Then Moses said to the LORD, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (NASB)
But Moses pleaded with the LORD, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” (NLT)
But Moses said to the LORD, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?” (NIV)
But Moses said in the LORD’s presence: “If the Israelites will not listen to me, then how will Pharaoh listen to me, since I am such a poor speaker?” (HCSB)
Today’s thoughts flow out of the comments section to yesterday’s devotional.
Public speaking is not everyone’s gift. Years ago an Ann Landers poll showed that the number one fear reported was fear of public speaking. Even pastors who speak before thousands each weekend often confess they are natural introverts who potentially can freeze up if asked to speak before fifty people.
So much of the Christian life is about words. Our revelation of God comes to us through a book. We’re told to share our faith.
Go deeper in the Christian life and you discover a vast library of Bible reference books to help you get the etymology or word origins right. There are pastors who study Biblical Greek and Hebrew. There are concordances which are concerned with the derivation of words in the English texts as they relate to the original languages.
What if my language is not precise? What if I say the wrong thing and cause confusion? What if my words drive people away from God’s Kingdom?
“But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.” Matthew 10:1 NASB
“When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-12 NIV
Clearly the Bible is telling us not to sweat these situations.
But let’s go back to yesterday’s devotional and the comment. George (who has been a contributing writer here, and who I know personally) noted that the essence of the command is to make disciples. He wanted to see a de-emphasis on telling and (by implication) a wider emphasis on other areas where the discipleship process can become organic.
The idea of a disciple “walking in the dust of his rabbi” is a teaching that probably best illustrates this. These talmudin learned by doing what the rabbi did. We had a good example of that in the second paragraph of this excerpt. We also looked at the Bible concept of being an imitator (of Christ, or of Paul as he imitates Christ.)
But it goes beyond this. We can help. We can love. We can serve. We can give… In doing all these things we are being a living gospel. Surely at this point someone is expecting me to quote the phrase commonly attributed (though perhaps not accurately attributed) to St. Francis: “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”
However, this is as equally out of balance as the person who thinks the gospel can only be proclaimed verbally.
As Mark Galli points out in this article:
“Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets, Jesus, and Paul put on preaching. Of course, we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns.
Ed Stetzer wrote about this three years ago:
The gospel is not habit, but history. The gospel is the declaration of something that actually happened. And since the gospel is the saving work of Jesus, it isn’t something we can do, but it is something we must announce. We do live out its implications, but if we are to make the gospel known, we will do so through words.
It appears that the emphasis on proclamation is waning even in many churches that identify themselves as evangelical. Yet proclamation is the central task of the church. No, it is not the only task God has given us, but it is central. While the process of making disciples involves more than verbal communication, and obviously the life of a disciple is proved counterfeit when it amounts to words alone, the most critical work God has given the church is to “proclaim the excellencies” of our Savior.
A godly life should serve as a witness for the message we proclaim. But without words, what can our actions point to but ourselves? A godly life cannot communicate the incarnation, Jesus’ substitution for sinners, or the hope of redemption by grace alone through faith alone. We can’t be good news, but we can herald it, sing it, speak it, and preach it to all who listen.
In fact, verbal communication of the gospel is the only means by which people are brought into a right relationship with God. The Apostle Paul made this point to the church in Rome when he said:
For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? (Rom. 10:13-14, HCSB)
If we are to make disciples of all nations, we must use words.
I agree with Ed, but I also agree with where George was coming from yesterday. We have to find the balance between the two. And our lives must match our speech. Here’s what I wrote:
In the last 50-60 years, Evangelicals have made proclamation 100% of their evangelism stock portfolio. After accusing “the liberals” of preaching a “social gospel” we’re slowly coming around to the position that there is so much more we can do besides quoting chapters and verses.
On the other hand, further on in the Matthew passage, it does say “teach” or “teaching” in most translations, and although she doesn’t quote it here, Mark 16:15 renders the same quotation as either “preach” or “proclaim” (The Voice has “share.”)
While not everyone has the same gifts, I believe that every Christ-follower has the ability to share a verbal witness, but many are afraid to do so. I think her point here is to encourage people along those lines.
Of course, it would also do good if those who feel they are better equipped to preach would also find ways to share a non-verbal witness. Each of needs to balance the two.
And better to be asked sometimes what it is that drives our faith instead of just shouting it to people with whom we haven’t earned the right to be heard. Zachariah 8:23 is useful here:
This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”
Where is the balance in your life on this issue? Most of us would side with Moses, we really don’t want to be placed in those public speaking situations. But there are some who don’t fear that for a second, though often their walk doesn’t match their talk. We need to be working on both fronts.