Words are needed for our growth in sanctification because the words of Scripture are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Thus, words are indispensable for the creation and maturation of the new life in Christ.
In 2018, in the territory of the Kimyal tribe in West Papua, a plane landed. It was carrying the most precious cargo that the Kimyals could imagine. Was it food, medicine, or perhaps some advanced technology? No, the plane brought the first Bibles in the Kimyal language—the words they had awaited for forty-seven years. You can watch the video of how the community celebrated the plane and its prized shipment. People were crying in joy and praising the triune God whose words they held in their hands.
This is the sight that we seem to forget in our Western world. Bibles are all around us, but most of them are unopened and unread. Even well-meaning Christians think that in evangelism we need to be sparing with the use of the Bible and show the gospel’s message with our lives instead. Think of the popular phrase that catches this sentiment: “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.”
The phrase is usually (but incorrectly) attributed to Francis of Assisi. It is intended at least to emphasize that our words and deeds should be linked together. We should not preach one thing and do another, but we must live by the words that we say. And this is all true. The saying, however, is often used to mean more than that. It states that there are two different ways to preach the gospel: by our lives and by our lips, suggesting that words are not always necessary to communicate the gospel.
How shall we think about this? First, this thought flies in the face of the common teaching of the Bible. Take euangelizomai, for example, the Greek word from which we get the word evangelism. It means “to proclaim, to announce, to tell the gospel message.” This activity can be done only in verbal form. Thus, not surprisingly, we find that the Christian life, from beginning to end, grows out of the Word of God. Peter assures us that “you have been born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). Paul tells us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Through the hearing of the Word of God, we were regenerated and given faith.