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by Ted Schroder
June 25, 2006

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Corinthians 13:1) What is the characteristic of speech without love? If love is understood as the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:9), and Christ is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 10:4), and love is from God (1 John 4:7), and is expressed in action towards another (Luke 10:25-37), then speech without love would be language that is immoral, Christless, unholy, and passive. St. Paul confronted groups of people in the church in Corinth who valued verbal dexterity in the expression of their faith. So do I.

So does most of the church and the world. We want articulate, persuasive, and interesting speakers and preachers. But there are many dangers with slick speakers, who can appear so sincere, and so spiritual. That is why St. James warned, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check." (James 3:1,2) Then he goes on to describe the power and danger of the tongue. In Corinth, Paul had to deal with people who were critical of his speaking. "For some say, 'His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.'" (2 Corinthians 10:10) He admitted that he "did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom.

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

Greek rhetoric and oratory was a natural expression of the Greek spirit. Their schools trained orators for effective pleading in the law courts. They studied the principles of delivery ('elocution'), logic, and persuasion. They cultivated the art of plausibility because of the reliance on circumstantial evidence and probability. Gorgias in Plato's Dialogues introduced the emphasis on emotional appeal. Plato criticized the Sophists for their absence of fixed moral principles.

They cared nothing for either moral presuppositions or moral consequences, but only for winning cases in court, and for political advantage. Paul rejected the literary and rhetorical devices of his day. There was another group in the church that highly valued the spiritual gifts, especially the gift of tongues, which was thought to be the language of the angels. They were enthusiasts who enjoyed a charismatic or Pentecostal approach to worship.

In 1 Corinthians 14 he provided guidelines for the use of ecstatic tongues in worship, so that it would not be disruptive. He laid down that speech in worship should be intelligible to all, that it should be understandable to the mind as well as the spirit, and that it should edify all. Tongues were not to be forbidden, but everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

To all groups Paul warned that if they exercised their particular approach without love, that their language, no matter how erudite or charismatic, would be as empty as the clash of gongs or cymbals in pagan worship.

I was attending a conference when an internationally known preacher and writer, an esteemed friend of mine, was delivering an address. As he spoke I took notes. His subject was important, and he treated it seriously. He was relentless in his exposition. He was thorough in his argument. He went on, and on, and on. In the end I gave up. He had too much material. It was over-kill. He lost me. My mind could not absorb any more information. He was insensitive and unloving in its expectations of his audience.

My wife, Antoinette wrote the following poem about it. Communication is more than words spewed forth from learned lips. It is a meeting of minds, a word fitly spoken.

It is not meant to echo off solid walls but to take wings and fly, to pierce to the divisions of joints and marrow.

It is intended to be deeply felt, else it is just verbiage. Falling flat on ears deafened by its hollow sound, it becomes like intercourse without love; an empty ritual.##~1~##I have heard preachers give sermons that were so academic, that they went straight over the heads of the congregation to whom they were supposed to be ministering.

They were so out of touch with others, and concerned only with their own intellectual life, that they projected an arrogance of spirit that was unloving. I have heard others who were so into their agenda, so passionate about their cause, that they were like bulls in a china shop. Their intensity was frightening, and their emotional health was suspect. When I see some preachers on television I wonder how they can keep up the intensity? They rant and rave, and have the whole auditorium following them.

None of this is new. The Ranters were a mid-seventeenth century movement in England. They were part of the effort of the time to restore primitive, apostolic Christianity. This involved repudiating the established church and emphasising individual thought and action.

It produced a great variety of groups around prominent leaders. They had two marked characteristics: they were pantheistic and antinomian. Their pantheism was expressed in their belief that God was identified with their opinions, so that they claimed divine inspiration for their utterance (a form of angelic speech). Their antinomianism was seen in their morally disordered lives. They considered themselves above the usual distinction of right and wrong. Many of them were punished for their immoral and blasphemous acts.

There is much that passes for 'testimony about God' (1 Corinthians 2:1) that has much the same characteristics today. Some preachers think that the Holy Spirit is leading them into new truth, and they preach a message that is above the usual distinctions of right and wrong. As a result they lead morally disordered lives.

In a misguided endeavor to be loving and accepting they end up enabling others in their immaturity, their addictions, their obsessive-compulsive and generally unhealthy and unholy behavior. They do not preach Jesus Christ and him crucified, because it implies that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and renewal. Their message is not with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, because that implies that we need a power greater than ourselves in order to change our lives, and they are not seeking change but acceptance of ourselves as we are.

As I listen to such preachers I am aware of the seductive appeal of personal stories about our innate goodness.

They flatter us about how God has made us the way we are and loves us whatever we do. They make us feel good about community, about belonging, about being on the cutting edge of new thought, new interpretations of civil rights, new definitions of marriage and family, new understanding of personal gender identity, and a new commitment to social justice. It seems so loving, so caring, so Christlike.

But I believe such language is loveless. It is Christless - there is no Christ crucified - redemption.

It is immoral and unholy - for its goes against the commandments - the express will of God. It is passive. The word we use for it is "enabling." Enabling is the term that is used to indicate behavior that tolerates, sometimes ignores or denies, or even promotes self-destructive patterns of behavior by another person.

The person who is doing it thinks that they are being loving by their tolerating such behavior. But such so-called 'love' is in fact enabling the person to continue in their unhealthy, unchristian, patterns of life. By enabling them we delay them having to face the consequences of their actions or inaction.

We give them the impression that no matter how much they screw up, and go against the revealed will of God, somebody will always be there to rescue them from their mistakes, their failures, their sins. We make a distinction between helping and enabling.

The Good Samaritan helped the man who fell among thieves. Helping is doing something for someone that they are not capable of doing themselves. Enabling is doing for someone things that they could, and should be doing for themselves. Enabling creates an atmosphere in which people, out of the will of God, can comfortably continue their unacceptable behavior.

Too many preachers are enablers. That can go for parents, grandparents and spouses as well. Too many families and churches make it easy for us to continue to deny that we have a problem. The message we hear is that God solves all our problems for us.

The language implies that love is unconditional toleration, like sweet molasses poured over anything that may threaten our complacency. The love of Christ, is tough love, the love that took him to the Cross so that we might be redeemed, changed, renewed. It is love that has boundaries.

It is love that does not excuse, that is willing to tell the truth, that is willing to disagree. Language that is full of love will speak to the real, personal needs of the one we are speaking to, not over their heads, not disguised in spiritual language, but directly to the heart and mind of the other.

Jesus said to the preacher of Israel, Nicodemus, "I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony." (John 3:11) We can only speak out of what we know, of what we have experienced. We may not be heard, but we have a responsibility to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

An audio version of this presentation may be found on www.ameliachapel.com

Amelia Plantation Chapel,
Amelia Island, Florida

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