You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.
I was unsure of how to go about this, and felt totally inadequate—I was scared to death, if you want the truth of it—and so nothing I said could have impressed you or anyone else. But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s power did it, which made it clear that your life of faith is a response to God’s power, not to some fancy mental or emotional footwork by me or anyone else. (THE MESSAGE)
A story has been told of one of Billy Graham’s first visits to the UK. He spoke at Cambridge University and when he did so he sought to interact with academics there on a more scholarly basis. It had mixed results. And so it seems he changed his approach and went back to his usual style of preaching a straightforward message about who Jesus was and what he did. Much better results!
Paul was confronted with sophisticated Corinthians who liked eloquent speakers to tickle their ears with philosophical speculation. Paul was no fool, but he decided to focus on who Jesus was and what he did. He didn’t get much applause from the crowds for doing that.
And as he spoke, it was clear to his hearers that he was no great orator. Paul turned that to his advantage: it meant that any positive response to his preaching was due to the power of God not the appeal of his personality. We can’t push this too far so as to say a speaker has to dismiss his or her personality. There is nothing wrong with eloquence and a forceful personality: each can be used by God.
But these alone won’t change human hearts. They are valuable servants but dangerous masters. Personality and eloquence can stir a crowd, but only God can change a heart.
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