The Gospel Coalition

Note: FactChecker is a new monthly series in which Glenn T. Stanton examines claims, myths, and misunderstandings frequently heard in evangelical circles.

Christians use lots of quotes. Pastors use them in their sermons constantly. Writers illustrate their points with them. Nothing wrong with that. They are quite helpful and encouraging in making a point.

Save when the quote has no basis in fact.

We as evangelicals who claim we are committed to truth are certainly good at spreading falsehood, even if unintentionally. We can do better.

One very clever and popular quote we often knock around among ourselves is . . .
Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

It is always attributed to St. Francis of Assisi---founder of the Franciscan Order---and is intended to say that proclaiming the Gospel by example is more virtuous than actually proclaiming with voice. It is a quote that has often rankled me because it seems to create a useless dichotomy between speech and action. Besides, the spirit behind it can be a little arrogant, intimating that those who "practice the Gospel" are more faithful to the faith than those who preach it.

But here's the fact: Our good Francis never said such a thing.

None of his disciples, early or later biographers have these words coming from his mouth. It doesn't show up in any of his writings. Not even close really. The closest comes from his Rule of 1221, Chapter XII on how the Franciscans should practice their preaching:
No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister . . . All the Friars . . . should preach by their deeds.

Essentially, make sure your deeds match your words. While there's a nice and good sentiment in the statement---be sure you live out the grace and truth of the Gospel---the notion as it is typically presented is neither practical, nor faithful to the Gospel of Christ. It does not align with St. Francis' own practice.

His first biographer, Thomas of Celeno, writing just three years after Francis' death, quotes him instructing his co-workers in the Gospel thusly,
The preacher must first draw from secret prayers what he will later pour out in holy sermons; he must first grow hot within before he speaks words that are in themselves cold.

Mark Galli, senior managing editor at Christianity Today, wrote a wonderful little book on Francis as well as a clarifying brief article on the myth of this quote. He explains that Francis was quite a preacher, actually more along the lines of Jonathan Edwards or Billy Sunday than most of those who misquote him would like to think. Galli quotes Thomas' biography,
His words were neither hollow nor ridiculous, but filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, penetrating the marrow of the heart, so that listeners were turned to great amazement.

Our man clearly spent a great deal of time using his words when he preached, "sometimes preaching in up to five villages a day, often outdoors. In the country, Francis often spoke from a bale of straw or a granary doorway. In town, he would climb on a box or up steps in a public building. He preached to . . . any who gathered to hear the strange but fiery little preacher from Assisi." He was sometimes so animated and passionate in his delivery that "his feet moved as if he were dancing."

Duane Liftin, president emeritus of Wheaton College, recently addressed the trouble with this preach/practice dichotomy in an important article. Of preaching the Gospel in deed, he explains,
It's simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behavior.

And the "deed" proclamation of the Gospel is not biblical either. Paul asks the Church at Rome (Romans 10:14):
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?

So next time you hear one of your brothers or sisters in Christ use this quote to encourage or challenge you in your labors for our faith, gently guide them from the land of misinformation and make believe into truth.


Comments:

Mark Spyker

September 27, 2012 at 04:02 AM

I'm with Alice on this one: in fact the reason this quote has become so popularly [mis]attributed is that, when Francis' name is mentioned most people are immediately reminded of the example of his life (popularised in films such as Brother Son Sister Moon),as he reached out for the poor and diseased, and powerfully challenged the hierarchy of church and state, even though he was also a frequent and passionate preacher!

The context in which I quite often use this [mis]quote is that of a people who have 'heard' the Gospel ad nauseam, but who show precious little evidence of its outworkings in terms of challenging the present day power structures of church and state with regard to prejudice against race, gender, youth, the poor etc.

'The Gospel' makes it quite clear that in addition to its own proclamation, we live it out in a practical way: Mat 7:20 "Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them"; Heb 7:16 "one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life."; John 13:35 "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another"; John 15:8 "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples"; James 1:22 "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves"; just to name a few.

In my own version of the quote I usually say "attributed to St Francis, but probably not his, though the manner of his life would illustrate it very well". I also say 'when necessary' rather than 'if necessary', to indicate that the obvious fact that the Gospel is usually preached, but always in the context of a Gospel that is already being lived out, ie in the context of a restored relationship with God the Father, won by His resurrection from death on the Cross by the Son, and lived out in the power of the Spirit!

Alice

September 16, 2012 at 08:21 AM

I think it is wrong to emphasise that this is misattributed, because its message is deeply Christian and in accordance with the teachings of Christ. To try and reassure yourselves that Francis did not actually say this so you can go on preaching to the converted on Sunday mornings and ignore those that are suffering and alienated is going against the core principles preached by Christ, yes use your words if need be, but the most important thing is to do good, and to express God through your actions without necessarily trying to convert people like a missionary. The message is clear, fine talk away if you want, but act, this is the true expression of your faith and the example of Jesus (who talked a bit too obviously!). Ultimately the quote which does accurately summarise Francis' message is express your faith in deeds and when necessary express it verbally. It's a question of prioritising action, and not simply being satisfied with words. It's a bit provocatively put, but I think it serves really well to provoke many Christians who parrot what Christ said without following his example in their actions.

Passsion Points | Three Passions

September 15, 2012 at 07:41 PM

[...] Factfinder: Misquoting Francis of Assisi – Glenn Stanton (via Gospel Coalition) One very clever and popular quote we often knock around among ourselves is:  “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”  But here’s the fact: Our good Francis never said such a thing.  Duane Liftin, president emeritus of Wheaton College, recently addressed the trouble with this preach/practice dichotomy….   ”It’s simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behavior.” [...]

Patrick

September 12, 2013 at 08:53 PM

He's also known for having the stigmatas of Christ.

Big Blue Robotic Bob

September 11, 2013 at 08:18 AM

I think we don't need to do away with the quote so much as add a brief addendum. "And it is always necessary"

[...] you have heard the quote often attributed to Francis of Assisi: Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when [...]

[…] in the context of evangelization, when one proclaims the gospel, how exactly do you do that without […]

Christopher Battles

October 19, 2012 at 09:07 PM

Thank you.
Good point to think about.

K, bye

Brian

October 19, 2012 at 03:40 AM

Alice,

"Expressing your faith" is important, but it's not the gospel. The gospel is news, specifically about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Nothing can communicate that message except for words.

Brian

October 19, 2012 at 03:19 AM

The gospel is news; therefore, its deliver system is proclamation. You simply can't "live" news.

If my neighbor sees me living my life in service of others all he will think is that I'm a nice guy. He won't come to know the content of the gospel by watching me live my life.

Misquoting Historians « Pastor Mike's Musings

October 18, 2012 at 12:04 PM

[...] Gospel Coalition has begun a series called FactChecker that has some helpful information on this [...]

[...] Misquoting Francis of Assisi [...]

Ciaran Kelleher

October 11, 2013 at 01:57 AM

If they never shared their beliefs, then were they really Christ like?

[…] St. Francis of Assisi is perhaps incorrectly credited with saying "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."  I think Christians today sometimes use this quote as an excuse not to verbally share their testimony of salvation. Really, our words, and our actions, and our mere presence should preach the gospel at all time. All are equally necessary, though some are more appropriate at times than others. I think the gospel is evident in Dr. Graham's words, actions and presence. I pray by God's grace for it to be more evident in mine. What about you? […]

[...] Misquoting Francis of Assisi [...]

Gilda

November 26, 2012 at 02:38 PM

My heavens! What an awful thing to attribute to RM M'Cheyne, who would NEVER have said such a preposterously vain and self-centered thing!

[...] Side note: Though this quote is often attributed to Francis of Assisi, check out the very insightful Gospel Coalition “FactChecker” article on the subject HERE. [...]

[…] nothing less).  The gospel is a message to be preached.  There is a very dangerous quote “attributed” to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use […]

GracefulWrath

November 11, 2013 at 04:27 PM

So many thoughts posted here. I enjoy reading different aspects. Coming from a person who spent many years in a "SEEKER FRIENDLY" purpose driven Church, this quote was used from the pulpit by leaders who whispered half the GOSPEL as they do not want to offend people with the true Gospel. This past summer I returned to attend a funeral service of my late friend. The pastor who was directing would not did not present the Gospel. Rather he encourage attendee's to find a good biblical Church. As I had many past co-workers in attendance that the day who has not heard the message of Christ, was I disheartened because Preaching the Gospel at all times was apparent but I guess the use of words were not necessary. :(

[…] such a phrase (for more insight into the matter check out the following write-up from Glenn Stanton here). Don’t get me wrong, it sounds good, and is often will intended, but if we are to […]

[...] most likely heard some version of this quote, often attributed (incorrectly) to St. Francis of Assisi. The problem with this quote — other than the fact that St. [...]

Steve Long

March 24, 2013 at 07:45 AM

I have not read all of the replies and I agree we should not attribute quotes to those who did not speak them. I want to respond to the last few lines of the article. Duane Liftin said it is impossible to preach the Gospel without words. I agree with this Biblical caveat. Peter tells the wives of unbelievers in 1Pet. 3 that they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives. We just need to be careful saying something is unbiblical when in fact there is direct instruction within the cannon.

Gary Zachow

March 23, 2014 at 09:51 AM

Just a quick, maybe superficial comment regarding 'preach by your deeds'. I never understood why Christ insisted on speaking in parables. Parables are open to interpretation, and Biblical verse overall can be very divisive. Actions, not so much. I would argue that a person who is known to be religious, but expresses that religion in deeds more than words, would be every bit as effective as a powerful minister in the pulpit, and certainly more effective than the intrusive and confrontational methods of a street corner preacher. Jimmy Carter comes to mind. Everyone knows he is a religious man, and yet his actions carry a powerful and moral message without a whole lot of Biblical reference, at least not on the world stage. Within the walls of his own church, his technique is likely different, but probably no more effective. That said, I'm fully aware this commentary was the result of hearing a reference to the quote attributed (apparently in error) to St. Francis that we should preach the Gospel, but use words only when necessary. Words have their place. But for most people I think, actions do speak louder than words, and one inappropriate action can render useless or hypocritical, a whole lot of well chosen words.

[...] Fact Checker: Misquoting Francis of Assisi [...]

bill krill

March 13, 2013 at 06:21 PM

..love one another, as the Lord says: "This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you." And let them show their love by the works they do for each other, according as the Apostle says: "let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth."

Francis of Assisi, Rule of 1221, Rule 11

[...]  1) Francis of Assissi does not appear to have ever said anything of the sort [...]

Glenda

June 23, 2013 at 06:17 AM

"Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God" AND "It is by faith that we are saved, not of works less any man should boast...".

Glenda

June 23, 2013 at 06:15 AM

This, too, is a falsehood, "His words were neither hollow nor ridiculous, but filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, penetrating the marrow of the heart, so that listeners were turned to great amazement". No man's words are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit; ONLY God's Word is breathed by the Holy Spirit. Man cannot claim any other man is on an equal footing with God. This is the problem with the RCc; their teachings glorify man. Scripture says, "For it is God Who works in you both to will and to do HIS good pleasure...".

Ami

June 14, 2013 at 07:27 AM

I disagree completely that the quotation, whoever the source, downplays or undermines the importance of preaching. The phrasing ("If necessary") comes across to me as wordplay emphasizing that we are to live as Christian people and our lives will be scrutinized by both man and God to see if we have been people of the Gospel. Quite the opposite from discouraging preaching, I interpret the adage as a command to live a Christlike life. Jesus's Own sermons, after all, are given to us in the context of His life. We know what He preached, but that only matters to us because we also know what He practiced: healing, teaching, performing miracles, and ultimately sacrificing Himself. So too are we called to preach and to forge our lives as a context that will make that preaching meaningful. Just my two cents. God bless.

[...] FACT CHECKER: Did St. Francis really say, “Preach the Gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words.” [...]

Rich

July 20, 2012 at 12:21 PM

Something more than factchecking is going on here. The factchecking is dispensed in one sentence: "But here's the fact: Our good Francis never said such a thing." The rest is a polemic, and I'm sorry for the experiences Mr. Stanton must have had to inspire it.

For myself, I've never taken this quote or offered it with the intimation "that those who 'practice the Gospel' are more faithful to the faith than those who preach it." I've never known anyone to use this quote as justification for not speaking the gospel. The common meaning of the quote, in my experience, has been one of encouragement. It is used to illustrate the idea that our faith requires deeds (I think James wrote something about that?). And Mr. Stanton's complaint that "the spirit behind it can be a little arrogant" is kind of, well, empty. That accusation can be leveled against just about any communication - even an article on misquoting Francis of Assisi.

As a solution maybe we can retire this banal quote falsely attributed to St. Francis and use instead this quote attributed to Ignatius of Antioch:
"Just beg for me the courage and endurance not only to speak but also to will what is right, so that I may not only be called a Christian, but prove to be one."

May the Lord grant each of us that courage and endurance to speak and to will what is right.

[...] FactChecker: Misquoting Francis of Assisi (thegospelcoalition.org) [...]

[...] different angles lately, I’ve been hearing some long-awaited outspoken critique of the meme (falsely) attributed to Francis of Assisi. Preach the Gospel at all times. It will be necessary to use [...]

[...] different angles lately, I’ve been hearing some long-awaited outspoken critique of the meme (falsely) attributed to Francis of Assisi. Preach the Gospel at all times. It will be necessary to use [...]

a young'un

July 16, 2012 at 02:28 PM

I can no more disagree with your experience or Fr. MJG Pahls', than you can with mine. I do find what you describe hard to imagine, but it's interesting to consider what I'd say to such a person when it's time for talking. What motivates one to preach a gospel that has no effect on their life, knowing the first thing that'll be tossed in their face is their hypocrisy? Strange indeed, I guess I'll meet such a person sometime in life -- thanks for the reply & other perspective!

To Fr. Pahls, the context I'm referring to isn't soap-box/open-air preaching, but people who don't want to initiate talking to a friend/roommate/labmate etc... They're already living life-on-life but have decided to share Christ if & when their friend asks them about it - when most students are convinced that religion is a very personal thing. So it's not about me forcing Christian professionals to throw their flags in the sand & beat their chests for Christ. I've never even been in such a context, so I couldn't speak to that lol. I agree with your last paragraph about wisdom & discernment being key.

SLIMJIM

July 14, 2012 at 12:34 AM

It does seems to me that Ray Comfort has also exposed this myth at least a year ago if not more: http://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/evangelical-evangelism-today-feed-the-starving-children-where-necessary-use-food/
Nevertheless, it's great to see more people exposing this myth!

Andrew Whitman

July 14, 2012 at 10:10 AM

I have to disagree. I think you are right that many use it to undervalue preaching, but I also know many today who use it more as a remedy to the under-emphasis on Christ-like living in comparison to preaching, which exists in some traditions/congregations. There will always be those who overemphasize one or the other, and they will use such quotes other than how they were intended. I would go so far as to say that such a quote is never needed in a church that already believes in social justice but is lean on the authority of scripture

Andrew Whitman

July 14, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Further to that, such a quote must hold more weight if it is said by someone known to have an effective, evangelistic ministry than someone who has not. So, for example, someone may believe that it is better to preach with actions than words and may say so, but if that person's actions have never lead to anyone actually putting their faith in Christ, then who really cares what he thinks?

So, putting those words in St. Francis' mouth make it seem more plausable than maybe it is. So, I am genuinely interested to know who did come up with it. Because if that person had an effective ministry, even if it was not St. Francis, there may be some value to it. But if it was just a clever urban myth circulated by a poser, then we should forget it altogether.

Heather E. Carrillo

July 13, 2012 at 10:58 AM

These posts are fabulous. This is another quote that I've always hated and has always seemed so unhelpful to me.

[...] article to read and digest, and struggle with, and pray over, and check yourself against,) Fact Checker on Francis of Assisi Quote (I have written about this myself, but this is a good historical fact check on [...]

Charlie Thomson

July 13, 2012 at 05:31 AM

I have often heard this quote in sermons, but always in the context of it being wrongly attributed to St Francis, and not particularly helpful

Church Chair Guy

July 13, 2012 at 04:43 PM

Thanks for this. I was just in Assisi and heard this quote more than once there. I was already aware of how suspect it was but did not have this background. I am forwarding it on to some of my discussion partners on it.

carl peterson

July 12, 2012 at 12:15 PM

Kenneth,

Thank you for your comment. I think some are treating these sayings a little too dogmatically. With spiritual sayings sometimes you have to understand the context and point before applying the quote. I think the obvious point is that we do need to live out the gospel. That just talking about the gospel is not enough. Sure our lives will not be perfect by any stretch of the imagination but that does not reverse Christ's command that we should be sanctified and live lives of holiness and love. After all someone wise once said that they will know we are christians by our love.

I think some are looking at the quote in a wrong way if they understand the quote to imply that one should not use speech to tell others about the gospel. The quote is using a possible over emphasis on one aspect to make a point. Pastors use it all the time in preaching. It drove me batty until I figured out it is a rhetorical device.

carl peterson

July 12, 2012 at 09:25 PM

FR. Pahls,

I do not think I have heard that quote used to justify not evangelizing also. I have heard other reasons or excuses for not telling others about the gospel but not that quote. At least not often enough to remember it. I have been a Baptist most of my life but now I am presbyterian and I have hung around with Methodists, Catholics and, Eastern Orthodox and have not heard it used that way.

But then again maybe some have heard it used that way. I do agree that would be a very poor understanding of the quote and I would think the person would be trying to grasp at anything so he did not have to tell people about Christ.

Nigel

July 12, 2012 at 09:00 AM

The "Prayer of St. Francis" ("Lord, make me an instrument ...") is not by him either:

"All the evidence points to a composition sometime in the early 20th century. There are no pre-20th century prayer books in which it appears in any form. The first known printed copy of the prayer appears in a small 20th century Italian prayer book and therein the prayer is ascribed to William the Norman. A holy card from later on has it ascribed to William the Conqueror. It was not until sometime in the middle of the 20th century that it was first attributed to St. Francis."

http://www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/Sancti/SFranciscusAssisiensis/PrayerofSF.html

Fr. Michael J. G. Pahls

July 12, 2012 at 08:32 PM

Perhaps it is being used that way, but I've been traveling in Pentecostal, Evangelical, Presbyterian, and Anglican circles for a few decades and have yet to hear anyone speak in this way.

Now, I have heard many athletes, painters, musicians, and film-makers being forced into a defense of their fidelity to Christ when attacked by others for not preaching, praying, kneeling after touchdowns, issuing altar calls, endlessly thanking their "Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving them the ability to...", or restricting themselves to explicitly religious themes in their work.

Opportunities for speaking do come (probably more frequently than we realize) and we are disobedient when we forgo such opportunities to bear witness. On some occasions, however, truth, beauty, and goodness are best left to speak for themselves without a clumsy presentation of the four spiritual laws being required to legitimate them. Wisdom and discernment, I think, are key here. Experience tells me that blustering advocates for the necessity of evangelism are rarely practitioners themselves.

a young'un

July 12, 2012 at 07:37 PM

...then I guess it is chiefly (maybe even entirely) used by dolts today, b/c I've only heard it when someone wants to rationalize why they don't NEED to actually SPEAK the gospel. Just live great, they'll ask, you'll tell, all's well.
Mayhaps the Franciscans can set to remedying this disgrace on their...order? (not sure if that's the right word).

Aimee Byrd

July 12, 2012 at 06:38 AM

I, for one, am very thankful that my life is not the gospel. If my neighbor was looking to my life, they would end in despair. Thankfully, the gospel is a message that needs to be told, good news, of what Christ has done on our behalf. Thank you for this article.

JR

July 12, 2012 at 05:11 PM

I know. I was responding to Glenn. Thanks.

PV

July 12, 2012 at 02:15 AM

I don't know what is the main sense of this article.

Fr. Michael J. G. Pahls

July 12, 2012 at 01:53 PM

It's terribly important to understand this idea of practice as preaching against the backdrop of monasticism as an essentially prophetic vocation. Peter Brown did the spade work on this in his well-known 1971 essay, "The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity." The aphorism itself is probably an attempt at paraphrasing things that Francis actually did say. To wit: "But as for me, I desire this privilege from the Lord, that never may I have any privilege from man, except to do reverence to all, and to convert the world by obedience to the Holy Rule rather by example than by word." (Fioretti di San Francesco, 50). I'm a Benedictine oblate myself, but having known more than a few genuine Franciscans (including a beloved former department chair in my department at SLU), I can testify that it is a quintessentially Franciscan sentiment. The article here is largely beating-down a straw man. Given the life of Francis and the Franciscan charism more generally (a preaching order, etc.), only a dolt could bend the aphorism around to mean "say nothing."

Joe Carter

July 11, 2012 at 12:37 PM

Thanks, that's now fixed.

raddestnerd

July 11, 2012 at 12:27 PM

Cool post, thanks!

Found a typo that i will correct in all caps:

The preacher must first draw from secret prayers what he will later POUR out in holy sermons; he must first grow hot within before he speaks words that are in themselves cold.

Seth

July 11, 2012 at 11:54 AM

I don't think Glenn is saying that it isn't important to live in a way that is consistent with the gospel. Rather, this quote is most often used, not to encourage Christians to live consistently with the gospel that they are preaching, but rather to tell Christians that their actions are more important than words, and thereby to convince them that it's not important to verbally proclaim the gospel.
The early church endured tremendous persecution for being boldly outspoken about the truth of the gospel. Yes, they were generous and they were loving, but all of that would have been for nothing if they hadn't boldly proclaimed the gospel. Many Christians in America have grown so accustomed to comfortable lives that we won't even approach our coworkers to challenge them on sin and tell them how they can be saved from the wrath to come, let alone do so knowing full well that we will face physical injury and possible death for our faithfulness as Christians in many countries do today.
Actions are important, but they are insufficient, and this false citation is all too often used to encourage Christians to remain silent.

eMatters

July 11, 2012 at 11:52 AM

Excellent points. Even if it was a real quote it is typically misused. I like to point out that:

1. He didn’t really say it.
2. He didn’t really live it (he used words, a lot).
3. Even if he said it and lived it, it is only accurate if used as hyperbole. Jesus, Paul and a whole bunch of Christians throughout the centuries all used words.

People take it too literally (often the same folks who falsely accuse others of taking the Bible literally).

The implication is that we can bear witness to the Gospel with actions alone. I see a few flaws with that reasoning. No one is so good that they don’t have to use words. St. Francis still used words to share the Gospel. The early church spread using words (check out the book of Acts). Most importantly, Jesus used words to share the Gospel. The Bible is God’s Word and we are told to use it. Romans 10:17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

Even if you are Marcel Marceau, you probably aren’t good enough at miming to present the Gospel without words.

Our actions can speak volumes and should be in concert with our words, but we need to be prepared with words as well.

I heard of one guy who used the “I don’t need words to evangelize” philosophy for many years without converting anyone. Finally, one person recognized that there was something dramatically different and better about the man’s life and said, “You’re a vegetarian, too, aren’t you?” The man realized he needed to be a little more specific about the source of joy in his life.

As the saying goes, words without deeds are as ineffective as deeds without words.

Mark Dunford

July 11, 2012 at 11:24 AM

I agree with Travis that we could all use a bit more "action." I think Paul does well to serve us with an example of what that looked like for him in 1 Thessalonians 2. Clearly, it was verbal, but they also gave of themselves and loved those they preached to "like a nursing mother taking care of her own children." The passionate desire to see them come to know Christ is amazing in the passage.

JR

July 11, 2012 at 11:23 AM

I've often heard that this was a misquote from Francis of Assisi.
However, I have heard this prayer attributed to him, on a fairly reliable basis:

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen."

I always find solace in that prayer (or some variation thereof).

Brandan

July 11, 2012 at 11:22 AM

I think articles like these are ironic- they seem to miss the point.

Who cares who came up with the quote? The problem is that this blog poses as "middle ground" but it seems to conclude by arguing that preaching the gospel is only a verbal task. Which is funny. Because the Gospel itself was originally lived out- it is the life of Christ, right?

I liked where you were heading- this is not a words or deeds. This is a both issue. We need to be faithful incarnaters of Christ's Gospel to our world AND faithful proclaimers when the opportunities arise.

But as Travis said- if we actually "live" the Gospel, we aren't going to attack our friends because they misquote something....

Travis

July 11, 2012 at 11:17 AM

While I agree that the word "preach" infers something verbal, I wonder if there's a better way to share this misinformation with our friends. I appreciate the heart behind this quote, even if it has been sourced incorrectly. We could all use a bit more "Christian action" regardless what our words are.

Steve

July 11, 2012 at 11:10 AM

Terrific! May I suggest another? This oft-cited quote, attributed to Robert Murray M'Cheyne? "“My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.”

I have read his Memoir & Remains, searched and searched, but cannot find a direct citation or context.

RN

July 11, 2012 at 10:58 AM

The two things Francis is known for: that one quote falsely attributed, and for serving as the most famous decorative statuary on roman catholic lawns.

[...] The Gospel Coalition blog had a great article on this. [...]

Tim Chan

July 11, 2012 at 09:25 PM

If St. Francis did not say this, where did the quote come from and why is it so often attributed to him?

Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

July 11, 2012 at 05:36 PM

I meant that Niebuhr wrote the 'Serenity Prayer'.

Daniel Mann

July 11, 2012 at 05:33 AM

Thanks Glenn!

I too had been rankled by this unbiblical distinction!

Kenneth Shattuck

July 11, 2012 at 04:07 PM

I love St. Francis, have read Celano's book on his life and I have read the Omnibus of St. Francis I am also a third order Fransiscan. As a Roman Catholic, I take offense to the garden statue reference in one of the comments. I believe you all miss the point, Francis did not mean this was the only way to preach the gospel, of course you must use words 99% of the time. However the life situations that present themselves to christians everyday are never just black and white. There will be times when the way you live or the actions you take will speak volumes about you. I do not quote scripture and verse as well as my Protestant / Evangelical brothers and sisters but didn't Christ say something like "by your examples shall they know you are my disciples"?

JR

July 11, 2012 at 03:44 PM

Actually, the AA prayer that is attributed to St. Francis is found in the 11th step in the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions book. It is a slight variation on the one that I quoted above.

Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

July 11, 2012 at 02:20 PM

I think Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci

July 11, 2012 at 02:16 PM

I thought you might like this:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jamie-arpinricci/preach-the-gospel-at-all-times-st-francis_b_1627781.html#es_share_ended

Dan Kimball

July 11, 2012 at 02:13 PM

Very great to see this article. I just reposted it on my Facebook as it is very important. Especially the ramifications of understanding the need to use words to proclaim the gospel, not only deeds. Unfortunately around 10-12 years ago, I was guilty of misquoting St. Francis like this article states, but then stopped after learning about it. And also the evangelical church over the past 10-15 years has changed so much for the better in preaching the gospel with words but also backing it up with our actions. Anyway, THANK YOU for the article. I hope it gets a wide reading.

Ed

July 11, 2012 at 01:57 PM

Of all the things one could be worried about; this isn't one of them. How about the oft quoted "50% of all marriages end in divorce." There's never a source given or a method for obtaining that statistic...it's used to promote and agenda.

Nevertheless, back to this one, the point is preaching the gospel with words should match the way one lives..."Forgive as Christ forgives" that's the Gospel in action! That is punctuation to the sentence of our lives.

John Davis

July 11, 2012 at 01:54 PM

Brandon, I would say one of the points of the article is that it's always wrong to attribute a quote to someone when that person never said it. In this case, people get St. Francis' authority/reputation backing the quote when he never gave his authority/reputation to this phrase. I would not like it if a newspaper quoted me as saying something I did not. So it does matter who came up with the quote if we're attributing it to the wrong person.

I would also say, the life of Christ was not the gospel lived out because the gospel is inherently a message about what the death of Christ accomplished. Jesus lived the most obedient, loving, truthful, and selfless life that's ever been lived, but if we're talking about the Gospel, the word refers to the good news of the offer of salvation in Christ's death for our sins.

Jayson

July 11, 2012 at 01:35 PM

I've just always added, "And, it's pretty much always necessary."

And, you can go ahead and quote me on that.

Ikke

July 11, 2012 at 01:11 PM

Yes, we will never be a pure examples and yes, we need to preach Christ as much as we need to reflect Him, but "Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct" tells us that there will be times when it will be actions (or refraining from acting)that speak louder than words. respectfully

(And that was undoubtedly a quote from Peter :)

glenn

July 11, 2012 at 01:09 PM

I believe this prayer IS his, but the AA-ish "Serenity prayer", "Grant me the power to change the things I can, and the grace to endure the things I cannot..." (Not exact quote, but you get the idea) is usually attributed to him, but it is not Francis' prayer. Not sure where it came from.

MAJ Tony

January 9, 2014 at 10:14 PM

Quit twisting words with your strawman argument. NO Catholic, not even the Bishop of Rome would claim otherwise. If God used St. Francis as his instrument, then were not the words that came from his mouth filled with the power of the Holy Spirit?

MAJ Tony

January 9, 2014 at 10:01 PM

People totally MISUNDERSTAND the saying. It says to preach the Gospel ALWAYS. The part about using words when necessary doesn't reduce the need to vocalize it. The context is to make EVERYTHING in your life evidence of Christ's work in you.

MAJ Tony

January 9, 2014 at 09:55 PM

No, I'm pretty sure that would be the Blessed Mother. St. Francis would be a close second.

[...] Misquoting Francis of Assisi [...]

[...] no effort to palliate it; from him a life of sin was met with outspoken rebuke, not support.” The Gospel Coalition says of the often used misquote, “While there’s a nice and good sentiment in the [...]

[…] So, I sat down to do some research on the quote. I wanted to know the context of the quote. Maybe the context had been distorted over the years. Interestingly enough what I found was that Francis of Assisi never said it. Read more here. […]

[…] As Glen Stanton explains, the closest statement we have from St. Francis that corresponds to the fabled counsel is this: […]

[…] creative ways to get around verbally telling someone about the hope we have in Christ. We have misquoted St. Francis of Assisi as once saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary…” […]

Misquote. | It's true.

February 3, 2013 at 09:45 PM

[...] Aiyoh. St Francis did not say, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” It’s a myth. [...]

Jim

February 25, 2014 at 07:34 AM

Glenn's article is troubling in several ways. First, that he would think it worthwhile to use valuable time refuting an idea that is clearly biblical i.e. the importance of living out the faith in our actions as a means of giving testimony to the Gospel. Second, Glenn's misguided thoughts on this matter reflect an underlying prejudice he seems to hold (i.e. the old Catholic vs Protestant deeds compared to words nonsense) that really only serves to perpetuate the very separation that Scripture speaks against.

There are so very many things in this world that we Chrsitians need to fight against! Let's spend time focusing on those matters that are so offesnive to Christ in whatever way a particular believer chooses to do, be it through preaching or by doing the really hard work of being a Christian; feeding the poor, clothing the naked, forgiving 7x70, etc. To counter Glenn's inapproriate guidance, I would suggest that the next time one encounters a person with the idea behind the quote attributed to St. Francis, that we greatly encourage them to go on believing that actions/deeds matter greatly and that no time be wasted drawing distinctions between the two necessay tools that we are called to use as we fulfill the great commission.

[…] It is a quote that has often rankled me because it seems to create a useless dichotomy between speech and action. — Glenn T. Stanton, “FactChecker: Misquoting Francis of Assisi”, The Gospel Coalition, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/07/11/factchecker-misquoting-francis-of-assisi/ […]

Paul Strecher

February 22, 2013 at 10:17 PM

I could not (respectfully) disagree more.
The mis-attributed quote does not say to not speak the gospel, but to only do so as necessary.
And while I have yet to meet a person living perfectly from/in their Christ nature, the most Christlike individuals I've ever encountered almost never spoke of their beliefs or Truths.
They lived it in how they treated and spoke to others (with kindness, compassion, respect, and much love).
I agree that we can not expect ourselves or each other to exist in such a perfect state of being anytime soon, but we can certainly set that as a goal to aim for and try to more closely emulate, and perhaps reach in some future existance.

Shaandoor

February 2, 2013 at 11:00 PM

Did Jesus said this or not? “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father." (Mat 5:14-16)
Or is this also a misquote and unbiblical? Of course, not :)

Ginny Martin

February 19, 2013 at 12:25 AM

I live in the southern US and Baptist (and other) preachers always remind us that you "can't talk the talk if you don't walk the walk". I wonder how that is different from St Francis' comments?

[…] * Note the following source for the quotes: thegospelcoalition.org […]

[…] which, is not actually true.  For further reading about the issue of quoting St. Francis, go here.  I believe that this quote is misleading.  One reason, as is said in the link above, is that it […]

Mary

February 11, 2013 at 12:49 PM

I still think this quotation distills the way a Christian should live, whether or not Francis said it. Of course, words ARE often "necessary" - but even when I'm not speaking to someone my life should reflect what I believe. I don't see it in any way excusing us from verbally witnessing for Christ or explaining the Gospel to people. It's just a reminder that we are always His representatives.

[…] Have you heard someone say, “Preach the gospel, if necessary use words.”?  I have.  It’s often been attributed to Francis of Assisi.  Is this right or historically accurate?  No. Not only is this wrong attributed to St. Francis, it is completely un-Biblical.  Listen to Glenn Stanton explain: […]

dbene

February 1, 2014 at 10:20 AM

I think you should use this as the subject of your next article in this series.

You said:
"So next time you hear one of your brothers or sisters in Christ use this quote to encourage or challenge you in your labors for our faith, gently guide them from the land of misinformation and make believe into truth."

"Christ"? What's the English translation? Most accurate for common/clear understanding might be:

So next time you hear one of your brothers or sisters (of Our Savior), (of "The Savior"), (of "Jesus our Savior", etc.) use this quote to encourage or challenge you in your labors for our faith, gently guide them from the land of misinformation and make believe into truth.
--There's power in the name.

Fernando Delagarza

December 9, 2012 at 02:05 AM

Thank you for the clarification, I enjoyed learning that he was bold in speaking for God. But I'd like to clarify something about it myself: that "Saint Francis" of Assisi was not the founder of the Franciscan Order!, nor did he want any ORGANIZED religion. He adamantly went to the Vatican after the religious leaders compelled him to go when they heard the testimonies of people saved and helped by his speaking, by his ministering to them: a living one amidst dark religiosity! When he finally went he was SHOCKED, horrified by the opulence, the luxury, the power politics of the place. And he knew that he wanted to have nothing to do with them! Rome was who started the religious organization after he had passed on from this corrupted world system......

[…] of Assisi has been misquoted. Glenn T. Stanton has written about this in The Gospel Coalition blog FactChecker: Misquoting Francis of Assisi. Feel free to check that […]

Richard

December 30, 2012 at 08:55 AM

The problem is that you have misattributed the "original" quote.

The "original" quote belongs to the Rule of the "Orthodox Order of Friars Minor" who based their Rule on St. Francis' Rule of 1221.

The original rule is: "...let them show their love by the works they do for each other, according as the Apostle says: 'let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.'"

Rule 11 of the Rules of the Friars Minor.

[...] this quote did not come from Saint Francis of Assisi.  An article by Glenn Stanton writing for the Gospel Coalition, he says [...]

[…] Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) is one of extreme devotion and perpetual sacrifice. He did not utter the quote most often misattributed to him, particularly because he was someone who faithfully and regularly proclaimed the gospel with his […]

[...] taking Communion? That sounds like conversions, right? Is there a possibility that this notion of preaching with actions rather than words really isn’t such a unique approach? Did Jesus himself ever address the issue of dealing with [...]

Passionately Ignorant | MISSINDEEDY

August 3, 2013 at 06:07 AM

[...] of the kind.  I recently read an eye-opening post on why this is such a widely misused quote here.  The only thing St. Francis did say, that was even remotely close to that, was the ending bit of [...]

…letting words live… | kristian_with_a_k

August 26, 2013 at 08:58 AM

[...] I do not agree with the expression “preach the gospel, when necessary use words” (this quote, incidentally, is attributed to St Francis of Assisi, and yet there is no record of him e...). Without these “words”, that this quote seems to make subservient to actions, there is [...]

kostya

August 21, 2012 at 04:09 AM

Preach the Gospel at all times and use an amplifier when necessary!

[...] me if this is offensive, but whoever came up with that statement may possibly have been working for [...]

[...] Misquoting Francis of Assisi [...]

Rising Voice - We're One Generation

August 14, 2013 at 10:07 AM

[...] this quote is apparently not found anywhere in St. Francis’s writings. Glenn Stanton points out that the next-closest passage contains an admonition to “make sure your deeds match your [...]

GeorgeBJR

April 8, 2014 at 11:15 AM

It's amazing that no-one has commented on this. Whether or not Francis said them, the intent is clear. You preach the gospel by your daily ACTIONS, and not only by words. Its so clear in it's simplcicity thst I do not udnerstand the author of this email's point, even though his historical information may be correct. My uncle who is being laid to rest today had cerebral palsy, and at times was barely audible and his speach very difficult to understand. Yet he had a brilliant mind, was an astute theologan, and lived his daily life very much in keeping with the gospel. He rarely if ever had to tell beople he believed in the teachings of the Gospel, because he lived it every single day.

Celeste Conner

April 6, 2013 at 11:45 AM

I love this quote. I do not take it to mean that "proclaiming the Gospel by example is more virtuous than actually proclaiming with voice." I consider it more in line with James 2 and faith and works.

"Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (verses 15-17)

I am more than willing to preach the gospel, but I try to live it without words first. There are so many folks saying the words and not living it, too. I think non-Christians listen best to those who aren't merely preaching.

Clive

April 4, 2013 at 10:59 AM

I believe I have read all the blogs posted here. I like this quote - no matter where it originated, and I will tell you why. I am a deacon in the Catholic Church. On a number of occasions I have been walking on the beach early in the morning with my wife, in the markets shopping, walking in a mall, on an aircraft - and persons have come up to me and asked "are you a priest/pastor?" Now, there is nothing physical on my person to indicate that I am an ordained minister in my church. I am in regular clothes and have no cross or crucifix on. When I inquire of the person asking me the question why they asked, their reply is invariably " you look like a man of God." That comment blows me away. I pondered to myself, why do people say that to me when i am doing nothing anything special - certainly not proclaiming the Gospel with my voice, but perhaps proclaiming it in a way for others to see it in me. I suspect that without saying a word, I have sown a seed for Jesus.

In my heart, I believe that the quote is saying that we should live our lives in such a way that people will be able to come up to us and recognize Jesus in us. It is not the only way, but a very important way. Matthew 25:31-46.

[...] just one problem:  It seems that St. Francis never said it, or so claims Glen Stanton, who says the closest he can find to this quote in the works of St. Francis is this from his Rule [...]

Sargedrummer

April 19, 2014 at 09:47 PM

1 John 3:18

[…] Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” As my colleague Glenn Stanton explained in his blog post, that quote has created a “useless dichotomy between speech and action,” and has been […]

[…] know a lot of people mention that ol’ (supposed) Francis of Assisi line: “preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words”. In my […]