What is “oratory”? (The art of public speaking.) What is “rhetoric”? (The art of using language effectively.) What is “elocution”? (The art of public speaking, with emphasis on gestures and delivery.) Most people don’t use these words, and so we don’t know their definitions very well. Today we have condensed and summarized these and related terms into the word “communication.” What is “communication”? (The art or science of conveying a message whether by spoken word, writing, singing or even acting.)Changing themes, would you say that the ability to paint a beautiful picture is an art or a science? What is the difference between art and science? Is the effectiveness of a good portrait painter the result of art or science?
How many of you have read one of the biographies of C.H. Spurgeon? Adonirum Judson? William Carey? In your biographical reading, did you learn how much time Spurgeon or Judson spent studying elocution? From reading the sermons or books of Spurgeon, would you say that he was a good communicator? Would you say that he was a great communicator? Thinking of Spurgeon, how likely is it that effective gospel communication could be considered God’s gift?
Paul, the great orator.
Some modern preachers are prone to say that the Apostle Paul was a great orator. Is there much Biblical evidence to that effect? The words “oratory,” “rhetoric” and “elocution” all come from Greek and Latin. Those are sciences or arts which some of the people of Greek and Roman cultures had mastered. By the standards of the day, Paul was not an expert any of those things. And people in cultured Corinth were saying that his speaking ability was worthless. II Corinthians 10:10 – “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” It wasn’t that they were complaining about what he was saying, because they said that his letters were powerful. Paul was describing what they were saying about his ability to speak. In his first epistle to the Corinthians he admitted that he was not eloquent. “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” In II Corinthians 11 Paul described himself this way: “Though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; but we have been throughly made manifest among you in all things.” “Rude in speech” could be translated “unlearned or unskilled in speaking.” So Paul was neither a Demosthenes among the Greeks nor a Cicero among the Romans.
Most of you are not aware of the fact that at many “missionary conferences” few missionaries are asked to preach. Many times, I have seen all the missionaries present, being asked to come forward as a group and each one was given a few minutes to talk about his call or his field. But it is almost proverbial that missionaries, no matter how successful that they are on their respective fields, are not necessary good preachers in English. Perhaps they were at one point, but years in thinking and preaching in a different language robbed them of their abilities in English. Perhaps that is the way that it was with Paul – he was a good preacher in Hebrew or Chaldean, but not in Greek – who knows.
But does that mean that Paul was a poor or weak evangelist? The thing to keep in mind is that communication is less a matter of technique than it is of personality. Most of you adults can remember teachers in high school or college, who were extremely smart. Mr. Semrau, my science teacher in 8th grade, and Mr. Lemieux, my last science teacher in high school, were probably both in the genius level of intelligence. But Mr. Semrau, in particular, couldn’t teach himself out of a wet paper bag. They were not good communicators. But if a speaker has a certain type of personality, he will draw the attention of his audience, and if he has anything worthwhile to say, he’ll be able to convey it. He won’t have to resort to clever, rhetorical tricks, and he won’t have to spend years studying the art of speaking. Did Spurgeon have to learn the art of oratory? Did he have to study the science of eloquence? Spurgeon was both an orator and eloquent, but Paul was neither, and yet both were greatly used by God.
How important is preaching to the work of world-wide evangelism? I Corinthians 1:17-25 – “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” Are sinners ever saved by reading the Bible, gospel tracts or printed copies of sermons? Are people ever saved through the testimony of regular Christian people? Christian ladies? Children? But God has ordained the preaching of the Word to be the primary method of evangelism. What word does Acts 8 use to describe the ministry that Philip had with the lone Ethiopian in the desert?
So what sort of person must the evangelist be in order to effectively communicate the gospel? All we need to do is think about the Apostle Paul to see the answer. First, he needs to have a clear understanding of what the gospel is. This knowledge ought to give him some degree of confidence in talking to others. He doesn’t have to be facing an audience of a thousand, but he still needs this understanding and confidence in talking to that single Ethiopian. Secondly, he must be absolutely convinced of the truth of his message. “I believe and therefore I have spoken.” “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” Third, he must have a sense of the supreme importance of that gospel. He has to be able to say, “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” He also needs to be able to demonstrate a concern for the people to whom he talking. “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” When someone possesses these four things, it doesn’t matter if he is eloquent or not, he will have enough tools necessary to effective convey the gospel to others.
But these things are NOT the most important ingredients in effective evangelism.
Is it possible for a lost man to share or communicate what he knows about the gospel to another lost man? Is it possible for that man to get his friend or his audience to agree with what he tells him? Does that include the gospel? But is it possible for even for a great evangelist to get others to believe the gospel unto salvation? It is the job of the evangelist to communicate the gospel, but it is the prerogative of God to impart faith in the gospel to that man.
Saving faith is not something that any man on earth can communicate to another. It is something which the Holy Spirit accomplishes miraculously. Paul said, “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” Obviously any one can say the words “Jesus Christ is Lord” – atheists, demons and actors can say this. But Paul was talking about the ability of someone to say this because he understands and believes it. He was talking about saying it with faith and the kind of humility which makes that person a subject to the Lord. Were Lydia’s faith in Christ and her conversion, accomplished by Paul’s eloquence or preaching? Acts 16:13-14 – “And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” In Antioch in Pisidia the Lord blessed the ministry of Paul, but the key wasn’t Paul’s preaching. When the Gentiles of that city heard Paul’s message, “they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
Did Paul think that the salvation of the world depended on how well he preached the gospel? I Corinthians 3 – “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” What do you think about this pastoral proverb? “Preach as if everything depended on you, but pray as if everything depended upon God.” Superficially this sounds pretty good, but it is theological heresy. He who preaches as if everything depended on himself, proceeds under a false assumption. And the word “if” in the latter part of that statement makes it just as erroneous. Of course everything depends upon the blessing of the Lord – there is no “if” about it. What do you think about William Carey’s motto: “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God? The evangelist should labor with all his might, but realizing that he will have no success whatsoever if the supernatural power of God is not present in his ministry at that moment.
I know that Ezekiel 37:1-15 is a special case, but it clearly parallels the work of the preacher. Please turn there. Note again, verses 5-6 – “Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.”
There are two common mistakes made after a person has made his confession of faith in the Lord. There is a little too much congratulating given to the new convert. And there is way too much praise given to the evangelist. All of us, in every circumstance, especially in this, are commanded, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” Every true conversion is of God, through God and unto God. To Him be glory for ever and ever.
Is it possible that less people are being saved than the Lord intended? Is it possible that a church or a ministry is not being given all the fruit that the Lord intended? Do God’s evangelists ever get discouraged because their labor seems to be in vain in the Lord? Who is the only One able to accurately appraise any Christian’s ministry? Was Adoniram Judson a failure for all those years in Burma before souls started coming to Christ?
We need to remind ourselves that God sees the things of tomorrow as if they were our yesterday. So when the Lord Jesus says, “One soweth and another reapeth” He may not be talking about the same day, the same week or the same year. Can anyone tell me how many people Stephen led to the Lord? But we do know that he was influential in the salvation of one man. How many months transpired between the execution of Stephen and the conversion of Saul? How many people were converted to Christ directly through the ministry of Paul? How many people since have been saved by God’s grace, as a result of Paul’s sermons or writings? How many people are children of God today because Stephen was used of God in evangelism?
The Word of God abounds with exceeding great and precious promises for the person who labors in the Gospel. Psalm 126:6 – “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Isaiah 55:10 – “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater. So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” I Corinthians 15:58 – “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
With God as the key to our evangelism, we cannot be anything but successful. The question is: are we being obedient in our evangelism?