Romans 6:19 I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves.
Paul was an experienced debater as well as evangelist. He knew how to tailor his message to fit his audience. He didn’t mince words and he didn’t dilute the message, but he used terminology those he was talking to could grasp. That’s an important skill! Sometimes we have trouble relating to what Paul wrote because we are in such a different cultural context. That’s why anointed paraphrases can be very helpful. However, the operative word there is “anointed.” Just spouting off what we think something means, without both study of the original context and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, leads to error of all sorts, and has derailed some individuals and groups completely. I am reminded of a story my wife tells from her childhood. She and her siblings often sang as a musical group with their father in churches in Virginia and North Carolina. One night they had been invited to sing at a little country church revival meeting, and the preacher earnestly expounded on Matthew 23. However, when he said, “When Jesus said, ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,’ He meant STOP,” it was all they could do to keep from guffawing out loud, and their stifled laughter shook the bench so much their father took them outside. However, in the car on the way home, they all laughed long and loud! That is an amusing example, but much more serious mistakes have been made. We need to approach the Bible both with reverence and with intellectual honesty, and always let the Author be our guide.
This whole issue is, of course, of vital importance to me, especially since I minister in a cross-cultural context. I feel that being bilingual in such different languages as English and Japanese has been very helpful, but intellectual conceit is always a danger. I must let the Holy Spirit put the Word in heavenly context, because it was written neither in America nor Japan. I have beside me on the wall an outline prepared by Mark Conner of Australia that has done me more good than the preaching classes I took in seminary. It’s in the form of five questions to ask when preparing a message: 1. Who’s listening? (audience) 2. What am I trying to say? (purpose) 3. What to say? (content) 4. Who’s talking? (messenger) 5. How will I say it? (method). Those each, of course, have sub points, but the one thing in all caps is PRAY. I believe this is how Paul ministered, and I seek to do the same.
Father, You know even better than I do that I have plenty of room for growth in ministry. Help me not stagnate, but keep pressing forward so that I may be an increasingly effective tool in Your hands. May I handle the Word with all honesty, expressing it in ways my hearers can relate to, and always under the guidance and anointing of Your Spirit. May Your Word through me indeed accomplish all for which You send it, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!