The Quote Attributed To St. Francis Of Assisi Is Wrong: Why The Great Commission and The Great Commandment Are Not The Same

October 20th, 2012 Post by

“Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

~ St. Francis of Assisi

You have probably heard the previous quote before that has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It seems from my perspective that this quote has been in high use in many circles as we are encouraged to focus on deeds, not creeds. We learn something amazing about this quote from Father Pat McCloskey, he says,

“This is a great quote, very Franciscan in its spirit, but not literally from St. Francis. The thought is his; this catchy phrasing is not in his writings or in the earliest biographies about him. In Chapter XVII of his Rule of 1221, Francis told the friars not to preach unless they had received the proper permission to do so. Then he added, ‘Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds.”

Even though the popular quote is not directly from Francis, only derived, this popular quote is still simply wrong.

We need to keep in mind that there is a large difference between the Great Commandment (See Matthew 22:36-40) and the Great Commission (See Matthew 28:16-20). Too often these days North American Christians are confusing the Great Commission with the Great Commandment. Let me briefly outline the two.

  • The Great Commandment is about serving our neighbor through loving works.
  • The Great Commission is about making disciples through the Gospel (i.e., baptizing and teaching)
  • The Great Commandment put into words says, “I love you.”
  • The Great Commission says, “Listen about God’s Love for you in the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  It says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
  • The Great Commandment consists of good deeds that we do for our neighbor.
  • The Great Commission consists of a good message about what God did for the world.

What does this mean for the “Preach the gospel at all times and use words if necessary” quote? It means that we can’t ‘be’ the Gospel for our neighbor.  The reason why we can’t ‘be’ the Gospel is that the Gospel is an external message found outside of us, not within our actions. Our deeds do not atone for sin, they are simply deeds that are a worshipful response to Christ’s atonement for us.  Our deeds are a response to the message of the Gospel, our deeds are not the Gospel itself. Therefore, when we go and rake leaves for a neighbor we are not fulfilling the Great Commission but rather we are doing the Great Commandment. Good works towards our neighbor are prepared in advance for us to “walk in” and the Gospel is the Good News of Jesus that we get to “proclaim.” The Great Commandment is not the Great Commission and the Great Commission is not the Great Commandment.

The good news is that we do not have an “either or” decision with the Great Commission or the The Great Commandment. They are not in competition! Rather, we get to not only love our neighbor with good works but we also get to be a part of a church where disciples are made of all nations through baptizing and teaching.

So, proclaim the Gospel and yes, use words!






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  1. October 20th, 2012 at 13:33 | #1

    That was very well done and helpful, thanks!

    The mythical Francis statement drives me up the wall.

    I think I know why people love it, and use it, but your article really provides a great response.

  2. fws
    October 21st, 2012 at 08:59 | #2
  3. Beggar
    October 23rd, 2012 at 22:58 | #3

    AHA! This helps! Often I heard that we are spreading the Gospel with our daily lives. It always seemed a bit askew. That part about baptizing and teaching seemed to need words. Maybe because I ‘m a teacher. ?

  4. helen
    October 24th, 2012 at 07:03 | #4

    Thanks, Pastor Richard!

    Would you like to take on the “boiled frog” myth next? ;)
    [Lutheran pastors can't seem to let that one go!
    The groans from the pews should have been audible to them years ago.] :(

    If all y’all will preach the text, we’ll never hear about the mythical frog again.
    You cannot find him in Scripture! :)

  5. November 3rd, 2012 at 17:05 | #5

    [I posted this comment elsewhere, but it is probably more appropriate here.]

    So, I’m having supper with my wife, loving it that all 4 of our teenagers are able to join us, when I reached over and grabbed the Portals of Prayer. I explained that I had been asked to co-author an article about fathers leading their families in learning the Word and I didn’t want to be too big of a hypocrite. They got the joke and burst out laughing. (I don’t lead devotions around the kitchen table nearly often enough.) Well, during the reading for today, we got to the part that said, “A sermon seen can be better than a sermon heard.” This reminded me a lot of Pastor McCain’s comments on that article about the mythical quote about spreading the Gospel — with words if you must. We all had a great discussion about the high value of helping our neighbors change their flat tire, but the infinitely higher value of using words to help them know Jesus as their Savior. My 18-year-old capped off the discussion by suggesting we switch our daily devotion guides to the ones from Higher Things, “because they’re Lutheran.”

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