THE WORD OR WORDS?
T. PIERCE BROWN
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” He had said in chapter 1 verse 17, “not with wisdom of words, that the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.”
I have come very near envying those preachers who apparently have a special gift (I expect most “special gifts” have been developed by long arduous hours of study and work) of eloquence. When I come to some grand theme of the Bible and my heart is almost bursting with the desire to express more adequately the inexpressible love and grandeur of God, I feel like a tongue-tied moron. Then I wish the Spirit would do for my preaching what He does for my praying (Rom.8:26).
However, as I was musing about my weaknesses and shortcomings in this and other areas, I thought of what Paul said, and the language of Jesus and the Apostles as they taught. Then I remembered hearing an eloquent elderly evangelist engaging in earnest entreaty to the Eternal One. He began something like this: “Our omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and ever-to-be-adored heavenly Father.” He continued in that style for several minutes, capturing (or at least intriguing) my mind with adjectives I had almost forgotten. He closed with something like this, “And when we come to the end of the way and hang our battle-scarred armor on the shining walls of jasper, and sheath the shining, sharp sword of the Spirit forever, it will be well with us.” (Aren’t all these attention-getting alliterations almost always alarming when they call attention to the author instead of the Almighty?) Though it was but in the middle of the afternoon, the expression, “When the ebony fingers of night enfold us in their tender embrace” still sounded like something I wish I had thought of.
But as I contrasted that with “Our Father, who art in heaven” my disappointment that I can’t pray in that fashion lessened somewhat. And I remembered many years ago when I was a student in college, a fellow-student (he must have been a drama major with outstanding ability) was asked to preach for a big congregation in the town. I think he was preaching on the crucifixion of Christ. As he got to the place where his well chosen words and dramatic delivery made the audience writhe in empathy with the sinless, suffering Savior, the lights dimmed and turned blood red as our minds were called to think of the blood that flowed from His hands, head and side.
There is no question that he got attention. He could have done likewise by firing a .45 pistol. But I could not help but contrast it with Peter in Acts 2:23-24. He simply and powerfully said, “Him – ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” He did not try to dramatize the scene by a vivid description of the cat-o-nine tails, laying bare His bones, and the crunch of the spikes as they pierced His tender flesh, as I might have done. “He died for you” was apparently sufficient, and I confess is enough to make me weep, both for shame and for joy.
Is it not possible that those of use who have no natural dramatic or oratorical ability may try too hard to mimic those who do, and as a result lean toward a dependence on words rather than upon The Word?
Is it not an ever present danger that as men get more highly trained in both philosophies and techniques of men it is an easy thing to glory in smooth expressions and eloquent and stirring presentations rather than in the simplicity of the gospel? Is there any among us who has not gone to some lecture program and seen those who felt like standing and cheering at the apt and marvelous way some wonderful speaker made us feel some way about something? Do you suppose they were more impressed by the style than they were by the Savior who was supposedly being glorified?
Surely, I tell myself, this does not negate the desirability of continuously searching for better and more powerful ways to express the Truth of God. But it may suggest how prone man is to fall in love with the wrapper and let the Bread of Life go to waste. We may admire the pretty goblet and leave the Water of Life untasted!
So I suppose if I had the ability to eloquently dramatize some Biblical scene, I should use that ability the best I can to glorify God. But I must not forget that a person who waves a big flashlight around may get people looking at the light rather than at the object on which he is trying to shine it!