Saint Francis is famous for saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” He's emphasizing a great point that our actions need to be in sync with the gospel. We must always love others and show God's love with the way we live. But we also must speak the Gospel, especially when given a teachable moment or a special opportunity. Unfortunately, I think the idea behind this phrase in these times is often used as a cop-out to just be bold to silently do loving actions. We get it honestly as an overreaction to the "shove it in your face" Christianity that some exhibit, but in the process we lose something important: the actual good news, the gospel.
Because at some point, actions need to be explained with words. A conversation has to happen. So I would twist Francis’ quote and say, "Preach the gospel. And it’s necessary to use words.” At some point we have to tell them the story of Jesus and God’s plan for our lives. It may be three years after being their loving neighbor rather than the first time that we meet them. Once we set the stage as people of love, we will eventually earn the right to speak to people about the most important, life changing news they will ever hear. The life of Jesus shows us that there's never a change of mind unless there's a change of heart, and there will never be a change of heart without a conversation between trusted friends.
Revelation from God is generally divided into two different types. One is general revelation. These are the things that we can observe about God if we are looking - things that we realize just from the beauty of nature and living our lives. Then there is special revelation. This is the message that God has given to us through the Bible. You see, when we just love people, they may get the general revelation. But it is through speaking the message of Jesus - a message that isn't shared through just loving people - that those around us can be brought into a right relationship with God through Jesus. We are the people who the special revelation will enter the lives of those around us through.
General revelation was nature, and it can teach general things about God. Special revelation is the Bible and it can teach us specific things about God and Jesus. Because here is the thing, we're Christians. We don't buy into this idea that every religion has the same God. We don't buy into the idea that everything we can know about God can be learned through nature. We're Christian. We believe that God came down in the flesh and lived among us as Jesus. When he was here, he taught people how to live. These words are recorded through the writings of people inspired by God through Scripture. And we believe that this is the case for all of Scripture. God spoke through people to give us specific revelation. Revelation that just nature itself and living itself does not contain.
Now, your love is a lot like the general revelation. It can only teach general things about God. But your words, when laced with Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are the special revelation. They contain the life and message of Jesus.
What I see happen a lot these days is that we have a tendency to throw the special revelation away and just focus on general revelation. We would much rather love than speak truth at all. And because of this, the church then becomes just a social club or another charity in town. It's a place where we do good things to the community from. It's a place where we raise up our kids to live good, moral, and upstanding lives. But this is not the purpose of the church. Oh, these things should be happening through the church, but the purpose of the church is specifically linked to the special revelation we have from God. It's linked to love, that's true. But it's linked to teaching also. Teaching and love. As the apostle John wrote, "Deed and truth."
Because life-changing doesn't typically happen until words are spoken. Love opens the door, but words bring the special. And speaking those words at the right time is a bold thing to do for some. For others, they just utter them and waste them all the time, thinking that speaking is all that matters.
Think of it like visiting someone to have a meaningful conversation. People who just aggressively share the words of the Gospel would be like a person who just yells from outside without being invited in. I've heard enough stories of people who hide from the knocks of Jehovah's Witnesses to know that we need to build relationships these days to actually have a chance to have our message heard. People know that the way you actually live doesn't lie.
It's sort of like how we learn a burner on the stove is hot. Some of us actually have had to touch one because we didn't trust the instructions not to. For others, someone saying, "That's hot, don't touch" is good enough. Now, I understand that this illustration fails in regards to totally explaining special revelation because special revelation gives us teachings that can't be scientifically proven. But words can do a lot to help us live the right way without having a lot of the consequences we might have otherwise. That's why God viewed coming down as Jesus and inspiring people to write Scripture as necessary.
If you're sharing the gospel verbally and it's not showing fruit, I would guess that it may because you aren't living a loving life. But if you are loving and don't see the fruit from your labor, I would surmise that it is because you don't ever intersperse words into your love. When the opportunity arises to move from love to words, you must seize that opportunity and speak. Share the special revelation of Jesus that we only know through the Bible. They aren't going to believe those teachings naturally. You have to intervene, just like Jesus intervened into the world to bring His special revelation.
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18 ESV).