There was a season in human history where public speaking fell on hard times, not for lack of talent, but specifically because of the negative consequences of what happens when highly talented speakers who possess low moral character end up with too much influence.
In ancient Greece, there was a group known as Sophists who valued rhetoric and oratory above truth. They used their abilities as speakers to increase their position in society. They charged high fees to argue either side of a legal or political debate, as well as to teach pupils who sought to increase their livelihoods. They were broadly known for minimizing truth and prioritizing success above all. They were well known and influential for awhile.
The influence of men like Aristotle, Socrates and Plato helped expose the flimsiness of their approach. Aristotle emphasized the importance of character in the speaker. To Aristotle, a speaker worth listening to must be trustworthy. The speaker must have intelligence (believe what he’s presenting is true); character (know what’s being presented works); and have good will (must be making a presentation for the good of the listener).
Of all the places people receive messages from in our world today, there remains one place they should be able to go with high trust in the speaker. People in our churches and in our communities need to know when they come to church that the person speaking from the platform is not like an old sophist, speaking for personal gain, but is trustworthy.
I wonder if our churches pass the test of trustworthiness, according to Aristotle.
Intelligence: Are people hearing the truth from God’s Word, which is the Truth?
Character: Does the life of the speaker prove the truth being presented? Listeners receive a message much better when the person speaking has a life that testifies to the truth being proclaimed. Nothing is more compelling than hearing a recent testimony of God’s power at work in a person’s life.
Good will: Is there selfless love and compassion in the preacher? After all, the person is delivering a message that declares there is a God and he has sent His Son to save sinners. Listeners to our messages need to hear even the most severe truths spoken with clarity. There is a just and righteous God who is sovereign and will one day judge and rule the world in righteousness. This can be communicated and must be in love.
I’m praying that our pulpits are filled with preachers who are nothing like the old sophists, but are increasingly like Jesus and the apostles who spoke the truth of God’s kingdom with courage and compassion, resulting in transformed lives.
Would you pray with me that God would set the fires of revival in our churches this year?
With the love of Christ,