Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:19b “. . .for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall
Jesus was speaking here not about avoiding preparation for preaching and teaching, but about those pressure situations with prechristians in which we have no time to prepare a response. A special anointing on our words is promised to us for these occasions, but we miss this blessing when we fail to speak up for Jesus.
Some don’t speak because they distrust their speaking ability. Others fear they might explode with anger, or break down and cry, or get nervous and say the wrong words. Most of us fail because, at the critical watershed moment, we quit unselfishly thinking of God and the unbeliever and start selfishly focusing on us.
I encourage us not to miss out on Jesus’ promise of spontaneous eloquence when dealing with the lost. We are individually called to be speaking propagandists for Christ. The more intense the pressure, the more Jesus will sustain us and enable us to speak well. “Special crises bring special helps” (Maclaren). Our job is to boldly profess allegiance to Jesus. His job is to make us eloquent for Him.
Doing our duty can be distressing. Being haled to court is no minor matter. When life and liberty are on the line, we feel intense pressure to speak well. When unbelievers make fun of us, embarrassment is almost unbearable. When the lost ask hard questions about the origins of evil, or why good people suffer, or atrocities committed in the name of Christianity, we feel uncomfortable and inadequate.
At such times, one inner voice screams out for us to run and hide, but another call rises from within, saying, hold your ground, stand and speak. In just such a moment as this, Luther refused to recant, and cried out, “I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. God help me, Amen.” The promise of our text appeals to a desire for spiritual heroism implanted in our breasts by the Holy Spirit at conversion. If we could transfer belief in Jesus’ promise here from our heads to our hearts, it would provide us all our best chance for the true heroism we all long to achieve.
Matt. 10:20 “For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which
speaketh in you.”
“Father” carries overtones of paternal care and love, something much needed when we feel inner pressure mounting. In the crucible, think of our “Father,” whose children we have become. We should assume He will protect and provide. Paul, recalling a time so intense that he described it as the mouth of the lion, said, “No man stood with me, . . .(but) the Lord stood with me” (see 2 TM 4:16-17).
“The Spirit” bespeaks the Transcendent One drawing close. The Eminent is immanent, holy, separate, and distinct, yet here. When contemplating the Holy Spirit, think of verbs, of God moving toward us, working in us, and acting for us.
The thought “God with us, in us, for us” should soothe us. Even in the pressurized crucibles of life, there should always be quiet and Sabbath-rest in our soul.
The best preparation for pressure moments is to keep at all times a heart full of God. Our verbal success depends on our ongoing relationship with the Spirit.
If we trust Him, He so fills us with Himself that our words are actually His. As human orators yield, a divine Orator speaks, in words quick, powerful, and apt.
The Spirit speaking in us is not mechanical, we don’t slip into a trance. Human personality is not erased, but yielded to the precious Spirit, God active in us.
Before Israel’s Supreme Court, Peter, a fisherman, spoke with earthshaking eloquence. How can an unlettered man do this? He was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (AC 4:8). The Spirit seeks human lips to borrow to speak to the lost through.
The Lord, when commissioning Moses to go confront Pharaoh, promised, “I will be with thy mouth” (EX 4:12). Sending Jeremiah to preach to a rebellious nation, the Lord said, “I have put my words in thy mouth” (JR 1:9). God can put words in any mouth. He once did it for a donkey (NB 22:28). He can do it for us.
As gunpowder, when touched by a spark, flames into a ball of fire a hundred times its original mass, and generates a huge power, so our lips can be touched by the Holy Spirit and flamed to heights of oratory never dreamed of. A complete trust in God can give rise to effective and eloquent words that need no rehearsing.
John Calvin, who lived in a time of widespread persecution, once observed, “We have seen some martyrs who seemed to be almost devoid of talent, and yet were no sooner called to make a public profession of their faith, than they exhibited a command of appropriate and graceful language altogether miraculous.”
Studied eloquence sometimes stymies us. It can suppress passionate feelings gushing from a full heart. Anxiety to find exactly the right word can squelch the very feeling that could sway the day. Rev. William Tennant, having a noted atheist frequenting his services, decided to deliver a flowery, intellectual address. In the middle of his oratorical flight, he became confused, and lost his place. Embarrassed, he immediately closed the service. This total failure by one noted for consistent eloquence totally astonished the unbeliever and led him to believe Tennant was at other times aided by a supernatural power. This conviction led to his conversion. Tennant said his silent sermon was one of the best he ever preached.
I strongly believe in preparation for preaching and teaching, but I also confess only God knows the heart of the listeners, whether it be a persecutor, a seeker, a skeptic, a questioner, or anyone else. Thus, the Holy Spirit alone knows exactly what needs to be said in a given moment to change a hearer’s heart. Even if we do prepare a manuscript or lesson, be sure our hearts are clean in order that God may in the delivery itself have freedom to speak a fresh unrehearsed word through us.
Worry about what to say to the lost in times of pressure should be allayed by God’s promise of verbal provision. He has always proven faithful to His word.
Some of history’s most inspiring utterances have come from Christians under duress for their convictions. A clear conscience, commitment to the cause, love for Christ, dependence on the Spirit, compassion for the lost, and the solemnity of the hour have often combined at such times to make words sublime. The result has been some of the noblest speeches ever uttered by mortal tongue.
None spoke more eloquently than the three Hebrews. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the gold image which thou hast set up” (DN 3:17-18).
Stephen, as stones pummeled his life away, cried out, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (AC 7:60). Before the council, Peter and John bore eloquent witness to Jesus, “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. . . .Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (AC 4:12, 19f). Paul told King Agrippa, “Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?” Agrippa countered, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” Paul replied, “I would to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains” (AC 26:8,28f NAS).
To this roll call of heroic eloquence before prechristians we are called to add our names. I end with a personal word of testimony. I saw the promise of our text miraculously fulfilled in my own life, early in my ministry, before I assumed the garb of a professional religionist. I vividly remember the first two people I led to Christ one on one. The first was Danny Reynolds. He picked me up in his car and drove us to a drive-in ice cream shop. I was clueless as to what to say, but somehow God miraculously intervened and Danny prayed to be saved in his car.
The second was Steve Haid. Several were praying for him at church camp. One night I decided to talk with him, but thinking of me rather than God and him, I chickened out. My cousin Rod spoke in the darkness, “Steve, are you a Christian?” “No, but I would like to be.” I took it from there, quoting every Bible verse I knew, many having nothing to do with conversion. I soon exhausted my vast theological repertoire, ran out of things to say, and asked Steve if he was ready to pray. He said yes and was saved in spite of me. I believe in the promise of our text. I’ve seen it work. I wish I believed it enough to put it in practice more often.