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Sunday, 31 July 2016

Make yourself clear!

One of the many privileges that I have enjoyed during my increasingly long life was sitting under the ministry of the late Rev. George B.Duncan (in the original St George's-Tron), and the tutelage of the late Rev. Prof. William Barclay in the University of Glasgow.  Both men instilled in me the need to speak that others might understand.  You see, there is no point in talking to people who can't understand what you are saying.  I have been discovering that, all too often, since I came to live in France!  I speak to someone - and receive blank looks; they respond - and I look just as blank!

Paul writes to the early disciples of Jesus on the great city of Corinth, and asks: "Now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how shall I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will any one know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves; if you in a tongue utter speech that is not intelligible, how will any one know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning; but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me." (I Cor 14:6-11).

Paul was making reference to the specific gift of speaking in a spiritual language (the gift of tongues), but the message may well be expanded.  We who are preachers have a special responsibility to keep our message so simple, and interesting, that even a child will be able to grasp it.  I have listened to many preachers who have been so intent on displaying their own academic excellence that they have simply talked "over the heads" of the gathered congregation!  But God's people are described, not as giraffes, but as sheep!  We who give out the Gospel message must keep the feed at a level that the sheep can reach!

Of course, this doesn't only apply to preachers!  All of us are preaching the Gospel, all of the time, whether we are aware that we are doing so, or not!  In the workplace; at our leisure activities; in the home (especially if we are the only disciples of Jesus there); wherever we may be, if people know that we claim to follow the Nazarene, then they are reading us, and listening to us, all of the time!

There is an old poem - that I may well have quoted on this blog before - that reminds us of this:

“Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today;
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in His way.
He has no tongue but our tongues to tell men how He died;
He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.

We are the only Bible the careless world will read;
We are the sinner’s Gospel; we are the scoffer’s creed.
We are the Lord’s last message given in deed and word;
What if the type is crooked?  What if the print is blurred?”

The story is told of a judge who, having listened to the arguments in a divorce suit, said to the husband: "I have decided to give your wife £400/month in maintenance."  The husband's face brightened.  "That's very kind of you, your Honour.  I'll try to slip her a few quid, myself, now and then"!    A misunderstanding that may cause us to smile.  However, when it comes to the preaching of the Gospel, lack of clarity may lead to disastrous results.  Whether it is from a platform or a pulpit; in our general conversation; or when someone has asked a specific question, and we need to "... make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, ... with gentleness and reverence;" (I Peter 3:15); let us make clear that each of us is born a sinner, destined for hell (eternity without God); but that, out of His unsurpassable, immeasurable, love for us, Jesus died (and rose from the dead!) to pay the penalty for our sin.  Salvation, therefore, is the free gift of grace to all who will receive it, by faith.  "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph 2:8-9).

Jesus said: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him Who sent Me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." (John 5:24).   That's pretty clear!

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