Eloquence is a style of speaking or writing that is pleasing to the senses to the one listening or reading the words. It has no aim, no goal, but consists of just gratuitous words. Is eloquence good or bad? It depends on who it serves.
A bad eloquence has entered the church and characterized the pulpit. My husband and I, early in our marriage, sat under the teaching of someone who made it his aim to be clever with biblical concepts. He wanted to be memorable. He thrived on others feedback that praised his ‘unique twists and turns’ throughout the pages of God’s Word. His sermons became all about him having an audience, not about being a mouthpiece for God’s glory. Not surprisingly, there seemed to be little spiritual growth under his influence over the years he served. But oh, he was popular! People came to be entertained by his eloquence. He grew to have a reputation for being a wordsmith.
The poet, James Denney, said the following over a hundred years ago. “No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save.” Denney’s point? You can’t do both. They are mutually exclusive.
I do want to dream of eloquence – but eloquence for the sake of the cross – for the sake of Christ’s glory being revealed through my words.
Each of us, regardless of whether we’re educated or uneducated, has the seed of eloquence within us. If you’re a lay person, perhaps that surprises you. Good! That means a new thing can result. You have a place within where eloquence can be birthed, where profound impact for the kingdom will result if you speak from that place I’d like to describe. It is for this eloquence that I want you to dream.
God-glorifying eloquence is not about putting words together to enjoy others praise or others pleasure. It’s not about being clever with concepts. Eloquence is not about being an effective storyteller. To be eloquent doesn’t require a masters or doctor of divinity degree.
I think of Peter and John in Acts 4:13. Peter had given his defense at the Sanhedrin’s counsel. Scripture says that the Sanhedrin saw the courage of the two men and realized that they were unschooled ordinary men. Then, it says that they were astonished by them and surmised that these men had been with Jesus. Their manner of speaking coupled with the obvious power at work inside them made a profound impact.
Then there’s King David ~ schooled to be a king on a hillside as a shepherd. Later in life, while praising God for being the One to equip him to be king, he proclaimed, “You, O Lord, have made me wiser than all my instructors.” Eloquence indeed! Princes, kings, and paupers have been inspired to praise God and learn how to lament with well ordered grief through the eloquent writings of this shepherd king, counseled and instructed by the spirit of God.
Where can this eloquence be found today? Do I have it? Do you have it? Does the person next to you have it? My answer is, “yes!” And now, here’s the point I feel Jesus wants me to make, the point He’s made to me personally, to equip me for ministry.
****Ministry becomes most powerful when our language is birthed out of the healing of our deepest wounds.
If our inner world is characterized by a circle, then there’s a SLIVER OF OURSELVES that festers in secret. Our failures, our tragic life’s stories and how we internalized it, our present sins and addictions.
We segment off the deepest pain into a sliver. And we let that sliver fester and ooze in private. We think THAT disqualifies us to speak. We build our eloquence on the parts we take pride in, those parts where we believe we perform well for the kingdom.
God wants us to know that it’s that sliver, redeemed, that is the catalyst for eloquence, for spiritual dynamite. Whatever we feel has disqualified us is the very thing God wants to address, redeem, and then use. Moses stuttered, Jeremiah thought himself to be too young, Peter believed his denial of Christ ruined his apostleship. Each of us has our own private area of shame that brings us to a crisis of faith, where we have personal feelings of agonizing self-doubt.
Isaiah 49 – “Listen to me o islands, pay attention you peoples from afar.” The Lord called me from the womb. From the body of my mother he named me. And He has made my mouth like a sharp sword. He has made me a select arrow and has hidden me in his quiver.
*Oh, I wish I could speak on just these few verses for an hour….because they’re all about personal design and personal significance. But I’ll summarize by saying this ~
We were made to speak the word of God – but in that SLIVER of my story where everything looks hopeless, I lose my words.
Hopelessness is usually characterized by wordlessness. I lose my language and dwell in the well of NO words. Somebody asks me, “What’s wrong?” My answer….. “Nothing”. Or, “I don’t know.” I lived in a place of wordlessness for three decades. Why decades? Not just 2 years. We are eloquent about the desert…….every nuance, etc.
How do your words sound to you? Do you thrill to speak them? If you were your own audience, would they be life-saving? Or would you be bored because all you hear is your own drivel?
Eloquence can be ours for the sake of God’s glory. We may or may not recognize it as it comes out, because we’re not responsible for the power of it. We just tell our story and as we do, we give all glory to God for so powerfully transforming the places where the locusts have eaten.
Talk about THAT and we will never be described as someone… ‘dry as dust’. They may not agree with us, but we will have been anything but boring. Anywhere we’ve experienced the power of God, the story comes tumbling out of our mouths with passion and tears.
The telling of it leaves so many stunned, wondering whether to cry with us, rejoice with us, or just sit in their seats in absolute silence – awed by a God who is THAT big. Their view of God just grew from an anemic deity to a mighty Savior.
Your eloquence needs to come from a remote place inside you, that place where you once became small, and powerless to heal yourself. You’ll have to exert mustard seed sized faith to cry out to God to do everything you can’t do on your own. And it’s frightening to think of allowing God to touch it – much less use it. It feels like suicide!
Yet! When each of us tells the story of our own wilderness, and we speak of that thing that was TOO big for us to survive on our own, we will sense the glory in our speech and feel the sword leave our mouth. The sword will fall with conviction on those who listen.
Let the Spirit fall. Let the sound of a pin dropping shake the room. The result will be a harvest of souls who see a world of healing open up before them. You will lead them by the hand to their own place of fear and unbelief. Your story of radical, childlike trust will give them the courage to trust God with their own story.
John Piper, who is shaping my spiritual journey as much as anybody these days, says…. “Let us not exploit language to exalt ourselves and belittle or ignore the crucified Lord. The apostle Paul said, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
Sometimes, Piper says, I meet scribes and debaters who bolster their ego with language jousting and leave the cross in the shadows. God invites us to create language for His name’s sake, not ours. And in the mystery of his sovereign grace, he will glorify himself because of the words we have chosen. In that way, he will keep us humble and get all the glory.
In closing, I think of this story in Acts. After encountering a blind man, the disciples asked Jesus…“Is this man blind because he sinned or because his parents sinned”? Jesus’ answer was about glory. The man was blind so that, on that day, the glory of God would be revealed through the man’s healing.
The darkest threads of my story, and yours, exist so that Jesus can come along, touch it, and transform it for His glory….so that when we talk about it – it will be eloquent, God will be glorified and His excellence will be on display.
Dare to dream of eloquence.
Ministry becomes most powerful, most cutting edge – like the sharpened axe blade, most fruitful, most God-glorifying, most contagious…when our language is birthed out of the healing of our deepest wounds. What was untouchable, unspeakable, becomes the catalyst for spiritual power when God transforms it into glory.