“For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand.” (II Corinthians 1:13)
Jessie was a matron in one of my early pastorates. As generous a soul as ever lived, she once made two bookcases for my office and assured me, “These are for you, so take them when you leave.” That was over 40 years ago, and today, those bookcases are in our bedroom, one on each side.
But Jessie had a little quirk that drove me up the wall. She would sometimes drop by the office and say,”Joe, what did you mean in that remark you made last week when we were standing in front of the church?” “What did you mean by what you told me yesterday?”
I learned to answer, “Jessie, whatever it was, I meant what I said and nothing else. There were no hidden meanings to the words.”
Jessie’s habit, no doubt picked up over a lifetime of conditioning, was in over-analyzing matters. She would walk away from a conversation and relive every word spoken, searching for hidden meanings and implied messages. Poor thing. That is not a happy way to exist, I’ll tell you.
The Apostle Paul was being harassed by some in the Corinthian church who accused him of saying one thing and doing another, insisting that his messages did not always convey the full story. In II Corinthians 1:13, he tells them to stop that, to take his words at face value. On this verse, John MacArthur says, “(Paul’s) continuing flow of information to the Corinthians was always clear, straightforward and understandable, consistent and genuine. Paul wanted them to know he was not holding anything back, nor did he have any secret agenda (10:11). He simply wanted them to understand all that he had written and spoken to them.”
The president in my lifetime who was gifted (afflicted?) with the plainspeaking gene was Harry Truman. Merle Miller wrote a book about Truman by that title, “Plain-Speaking,” in which he interviewed people who had known HST all his life. Almost to a person, they said the same thing about Truman, that he said what he meant and meant what he said.
At one point, I collected all the books I could find on Truman, for some reason or other. One I purchased from a federal office in Washington, D.C. contains every spoken word (well, every officially spoken word!) from Truman in the year 1948. That, some will recall, was the only year he actually ran for the presidency (and defeated Thomas Dewey). It was a remarkable year in a hundred ways, and Truman’s press conferences are something to behold. In this day of television cameras everywhere and youtube’s instant power, no president would attempt what Truman did. A reporter would ask him a question and he might answer, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard!” or he would snap, “I’ve answered that a dozen times and have no intention of answering it again!” Asked why he did not appoint some person or other to an expected position, Truman might say, “He wasn’t qualified. Next question.”
In our day, plainspeaking has been known to get the talker in trouble. Vice-president Joe Biden has a reputation of “shooting from the lip,” as the saying goes, and he has frequently had to do some hasty backtracking and apologizing. Not long ago, presidential candidate Mitt Romney was taped saying some off-the-record things to a group of well-heeled supporters about a large percentage of American citizens who pay no taxes and want no change.
We’re not talking about foolish or rash or unthought-out statements. There is such a thing as speaking when one should have been quiet.
We’re talking about clarity and purity in speech. This is what our Lord had reference to when He said, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no,’ ‘no.’ (Matthew 5:37)” He added,”For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”
Have you ever bypassed a great stopping place and kept on talking and got yourself into trouble?
Media people who interview public figures have a little technique based on this trait of humans to keep on talking. The interviewer will ask a question, wait for the answer, receive the answer, and then continue to sit there in silence. Lo and behold, the subject–who had just given an adequate answer to the question–will frequently continue to talk. But this time, what he/she says is more revealing than the first statement.
We talk ourselves into a box or a corner.
The words of Ecclesiastes 5 pertain to worship, but have application to all of life. “Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil. Do not be rash with your mouth, and do not let your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in Heaven and you on earth, therefore, let your words be few…. A fool’s voice is known by his many words.” (5:1-3)
Lawyers learn quickly never to ask a defendant on the witness stand a question without already knowing the answer they are about to give. Many have lost cases just for failure to do basic advance planning.
Preachers are public speakers, and thus subject to all the rules and conditions of wise communications.
1) When interviewing someone in a worship service, we should already know their answers. The best way to do this is to have a longer visit with them in advance, and to get their help in choosing the exact questions to be asked. (The reason a minister interviews someone in church as opposed to handing them the microphone and taking his seat, is twofold: to make sure the purpose is accomplished and to control the time. Turn them loose with a mike and he will do good to get it back by noon.)
2) When making an announcement or recognizing a guest or introducing a speaker, we should have worked out in advance precisely what we want to say. Failure to give forethought to these off-the-cuff remarks has gotten many a preacher in trouble. When a preacher decides on the spur of the moment to pay tribute to a group of people (the ministerial staff, the office force, a committee), he will almost invariably leave out someone. Had he planned in advance, he would have brought the complete list into the pulpit and done this well. No one would probably have gone out of church that day thinking what a terrific job our pastor does in recognizing workers, but had he omitted someone, they surely would have thought the opposite.
3) Our public prayers should have received planning. They do not have to be memorized, but should be well thought-out. Without giving advance thought to your public prayers, soon they will all sound alike. And even though we say we’re addressing the Father and not the congregation, that’s not entirely true. We are praying “on their behalf” as well as trying to model effective praying for our people.
4) And most importantly, we should have preached through our sermon several times in order to have sealed off all detours (rabbit trails, we call them, that take us away from our subject), located and dealt with all potholes (problem areas in our logic or biblical understanding), and cleared out all distractions so we can drive smoothly from beginning to end. Those sentenced to listen to you for a full half-hour will appreciate the planning, preparation, and prayer you have devoted to making this investment on their part profitable.