You’ve probably heard the quote, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” It is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order.
This exhortation implies that it is more effective to communicate the gospel by example than by simply sharing it verbally.
Regardless of who first uttered these words, the truth is we are called to live out the gospel in both word and deed. The apostle Paul tells the Colossians,
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col. 3:17).
But in our current culture, living out our faith in word and deed, is becoming more difficult.
A recent article in Time chronicles what has happened to some Christians who have publicly acknowledged their faith.
Some of the faithful have paid unexpected prices for their beliefs lately: the teacher in New Jersey suspended for giving a student a Bible; the football coach in Washington placed on leave for saying a prayer on the field at the end of a game; the fire chief in Atlanta fired for self-publishing a book defending Christian moral teaching; the Marine court-martialed for pasting a Bible verse above her desk; and other examples of the new intolerance. Anti-Christian activists hurl smears like “bigot” and “hater” at Americans who hold traditional beliefs about marriage and accuse anti-abortion Christians of waging a supposed “war on women.”
While living and working as a Christian in our often-hostile culture is fraught with risks, God clearly calls us to live in the world but not be “of the world” (John 17:14-18). Jesus and the authors of the New Testament clearly understood the tension expressed in this statement. And history shows that by living this way, Christians through the centuries have had a positive influence on Western Civilization.
Activists like Wilberforce, early scientists like Copernicus and Newton, and those in the arts like Michelangelo and Vivaldi lived out their Christian faith in ways that positively related to the culture around them and served the common good. This stands in stark contrast to those in the church today who would see us at war with the culture or call us to withdraw from the culture completely.
As Ryan Nelson suggests, an often-used metaphor that describes this biblical, historical perspective can be summed up in the following statement: “As Christians, we are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20)—we represent another world, while we live in the midst of this one.”
God created a world and put humans in it to create culture that would bring about flourishing to his creation (Gen. 1:28). It was God’s original intent for us to create culture that would positively shape the world. But because of the fall, we now create culture that glorifies idols like sex, wealth, and power, instead of God.
Christ’s ambassadors—you and me—must be fully engaged in the culture around us, doing good work but always pointing back to the one we serve. We do not have to agree with everything in the culture. As Nelson writes,
…we learn to understand it and speak its language, identify its true desires—all with the intention of showing how Christ is the only one who can correctly fulfill those well-meaning (though often misplaced) desires.
Dr. Bruce Riley Ashford suggests in his excellent new book, Every Square Inch,
Every cultural context is structurally good but directionally corrupt. For this reason, we must live firmly in the midst of our cultural contexts (structurally), all the while seeking to steer our cultural realities toward Christ rather than toward idols (directionally).
In a way that might describe Daniel and his friends’ lives in Babylon, Ashford goes on to say:
Every dimension of culture, whether it is art, science, or politics, is an arena in which we can speak about Christ with our lips and reflect him with our lives. We thank God for the existence of culture and recognize whatever is good in it, while at the same time seeking to redirect whatever is not good for Christ.
This is why we must combine our words and deeds (work) in a meaningful way to positively impact the culture around us.
Using the Opportunities We Have
Here’s one recent example. If you stayed up late enough to see the interviews after this year’s NCAA national football championship, you would have heard the following from Tua Tagovailoa during a post-game interview with ESPN:
Excuse me, first and foremost, I’d just like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. With him, all things are possible. That’s what happened tonight.
Tua, a little-used unknown freshman quarterback, came off the bench in the second half to lead his team back from a significant deficit to win the most important game of the year. The high caliber of his play won him MVP, yet the first thing he wanted to do in the interview was connect his work to his faith. (See the interview here.)
This should be a great inspiration for us all to do excellent work and then confess that we do it to the glory of God.
Editor’s Note: Our work on Mondays is no less important than what we do at church on Sundays. Read why in How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work.
Would you join us in helping more Christians understand why their work matters to God? Support IFWE today.