“Say It With Conviction”

When I heard that journalist Ralph Wiley had died at the age of 52 [on June 13, 2004], I felt as though I’d lost a friend. I never met Wiley, of course, but I’ve read his work for many years — first in Sports Illustrated, and more recently on the ESPN website — and always enjoyed his appearances on various TV and radio talk shows.

Wiley was best known as a sportswriter, but he wrote eloquently on a variety of subjects. He authored one of the most perceptive books on racial relations I’ve ever read (Why Black People Tend to Shout), and at the time of his death, he was working with film director Spike Lee on a screenplay. Wiley was also the guy who, while writing for the Oakland Tribune, coined the phrase “BillyBall” to describe the A’s of the early 1980s under manager Billy Martin.

When his fellow journalists eulogized Wiley, they unanimously praised his direct, provocative style. Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News wrote, “His voice was his own. His opinions were his own. His passion was real. You didn’t have to scroll back to the top of the page to know who you were reading.” Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle said, “He didn’t write or speak from his gut as much as he wrote and spoke for yours. He would make you read, and hear, and understand, and whether you liked it or not at the end, you did read it, and you did understand it.”

It’s interesting that similar comments were made regarding former President Ronald Reagan when he, too, passed away recently. I can’t imagine two men more different in perspective than Messrs. Wiley and Reagan. I don’t suppose there were many subjects, at least of a political nature, on which they would have agreed. But both were known for boldly stating what they believed — whether people concurred, or approved, or liked it, or not. And others, even those whose views were in opposition, respected them for their boldness.

There’s a lesson here.

As Christians, we have become afraid of speaking plainly and forthrightly the things of God’s word. We fear offending our religious neighbors, alienating ourselves, or being thought dogmatic or Pharisaic or judgmental — or any of the myriad other adjectives that sometimes get hurled in our direction — because we simply state what the Bible teaches.

We need to get over that fear.

Our New Testament examples teach us to deliver God’s word with conviction. When Jesus taught, people said, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46). When the Jewish leaders heard the bold preaching of Peter and John, “they marveled, and they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Paul’s speech and preaching were “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4), and even his opponents said, “His letters are weighty and powerful” (2 Corinthians 10:10).

Yes, speaking the truth boldly carries risk. John the Baptist dared to rebuke Herod Antipas for taking his brother’s wife, and lost his head as a result (Matthew 14:3-12). Perhaps the same fate — metaphorically if not literally — will befall us for doing as John did. So be it, if the Lord wills. Better that we lose our heads for the sake of the gospel than keep them and be lost.

We may gather larger crowds by mouthing smooth platitudes and scratching itching ears (Isaiah 30:10; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). But we will convert no one to Christ that way. Some people may despise us for our forthrightness, but speaking the truth in love must always be our charge (Ephesians 4:15). Let us pray, as did the saints of old, that God will grant that with all boldness, we may speak His word (Acts 4:29).

by Michael D. Rankins,

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