A few years ago a prominent clergyman who was then Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral remarked in a newspaper article that among physical gifts that of speech was one for which little gratitude was given to God. He concluded that this deficiency was possibly due to its being a gift that is so often abused. Yet in the New Testament we are given numerous incidents of speech, sanctified by God, being used to make and sustain Christians.

Sometimes the style of speech takes the form of dialogue. Nicodemus, the woman at the well and the Philippian jailor were apparently influenced in the course of dialogue. Many others, however, trusted Christ as a result of a public proclamation of the Gospel. This Crossfire article is concerned with the latter ministry, and is a subject in which Christian service officers, who in their professional life often have to speak on sensitive subjects on public occasions, should have an obvious interest. It is a ministry which the New Testament invests with particular dignity and importance (Rom.10:12-15).


The general aim of Christian public speaking is to open and focus God's Word on some specific aspect of God's revelation to needy men and women. Divergence or abandonment of this aim may produce interest or enthusiasm, but is unlikely to be accompanied by a powerful work of the Holy Spirit. Within this general aim we may find it helpful to retain the three objectives which the great Cambridge preacher Charles Simeon used to have in mind when he preached: "To humble the sinner, to exalt the Saviour, to promote holiness". All of his sermons had an aim which would have fulfilled one or more of these three broad objectives.

Some years ago a retired officer produced the following jingle which focuses attention on the three key elements of Christian public speaking:

"Manner matters much, Matter matters more, Man matters most".


Manner is important because men might reject evidence, not because of what is said, but how it is said. Hence manner matters much. As we speak we want to be relaxed. If the speaker is unrelaxed, it can be argued that he is a living denial of his message. It is noteworthy that the three principal things that make men tense - Resentment, Frustration and Fear are areas which scriptural promises cover for the Christian so that he may be released from them (Rom. 12:17-21, Jer. 1:4-10, Is. 41:10). The Christian speaker must therefore claim God's cleansing so that he is freed for service. And yet the speaker's manner must bear conviction and he must be in earnest. For we are told, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11). The speaker is to so place himself under the Lord's sway that as men listen to him, they will sense that he is the Lord's mouthpiece. Thus the hymnwriter John Newton said that he preached "as ne'er to preach again, as if a dying man to dying men". So the Christian speaker will want to ensure that the "Word of Christ dwells in him richly in all wisdom"(Col.3:16) for "out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh" (Matt.12:34).

The hearer will value a voice which is firm with conviction, and yet not pitched too low, mingled if possible with a gentleness which can be heard without effort. If those sitting at the back of a room can hear clearly, then so can everyone. If the delivery is to be clear, the speaker's notes must be clear. Clarity and simplicity are of paramount importance. It has been said of one Christian man who has had a remarkable ministry among undergraduates and boys that on a human level the secret of his success as a speaker lay in the fact that he sought for "clarity not cleverness, utterance not eloquence". So too did the apostle Paul. "My speech and my message were not in plausible words of (man's) wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:4-5).

The speaker will adjust his manner to the circumstances prevailing. He will need to have a sense of occasion. In a drawing room he will pay more attention to observing the social conventions and blend with them, whereas in the pulpit his manner will conform to that setting. He will want to identify himself with the people to whom he is speaking. Like Paul he will want to so act that he can say to the Jews "I became a Jew that I might gain Jews ..." (1 Cor. 9:20). He will be careful to ask the Lord to keep him especially humble when he speaks to his military colleagues, superiors or subordinates. He will want to use `we', `us' and `ours' rather than `you', as well as eliminating anything which could be interpreted as being critical of military authority or a personal attack. Conviction of sin is the Holy Spirit's prerogative alone (John 16:7-10) although the speaker must be submissive to God's will to declare the Gospel faithfully.

The officer will wish to be circumspect in his dress and appearance, and in his stance and posture he will want to be natural and unostentatious, standing still for the most part and moving his hands only - and that wisely - to make gestures. The Bible he holds in his hand will be of a size which is in keeping with the occasion and into which his notes fit easily. Manner matters much, but matter matters more ...


"Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted", we are told. The same maxim may equally well be attributed to preparation for public speaking. Many officers would testify that the delivery time to preparation time ratio should be as high as 1 to 10. This ratio may increase if the talk is a short one where economy of words is essential. A talk designed to last 35 minutes may require 6 hours' preparation. Most speakers find it more profitable to divide that time into three periods of, say, 2 hours each rather than one of six. Foremost among the speaker's tools of his trade will be his Bible. He will also require a concordance (Crudens or Young's is recommended). A dictionary is essential and Roget's Thesaurus a useful addition so that words are used accurately and aptly. Many speakers keep notebooks of pertinent illustrations and have their own modest library of Christian books which communicate truth faithfully in terms they understand. Supremely the speaker must know and love his Bible so that he will convey the impression when speaking of the things of the Kingdom of God that "we cannot but speak of the things we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). These tools must be used prayerfully, wisely and honestly. "For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's Word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God, we speak in Christ" . (2 Cor. 2:17).

The speaker must not be afraid of hard work. If he is to speak simply, he must think deeply. Paul's pastoral epistles are conspicuous for the presence of such words as Work - Labour - Study. "Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Gal.6:7). The matter the speaker places before his hearers must interest them. It must be relevant so that their attention is won, their bodies still, their eyes fixed. Memorable and apposite illustrations can be invaluable provided they are consistent with the aim. Someone has assessed that 55% of the Lord Jesus Christ's teaching in Matthew's Gospel consists of illustrations. If a good picture is worth 1000 words, a good illustration is worth several hundred!

The speaker's matter must also instruct his hearers. Thus he must engage their mind using words which convey obvious meaning. He will be mindful that the Saxon derivative is often more winsome that the Latin one. Those who have read Field Marshal Slim's books, written in a similar manner to which he spoke, will find a use of words which convey meaning in a manner which is especially attractive to a military audience. The instruction must be faithful to the aim of the talk and factually accurate. It must also give the same meaning, context, balance and emphasis to the subject as is given in Scripture. Many speakers - especially in their early experience - find that an outline of a talk which has an introduction, three main points and a brief conclusion helps to give the talk integrity and symmetry. Thirdly the matter or content of the talk must inspire. Not only must eyes and minds be focused on the subject, but there must be a movement of the will to act. In this respect the talk must be given to the Holy Spirit to inspire action. "That was an interesting sermon" commented the principal of a theological college to a younger Christian at the end of an Easter morning service where they sat in the congregation, having heard a sermon on the Resurrection. "It was Christ- centered, historical, evidential and scriptural", he added - and then pointed out the deficiency. "It was not applied". Nor had it been! Where there is no application, it is doubtful if there will be any inspiration to act, and the aim of the talk will not be fulfilled; for the Holy Spirit will have had less room to move in. Manner matters much, matter matters more but man matters most!


"Speak to me that I may know thee" says a character in one of Christopher Marlowe's plays. When a man speaks he reveals so much of his character. The Christian speaker is required to subordinate himself to the Gospel before he proclaims it. "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved of my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). The absence of obedience in the life of a speaker can destroy his usefulness to God. This applies to all manner of disobedience in the speaker - pride, exhibitionism, shallowness of preparation, lack of reading or lack of love towards those to whom we are called to minister, all are disloyal to the Master. Thankfully there are glorious living and historical examples of speakers who knew that obedience to God was the secret of usefulness in His service. An undergraduate at Cambridge, invited to an informal Christian meeting for the first time, said afterwards of the speaker, "Not only does he talk about Christ, he is like Him".

William Wilberforce, famous for his work in achieving the abolition of slavery in Britain, was so brilliant an orator that he was described as "the nightingale of the House of Commons". However his memorial in Westminster Abbey contains a more glowing tribute: "He left behind him the abiding eloquence of a Christian life". The apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 reveals a superlative picture of the Christian speaker who loves God and his fellow men:

"For our appeal does not spring from error or uncleanness, nor is it made with guile; but just as we have been approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please men but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak of greed, as God is witness; nor did we seek glory from men, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children. So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the Gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. You are our witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our behaviour to you believers; for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each of you and encouraged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the work of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God which is at work in you believers".(1 Thess.2:3-8,10-13).


We have reviewed briefly three critical areas of consideration for the Christian officer in his public proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: His manner, his matter with the reminder that he must seek with God's help to interest, instruct and inspire his hearers to act for Christ; but supremely the man himself must be subject to his Master that he may be a worker that need not be ashamed. It seems appropriate to end by quoting the following lines which are on the study wall of a well known London Rectory:

	"When telling Thy salvation free

	Let all absorbing thoughts of Thee

	My heart and soul engross.

	And when all hearts are bowed and stirred

	Beneath the influence of Thy Word,

	Hide me beneath the influence of Thy Cross".

For further reading:

"The Preachers Portrait"    by J.R.W. Stott   Tyndale Press 

"50 Key words of the Bible" by J.W. Charley   Lutterworth Press
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