AND MEAN WHAT YOU SAY
Most of us are familiar with the court system in this country. Many have watched courtroom dramas on TV -- either real or fiction. What I have found to be most interesting, and oftentimes frustrating, is seeing the lawyers in action. It seems as if law attorneys possess this ability to twist around just about anything that can be said. If the defense is on the stand, the prosecutor will find any way possible to bend, manipulate and discredit the testimony given. The same is true with the defense attorney. In any case, lawyers are experts in using (or misusing) words to help them in achieving the desired verdict. A lot of times, this means using deceptive language, vague terminology, and articulating in a roundabout way. People in the law profession are skilled in not saying what they mean and not meaning what they say! Unfortunately, brethren can be like this as well.
Sometimes preachers will word things in a sermon in a certain way as to cause the listener to not be sure what was meant. There are several reasons why this might happen.
A preacher might be deliberately trying to be vague. This is common among false teachers, as they do not want their heresies to be easily exposed. Therefore, they will "sidestep" and try to make their statements complex and/or indistinct and when they're called to task on what they said, the usual response is, "well, you just misunderstood!"
A preacher might be trying to sound sophisticated. This can happen among men who possess a high education and advanced degrees or even among men who don't possess them but wish to sound as if they do. The result is the same. The listeners are confused, not knowing what was meant (and many times not even understanding the language).
A preacher might not know how to put his message in straight, easy-to-understand terms. Honestly, I believe that anyone with some education knows how to make himself easily understood. But I suppose that if ambiguity is the only way you're used to, then anything else might prove troublesome.
Whatever the reason, vague language is a problem when proclaiming the Gospel. God did not write his book for only the Ph.Ds. The word of God is written for everyone to read and understand. God inspired it with the intent that all men might learn of His Will and obey the Gospel! Jesus said that whoever believes in him will have everlasting life (John 3:16). How is that possible if we can't understand what to believe? God commands that all men everywhere repent (Acts 17:30). How can people repent if they don't understand what they must do? We're also told that we must be baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:16). But what if we can't understand what it means to be baptized? Jesus said that all people will be judged according to His Word (John 12:48). Would a just and righteous God judge us based on something we can't understand because it's too vague and complex? Ridiculous!
As preachers then, and even as Christians in general, we need to be careful what we say when proclaiming God's word, and how we say it. We need to be sure our speech is plain, simple, on the level and easily understood. Jesus warned about the use of fancy talk and vain repetitions when we pray (Matt. 6:7). The same lesson can be applied to preaching. Our Lord also said, "But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be judged, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). We need to avoid such idle and useless speech when we are teaching God's word.
The apostle Paul told Titus that Christians are to have "sound speech that cannot be condemned" (Titus 2:8). We can do this best by following Peter's command: "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11). If we simply speak as the Bible speaks and keep silent on everything else (which causes confusion), then our speech will be sound and easily understood unto the edification of those who hear (1 Cor. 14:26).
"So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17).
When we realize that it is through preaching and teaching God's word that one obeys the Gospel and obtains salvation, then we understand how crucial it is to speak in plain language. Vague speech will confuse. It will not help a person understand what he must do in order to be saved and remain faithful. Since people's souls are at stake, let us be sure to say what we mean, and mean what we say!
By Churck Pearson
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