“As I Ought to Speak” - Biblical Dynamics for Preaching and Teaching (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1.)

Speak with Purity

In Colossians 3:8 believers are told to put aside obscene speech (aischrologion). While there is no such thing as an inherently bad word, the speech of the believer is always to be seasoned as with grace (Col 3:6) to be able to meet the need of the moment.

Some practical implications

  • Deliberately choose words for their impact, avoiding words that would detract or distract.
  • Use questionable or culturally taboo terms only when necessary, especially if the text employs such terms (e.g., Zeph 1:17, Gal 1:8-9).

Speak the Truth in Love

Without love, we are just noise (1 Cor 13:1). Ephesians 4:15 reminds us that we are to be always speaking the truth in love. The interconnectedness and interdependence of truth and love is evident here. We can’t demonstrate one without the other. Paul explains that the goal of the instruction is love (1 Tim 1:5). Consequently, if our teaching and learning is not resulting in love we aren’t doing it right.

Some practical implications

  • Speak considerately of anyone you discuss, whether present or not.
  • If critiquing someone (e.g., perhaps for a disagreeable doctrinal stance) as a necessary part of the teaching, guard their dignity as if they are in the room listening. Don’t distort the truth, and don’t be unloving either.
  • Training up listeners in the instruction of the Lord is loving. Creating dependence upon you as the teacher is not.

Don’t Appeal to Vanity

The apostles’ ministry did not include flattering speech (1 Thes 2:5). They did not appeal to pride or vanity. Those that do appeal to vanity and pride are described as being in error (2 Pet 2:18), and grumblers following their own lusts and seeking to gain advantage (Jud 16). Notice that when Paul referenced himself as a positive example (apart from what Christ specifically did in him), he was hesitant or sheepish, not wanting any to think he was self-promoting. In 2 Corinthians 11:1 he asks his readers to bear with him in a little foolishness as he recounts his ministry. In 2 Corinthians 11:21 he reiterates that he is engaging in foolishness. In 2 Corinthians 11:23, he acknowledges he is speaking as if insane. Paul is just that intent on not making appeals to vanity.

Some practical implications

  • Avoid, if possible, illustrations that present the speaker as exemplary—outside of appeals to Christlikeness and what He has accomplished in us.
  • Be cognizant of the importance of sincerity. False humility, pseudo-compliments, and buttering up are all forms of appeal to vanity.
  • Don’t be manipulative. Don’t work from false premises in order to motivate action on the part of the listener.

Speak Accurately

While the message may often be either contemptible (2 Cor 10:10) or convicting, our communication of it should always be accurate and exemplary (1 Tim 4:12). What we say must be true. Our speech should be sound, beyond reproach, in order that even those who oppose the message will be able to offer no other critique (Tit 2:8). “[L]aying aside falsehood, speak truth” (Eph 4:25). Titus’ ministry was to be characterized by his speaking the things which are fitting for sound teaching or doctrine (Tit 2:1). Peter adds that whoever is speaking should be speaking as if the very words of God (1 Pet 4:11).

Some practical implications

  • Be consistent with hermeneutic and exegetical usage. Avoid subtle inconsistencies that might simplify a message or make a teaching more palatable.
  • If you quote or reference information beyond biblical data or common knowledge, always cite the source (not in full bibliographical form, of course, just in such a way as not to give the listener an inaccurate understanding that the speaker is the one deriving the information).
  • Cut straight. Handle the text well. Put in the time to understand, practice, and communicate God’s word accurately.

Speak With Authority

Paul charges Titus to speak, exhort, and reprove with all authority (Tit 2:15), because if he was speaking these things, they were inherently authoritative, being from God. The authority didn’t come from the one speaking, exhorting, and reproving (i.e., Titus), rather it derived from the Author of the word from which the speaking, the exhortations, and the reproving came. Recall that Jesus was teaching (not preaching in this case) in the synagogue, and his listeners were amazed that He was teaching them authoritatively (Mk 1:22). Luke describes one such instance in which Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, reading from Isaiah and declaring that a particular portion had been fulfilled in their midst (Lk 4:16-21).

Some practical implications

  • Remember that the word is authoritative, not us.
  • Remember that what we say will have value insofar as it corresponds with His word. Anything beyond that is mere speculation having no authority.

Don’t Speak Ignorantly

In 2 Corinthians 12:4, Paul describes his being caught up to the third heaven and hearing things which man is not permitted to speak. Paul was limited in what he was allowed to discuss of these events. In this case, he was limited due to having particular knowledge. Admittedly Paul was, along with the other apostles, a unique case, because of the special revelation he received. Still, earlier in the letter he reminded the Corinthians not to go beyond what is written (1 Cor 4:6), prescribing for the Corinthians a similar limitation, even if for different reasons. Paul’s speech was limited due to knowledge. The Corinthians’ thought and speech was limited due to lack of knowledge. There are things that are unrevealed in Scripture, and if we are to be communicating Scripture effectively, we need to be careful, like the Corinthians, not to exceed what is written lest we become arrogant in foolish speculations about things of which we have no knowledge (e.g., 2 Tim 2:16, 23).

Some practical implications

  • Fulfill the steps necessary to handle the word well, so as to not think, act, or speak from ignorance.
  • Don’t speak dogmatically on what the text doesn’t reveal. Become comfortable with the phrase, “I don’t know,” and the necessary silence that follows. We can have certainty regarding what is revealed through what is written, but anything beyond what is written is for us in the realm of the speculative. If the text doesn’t reveal it, we can’t be dogmatic about it.

Speak with Appropriate Detail

The author of Hebrews models speech that includes an appropriate level of detail for the task at hand and for the time allotted. The writer acknowledges in one context that he could not at that time speak according to a part, or in detail (Heb 9:5). Compare the content of Romans and Ephesians: the two letters are similar in that the first sections of both letters address the believers’ position in Christ, while the latter sections of both discuss the believers’ walk. In Romans Paul spends eleven chapters considering the positional aspects, while in Ephesians he accomplishes the same task in three. There is an obvious difference in the level of detail included.

Some practical implications

  • Know the schedule, stay on schedule. If you have thirty minutes to communicate, use an appropriate level of detail to wisely spend that time.
  • If a speaker exceeds the allotted time, either there is lack of consideration for the audience, lack discipline and purpose, or there is a failure to properly assess the level of detail appropriate for the task at hand.
  • Consider for example the different levels of detail required for teaching a Bible survey in various settings. Such a survey could be delivered in an hour, or in a series over the course of a few weeks, or in more elongated series over the course of a semester or a year. In each case, the level of detail required would be different.

Conclusion: Speak With Caution, As Accountable

2 Timothy 2:15 indicates that there is a testing and approval for workmen who are handling God’s word. It should be handled accurately (or, literally, cut straight), because it is the word of truth. James cautions that believers be slow to speak (Jam 1:19), and adds that believers should speak and act as those who will be judged by the law of liberty (2:12). Because of the immensity of the responsibility, and the strict judgment associated with that responsibility, James exhorts that you “not many teachers become” (Jam 3:1).

Christopher Cone 2015 Bio


Dr. Christopher Cone serves as Chief Academic Officer and Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Southern California Seminary. He formerly served as President of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, Professor of Bible and Theology, and as a Pastor of Tyndale Bible Church. He has also held several teaching positions and is the author and general editor of several books. He blogs regularly at drcone.com.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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Excellent material for part of a course on preaching/teaching. Maybe it already is part of one?

If you quote or reference information beyond biblical data or common knowledge, always cite the source (not in full bibliographical form, of course, just in such a way as not to give the listener an inaccurate understanding that the speaker is the one deriving the information).

Great point. I've often seen error in both directions here: on one hand, pastor/teachers acting as if some sentence/paragraph was their own work, on the other citing the source with a distracting level of specificity. It's especially distracting if the audience is unlikely to know who this individual is or why their opinion is important. I've often resorted to "a respected OT scholar put it this way..." or "the great 18th century author and pastor so and so said it better than I ever could..."  Or even occasionally just "someone once said..."

If a speaker exceeds the allotted time, either there is lack of consideration for the audience, lack discipline and purpose, or there is a failure to properly assess the level of detail appropriate for the task at hand.

I think many of us struggle with this, but the principle is solid. It's often hard to tell if you have bitten off too much for one message or how much info the congregation will absorb in one sitting. One solution is better prep, but another is learning the skill of "on the fly" wrapping up. If you can summarize and conclude smoothly when it's apparent you should, you can bring "more than enough" to the pulpit and do some of the detail-level management spontaneously, based on the attentiveness of the audience.

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