July 20, 2017

Clarity and focus

This morning’s devotional threatened to side-track me from listening to God because I struggled with the author using a verse out of context to illustrate another passage about a completely different subject, and doing this to describe the importance of speaking clearly. Sigh.

I wanted to yell WHY, but instead asked God what He is trying to say to me with all this. The verse used to illustrate is from a longer passage about speaking in tongues that essentially says this should not be done without an interpreter. The purpose of tongues is to build up believers, but if they cannot understand what is being said, then this is a useless activity. The verse: “And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves. . .” (1 Corinthians 14:8)

The author makes a defense for speaking the gospel clearly. He says, “if it to be . . . understood by men . . .” it must include a certain three points. While speaking clearly is important and while those three points are important, I am totally convinced that the Lord does not depend on human oratory to make His truth clear.

For example, I once made a totally messed up gospel presentation. It was confusing and I was certain it did not make sense at all, but the listener became a Christian. How amazing! I realized that God’s Holy Spirit made the truth of the gospel clear to her spirit. It was certainly not my skill that did it, nor any one of those three points.

This is not an excuse for my bungling, but it illustrates that no one can take credit for the marvel of God’s power to speak through His people. Nor can I boast; the Lord once used a donkey to speak to a man, so I have no business thinking my speaking will do His job.

The devotional uses another passage to add credence to his convictions. It comes from the beginning of Paul’s rebuke to the church in Galatia. They had been saved by faith and were trying to live for Christ by keeping the Law. He told them they had fallen from grace and their efforts indicated they were duped by a distorted gospel:  

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed . . . For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:6–12)

Interesting. They had been fed a distortion of the gospel, yet this was not an unclear presentation, but a deliberate twisting of the truth. They might have even been great orators! The problem was not lack of clarity but lack of faithfulness to the Word of God.

The other thing in this passage is that Paul says no one preached to him at all. He heard the gospel directly from the Lord through a revelation, not a three-point message. He used this to tell them that the message they received was contrary to what God’s Word teaches. Instead, it was a false notion of what salvation means and how it works. Rather than preaching what God says salvation means, and what to believe, and how to walk in faith, this contrary gospel was man’s idea. The true gospel is not about law-keeping, but about God’s grace. This passage is not about clarity but about the contrast between true and false teaching.

Years ago, I was taught how to give a gospel message. Now I recognize that this step-by-step presentation is a model not an outline, much like the ‘Lord’s prayer’ is a model for praying, not words to repeat. Jesus showed his disciples about attitude, what to cover, how to think, etc. when they pray.

In the same way, learning that gospel presentation gave me a foundation and showed me important points, but it is not a “rule” for what “must be said” because God’s Spirit knows what the listener needs to hear. I need to listen to Him, not follow a check-list of points given in the proper order.

All that said, I agree with the main idea of clarity. Telling someone God loves them is not the gospel. It is only a part. Yet at the time, it might be the part that the listener needs to hear at that moment. Telling someone they are a sinner is not the whole gospel either, and may or may not be the right thing to say to fit in where a listener is on their spiritual journey. This is the reason God’s servants need to pay attention to God’s leading.

On the other hand, if I was a preacher speaking to a congregation, the whole gospel is important. Some of the people need to hear that God loves them. Some need to hear that all of us are bound in sin. Some need to hear what Jesus did at Calvary, or that He has risen from the dead. Some merely need to hear an invitation and instruction on how to receive the One who redeemed them. A pastor cannot leave out anything, not because each person needs to hear each point clearly, but because each person is at a different place in their spiritual journey. In fact, some of us have already come to faith in Christ and simply need to hear about His faithfulness to take care of our needs.

Jesus, today I need the fullness of Your Spirit so I can listen well and hear what You want from me while I interact with people who do not know You. Are they having problems with believing there is a God? Or are they worried about unanswered prayer? The gospel is good news, yet it comes in many facets. Reveal to me where You want my focus and give me words to make that facet shine.

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