Over the centuries, the Church has employed many programs and catch-phrases with which to encourage believers to share the Gospel with those around them. Perhaps
none is more popular than the phrase: Preach the Gospel at all times – when necessary use words.
That phrase is meant to encourage people to show acts of kindness to their neighbors in an effort to show them the love of Jesus. If you do enough acts of kindness toward them, your neighbor will presumably figure out that you are doing them because you are motivated by the Gospel, and they will eventually come to faith.
Of all the programs the Church has ever unleashed upon society, the phrase Preach the
Gospel at all times – when necessary use words could not be more popular. Consider that most people would prefer to never talk about their faith for fear that they might be asked a question that they cannot answer. What better way to preach the Gospel then to not actually preach the Gospel! You get the credit for doing good works and following out on the phrase Preach the Gospel at all times – when necessary use words and no one will ask you any questions.
And this idea could not be more popular. People who would never, ever knock on a door
and invite a neighbor to church can declare themselves to be local missionaries just by pointing to this simple phrase: Preach the Gospel at all times – when necessary use words.
The problem with this popular phrase is that it could not be more harmful to the Church if the devil himself wrote it.
The devil loves this phrase because the Gospel is not actually being preached; the Gospel is hidden under some good natured actions toward a neighbor, who can look at you doing your good works and simply assume that you are a good person.
Does raking your neighbors leafs actually proclaim the Gospel? Does having children who are respectful and do not misbehave really preach the Gospel? Does being a good citizen in the community really preach the Gospel?
The answer to all of these is no. The Gospel is not being preached anymore then the Law is being preached. No one knows what your motivation is other than the fact that you are a good person.
This is not to discount acts of mercy. The Church is definitely called to show acts of mercy to one another, and this means showing love through action, but it in no way ever discounts the absolute necessity to preach the Gospel in words. Raking leafs is a nice way to help your neighbor, but it is not preaching the Gospel. Your well behaved children may be the envy of your neighbors, but that alone does not preach the Gospel.
If the Church truly believes that one could die at any moment and their judgment is instantaneous, then the urgency for the Gospel is not to waste time raking your neighbors leafs, but to knock on his door and tell him that Christ died for all of His sins. If the Church truly believes that Christ could return at any moment, then the urgency for the Gospel demands that we act like Christ could return at any moment and proclaim loud and long the love that God has for us.
Preaching the Gospel demands that we use words, at all times. And yes, that does mean that occasionally people are going to ask questions about the hope that is in us. But we need not be afraid, for the Holy Spirit will guide us to make a faithful confession of the Gospel.