Union University R.G. Lee Society of Fellows

"Apples of Gold"
Proverbs 25:11

by Dr. Jack May
Pastor, Colonial Baptist Church
Memphis, TN

"It doesnít matter how good the ammunition is if the sight is not on the target! You will miss every time." This axiom applies in communication as well as hunting. The longer I am in the pastorate, and the older I become, the more important good communication becomes to me. I often wonder how much of what is said in our Sunday sermons really reaches the minds and hearts of those who listen? To borrow words from our text, I wonder if the words are "fitly spoken?" The questions every minister must consider each Sunday are: "What am I trying to accomplish today? Where does my interest lie? If I am more concerned about what folks think about my suit, than about my sermon, then my interest is in the wrong place. If I am more concerned about a compliment than compliance with the message, my interest is in the wrong place."

Today I want to deal with the phrase from Proverbs 25:11, "a word fitly spoken." This proverb is lifted from a number in the twenty-fifth chapter of Proverbs, and I suppose would be more of a textual sermon than expository. Since the apostle Paul connected marriage with the church in Ephesians five; and since good communication is one of the main keys to a successful marriage; I want to suggest that good communication is very important in evangelism and discipleship in the local church. I would suggest a word fitly spoken must be:

I. CLEAR

"For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" (1 Corinthians 14:8) Distorted deliverance of a message is of little value to the seeking ones in our fellowship. The "word" must be clear in at least two ways.

A. EXEGESIS. That is it must be true to the text. The old adage "a text out of context becomes a pre text" is surely applicable here. What ever else the minister must do, he must be true to the text. He must let the Bible say what it says, without adding to or taking away.

B. EXPRESSION. If the delivery is based more on emotion than exegesis, and one rants and raves in a rapid-fire manner, what good can be accomplished? Do you ever ask the question, "What did he say?" I do not mean that emotion should not be revealed, because if the message does not touch the pulpit chances are it wonít touch the pew. But there must be a balance. If the word is "fitly spoken" it must first of all be clear.

A worker asked for a pay raise and got this note back from his supervisor: "Because of the fluctuating predisposition of your positionís productive capacity as juxtaposed to standard norms, it would be momentarily injudicious to advocate your requested increment." The puzzled worker went to the supervisor and said, "If this is about my pay raise, I donít get it" "Thatís right," said the supervisor! If the message is not clear then it is not a word fitly spoken!

II. COMPASSIONATE

"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:35) This love is not expressed only in what we do, it is expressed in how a truth is spoken. To speak the Word compassionately involves two things:

A. CONTENT. The message must first of all be pulled through the heart-strings of the preacher. How would I feel if this message was directed to me? Am I fussing at the audience because they are different than me? Or am I feeling for them in their need to grow into mature disciples?

B. COMMUNICATION. A good preacher must never "speak down" to his people. He must share as one pilgrim to another pilgrim on the road to heaven. Or as someone has suggested "one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread." For a word to be fitly spoken, it must come from a compassionate heart. Remember the truth in the gospel song: " Loving God, loving each other, making music with my friends. Loving God loving each other, and the music never ends."

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Do not waste your time bothering whether you love your neighbor. Act as if you do. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less." No word can be fitly spoken if it is not spoken compassionately.

III. CONVICTING

"Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37) Many sermons sound like a rehearsing of some historical event, rather than the calling for decision from the present audience. Perhaps we fail more here than at any other point in speaking the word fitly. There are two things which must occur before there will be any convicting power in the message:

A. ANOINTING. "But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things." (1 John 2:20) Unction means the special endowment with power for a specific task! The Bible says: "This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts." (Zechariah 4:6) One can burn themselves out in the study, and be no more than a pile of ashes when they get into the pulpit. The message must be turned over to the Spirit to make it convicting.

B.. APPLICATION. Jesus always made personal application by means of illustration for the people. We call these parables, and Jesus was the master storyteller. Without personal application the sermon will only be the rehearsal of some historical event, lacking in the call for a decision on the part of those who listen. For the Word to become like "Apples Of Gold" it must be fitly spoken. And if it is fitly spoken it will always be convicting, calling for decision on the part of the listeners.

A well-known professional golfer was playing in a tournament with President Gerald Ford, fellow pro Jack Nicklaus, and Billy Graham. After the round was over, one of the other pros on the tour asked, "Hey, what was it like playing with the President and Billy Graham?" The pro said with disgust, "I don't need Billy Graham stuffing religion down my throat!" With that he headed for the practice tee. His friend followed, and after the golfer had pounded out his fury on a bucket of golf balls, he asked, "Was Billy a little rough on you out there?" The pro sighed and said with embarrassment, "No, he didn't even mention religion." Astonishingly, Billy Graham had said nothing about God, Jesus, or religion, yet the pro stomped away after the game accusing Billy of trying to ram religion down his throat.2 A word fitly spoken must be convicting and the life-style of the speaker is the most convicting of all.

Spoken words only become apples of gold when they are spoken clearly, compassionately and convincingly! I believe every pastorís prayer should be; "Lord help me to speak your words fitly for your glory and manís good."

Written by: Dr. Jack May, Pastor
Colonial Baptist Church,
Memphis, Tennessee

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Jack May has been pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee since 1997. He received the bachelor of arts degree from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi; the master of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and an honorary doctorate from Union University. He and his wife Erlene are the parents of two grown children.

Endnotes:

1 Our Daily Bread, February 14, 2000

2 Sproul, R. C., The Holiness of God


Joanna Moore, Campus Ministries & Church Services

R.G. Lee Center for Christian Ministry