Francis of Assisi is known for 3 things. A poem he likely didn't write, a love of animals that was likely oversold, and a saying he never said: “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” It is popular to quote this and attribute it to Francis of Assisi, but again, he never said it.
Francis, in fact, would never have said something like that. Francis was a traveling preacher who left his wealthy family's money behind to call people to repentance. In the 1200s, the rulers and even clergy were focused on the new mercantile economy and the race to gain wealth. Francis preached the gospel of Jesus, and emphasized the treasure of heaven and the temporariness of wealth on earth. And he used words.
Some of his favorite words came from Christ:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. "Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:20-26)
These words emphasized that the rich and powerful are not those you should envy. It is tempting to think that if you don't end up rich, powerful, or famous, that you have not “arrived” and you have not succeed in life. Christ instead speaks of a time to come, a reward that is not here, but is to come.
Francis, in his time, was sad over the wars that developed between the West and Islamic State to the East. So he went to the Sultan al-Kamil to do something bold: preach the gospel...with words. He spoke to the Sultan about Christ who died and rose again, and whose riches were not of this earth, but of greater value in forgiveness, peace with God, and newness of life.
The Sultan's advisers suggested beheading Francis for attempting to convert the Sultan. But the Sultan took Francis aside and told him that he was impressed that Francis cared for his soul. As a result, within a year the Sultan negotiated peace with the West.
But the Sultan told Francis that he could not convert. It would cost him his throne and his life. The heavenly treasure cost an earthly treasure he was not willing to pay. When Francis left, the Sultan asked Francis to pray for him. Francis' words made him pause, and he said he wanted Francis to pray that he would be shown the truth.
The lesson of Francis is not silent preaching, but the power of words. Words can cause our grip on mere things to be loosened. Words can bring peace to a war. And words of the good news can deliver us from this world, to the next. Follow the example of Francis. Preach the Gospel. And use words, they're necessary.
Much Love in Christ,Pastor Jared Nelson