Have you ever heard this phrase, 'Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary'? They are attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but no one really knows where it came from. It would be like saying, "Feed the poor. Use food if necessary." Or, "Tell me your phone number; if necessary use digits" (Greer).
Why is this distressful though, for people? I think there are a couple of reasons for this. Some people think of preaching the Gospel as being a Bible thumping experience. Sadly, there have been many open air preachers who do this. Personally, I think a lot of these guys are what I call, 'Pelagians'. Pelagians are people who believe that human beings are not born with a sinful nature, but every person choses to sin or not to sin. Some of these guys come down hard on people. I guess they think that they are choosing not to sin, and can't understand why anyone would sin. They fail to see that sin is the fabric of our lives. Sin is not just killing someone, but being angry in a wrong way, or when we don't get what we want. That is murder of the heart. These people aren't looking at the heart, but the actions of some people, and then judging them. Can you see why this would be a problem?
Others will take a verse, such as the one which states that a woman who has an unbelieving husband can win him over by her actions, and also she would not have to use words. I think I understand this verse as I thought about it recently. If a woman has an unbelieving husband, she should NOT preach to him on a continual basis. Chances are really good that she has preached to him (that would be a natural response to a salvation experience), and Paul is clear that women should not preach to men. But even more so, when you want to win your husband over to the Lord, nothing could be more distracting than her preaching to him, especially on a regular basis. Any time a woman tells a man what to do, it comes off in a bad way. That doesn't mean it is wrong for her to answer his questions or make references to the Lord or the Gospel. It is recommended that she doesn't nag him though, because that would not be a good example of Christ.
One more reason I think people are troubled by this quote is that some really do believe that a person can come to Christ if they live or observe a person who is a Christian living out a good, godly, holy life. Some will use this as an excuse for not using words. There are those who will serve someone, for example, then say that they preached the Gospel or did evangelism, when in reality, they were only serving someone. Certainly a true believer in Jesus Christ should bear good fruit in his or her life. All Christians should be looking for places to serve and growing in love and humility. But manifesting acts of love do not replace using words to explain the Gospel, nor does it give the credit to God unless the person doing the Godly acts explains why they are doing what they are doing, or who they are serving.
Some people don't want to share the Gospel. They are afraid to talk to people about Jesus. We all need the Holy Spirit to empower us and give us the boldness to share the Gospel with people. Can our love overcome our fear of speaking the Gospel? God can change our hearts.
I think sometimes, we think of sharing the Gospel as accomplishing some kind of great feat. We make a big deal out of people who do evangelism, as if the evangelist has won some kind of Olympic. Really, it is impossible (I believe) to preach the Gospel (from a redeemed heart) unless a person is truly redeemed and filled with the Holy Spirit. It's not the evangelist who earned the award, but it is God. God is the One who gives the power to do evangelism. Our boldness comes from Him, not ourselves.
The Bible is clear that people will get saved by hearing God's word. In Bible days, people understood the Gospel because they had been taught about sin. They practiced what the Law taught when it came to offering sacrifices because of their sin. They sacrificed lambs and the blood of the Lambs covered their sins (did not take them away). When Jesus came and lived a perfect life, and died for our sins, it made sense to the people that He was the Lamb of God, the ultimate Sacrifice for our sins. But today, in America and throughout the world, the practice of sacrificing lambs is foreign to us. Even the 10 Commandments are becoming more distant. When we explain the Gospel to people, we have more explaining to do than those in the Bible times. When Jesus said that He was "I am", the people knew what He was saying and implying. If we read Jesus' words where He said that He was 'I am', we don't understand what that means, unless we have a good understanding of the Old Testament. That is the precise reason we have to explain the Gospel to people today, using words. We have to lay the foundation for the hearer to understand the whole picture. It is not enough for us to say, 'Jesus died for your sins' and expect people to understand what the Gospel is. There are good web sites that explain the Gospel message that you can go to. Living Waters is one of the best. It has a lot of helpful information on communicating the Gospel to the lost. Like one lady we knew, who recently passed away, said, 'No one ever asked me the questions about salvation. Everyone assumed I already knew." It was a good thing our pastors asked her the questions, for she came to Christ. She died recently and I have to wonder what would have happened if no one had asked her those hard questions.
Something more to think about...