Mankind has always been captivated by great public speakers. We can look through history and see those are remembered for their great oratory skills. To name just a few: Cicero, Patrick Henry, and Winston Churchill. These were men who inspired and persuaded others not only by their message but by their eloquence and charisma.
It is human nature to be drawn to the eloquent. When a man or woman gifted with great oratory skills speaks, people will listen. When this talent is used to preach the word of God to the lost or to build up a congregation it can be a glory unto the Father. In Acts 18:24-28 Apollos, a man described as eloquent, “…vigorously refuted the Jews publically, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ (vs. 28).” Apollos had been gifted with eloquence and he used that talent to preach God’s message.
Eloquence is a great talent but it should admired with caution. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 Paul writes the following to the church at Corinth:
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom but in demonstration of Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of man but in the power of God.”
In this passage Paul gives a description of the approach he used when he preached the gospel in Corinth. He says he did not use excellence of speech or wisdom; he did not use persuasive words of human wisdom; he was with them in weakness, fear and much trembling. He states that the reason he spoke this way was because he did not want their faith to be in the wisdom of man but in the power of God. Paul wanted them to follow and believe in the testimony of God and he feared that if he spoke with excellence of speech they would be distracted from that message.
This passage brings out the downside of eloquence. Though eloquence and charisma can inspire us to act, these qualities can also distract us from the message that is being delivered. When listening to those who are eloquent we can get caught up in their words and their presentation without really giving thought to what they are saying. Being distracted by eloquence can lead to several undesirable results. We may miss out on an opportunity to grow spiritualy from a good message, as was Paul’s concern with the Corinthians. We also may be deceived by persuasive words of human wisdom into believing some false teaching. Lastly, we may be convinced that we have heard a good message when the speaker was using flattering words without any meaningful content. If we are not committed to focusing on the message any of these undesirable results can happen.
Society as a whole has placed far too much emphasis on eloquence. We have to be careful that the standard we place upon those who teach the word of God publicly is based upon spiritual standards and not worldly standards. Worldly wisdom would tell us to only place those in front of an audience who excel at public speaking: people who are easy to listen to, who are entertaining, and can hold the attention of the audience. Any public speaking course would tell us that these are the responsibilities of the speaker.
We need to consider what God expects out of someone who is proclaiming His word. 1 Corinthians 14:26- “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” God expects those who teach to edify. It does not matter if the lesson is delivered by an eloquent man or someone who is not a good public speaker, what matters is the message.
Let us once again consider the examples of Apollos and Paul. Referencing again Acts 18:24-28, Apollos is described as an eloquent man but it also describes him as “…mighty in the Scriptures (Acts 18:24)” and places emphasis on the fact that he showed the Jews “…from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 18:28).” It also tells us that he was preaching the baptism of John and when Aquila and Prescilla heard him “…they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:26).” The emphasis in this passage is not placed upon his eloquence but upon the fact that he preached accurately the way of God and that he preached from the scriptures. When Paul describes his preaching in 1 Corinthian 2:1-5 he does not describe himself as someone who was eloquent or charismatic. He describes himself as one who preached the gospel of Christ with simple speech and in humility.
In both of these examples emphasis was not placed upon their eloquence or excellence of speech but on what they preached. This is where our focus should always be as well because the truth is not dependent upon the messenger. False teaching is false teaching no matter who preaches it and the word of God is the same whether it spoken by someone with eloquence (Apollos) or someone with contemptible speech (Paul 2 Corinthians 10:10- “‘For his [Paul] letters,’ they say, ‘are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is week, and his speech contemptible.'”) In the end excellence of speech, flattering words, charisma and persuasive words of human wisdom will all pass away but the message of God is eternal.