to speak! You’d want me to shout out “WATCH OUT FOR THE POOP!” If I truly cared about you, that’s what I would do. Why? Because sometimes just leading by example isn’t enough. Sometimes you need to use your words and tell people what you mean.
Sometimes you need to preach with your words, not just your actions.
That is what Jesus did, didn’t He? Yes He led by example but He didn’t ONLY lead by example. His actions were the beginning of His preaching, but they weren’t the END of His preaching. Jesus led by actions and then He followed those actions up with His life-giving words.
“For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.” (John 12:49-50)
It’s great that you want to be an example to the world and let your deeds speak for you. That is fantastic and I agree 100% with the principle. But where I disagree is when we convince ourselves that nothing else is needed; that actions alone are enough. As you saw from the example above, there are times when actions aren’t enough; we need words as well.
That is what Jesus did. He didn’t just lead by example but spoke with authority and boldness. He spoke up in uncomfortable situations because He knew that is what was needed – even though others ridiculed Him and rejected Him for it. As He said “just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”
The world is need of true Christianity these days – the kind of Christianity that is lived by our deeds and then declared by our words. Said another way, the world needs audio-visual Christianity – one that it can see and hear at the same time.
If not, don’t be surprised if you find a lot of people stepping into poop.
For discussion: in what simple ways can we be better about being “audio-visual” Christians?