Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, even the words of the most eloquent preacher will be of no spiritual profit. Today, R.C. Sproul urges us to live every day in reliance upon the power of the Spirit.
Paul said, “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and in power” (2 Cor. 2:4). You might want to dispute that. As you read the epistles of the Apostle Paul, you see that the words that he used manifest an extremely high degree of wisdom, and they are indeed persuasive. But what he’s saying is that my words are not simply powerful in themselves, but they’re powerful insofar as the Spirit of God attends them and uses them and carries them home.
I remember a story that I read, I think the first week I was a Christian, the story of this forensic contest—a contest for prize and prestige and all of that, for rhetorical abilities, for elocution, and all of that. And two men had selected for their dramatic reading the twenty-third psalm. And the first came out, and he spoke like Charles Laughton, and he recited the twenty-third psalm in absolutely letter-perfect diction. And everything he did was just massive eloquence. And then this other man came out who was unlettered, unlearned, who was not dressed really appropriate for the occasion. He did not have the gift of speech that the other man did, but he said the twenty-third psalm from the context of one who believed it, and the people were stunned. And he won the prize. And afterwards, they asked this golden-tongued orator why it was that he lost in spite of his eloquence. And he said, “I knew the psalm, but he knew the Shepherd.” I’ve never forgotten that, that very simple illustration.
It’s not that Paul is despising language. He’s a master of language. It’s not that he’s despising wisdom. He’s a master of that. But what he’s simply saying is that all of the wisdom, all of the erudition, all of the power of speech, without the Spirit profits nothing. And Jesus Himself said that to those that he selected to be the leaders of His community. He said it very clearly, very candidly. He said, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And Luther commented on that by saying, “Jesus didn’t mean a little something, but, ‘Without Me you can do nothing.’” And conversely says the Apostle, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
Now, if you have the Holy Spirit in your life, you cannot say to God, “I can’t.” You cannot say to God, “My gifts are inadequate to be Your minister.” Remember, Jeremiah tried that. God called Jeremiah when he was just a boy. What did Jeremiah say? “Hey, God, too young, not me. I don’t have my seminary degree, too young, unlearned, haven’t mastered enough yet, gifts are limited.” And God looked at Jeremiah, and He said, “Oh, okay, Jeremiah. I’m sorry, I overlooked your inadequacies, your deficiencies. I really wasn’t aware of your weaknesses, so excuse me for interrupting you. You go ahead and do some more preparation, and then maybe later I’ll call you again. In the meantime, I’ll try to find another boy.” Is that what God said? Huh? Uh-uh. He said, “Don’t you tell Me you’re too young, Jeremiah.” He said: “If I call you, that’s it. You’re hooked. You can’t turn in your prophet’s card anytime you want to turn it in. If I call you, then you’re commissioned. Jonah tried that. Remember Jonah, Jeremiah? He tried to run. I chased him all the way to Tarshish, threw him in the sea. Do you want to go for swimming, Jeremiah? Huh?”
Remember when He told his disciples before He left, He said, “You shall be My witnesses, after that the Holy Ghost has come upon you.” Now, that was not a prophecy. That wasn’t a future prediction about what they were going to be in the future, you see. It was a command. He was saying: “You shall be My witnesses. It’s not optional. When the Holy Ghost comes upon you, you’re going to be My witness. Like it or not, that’s your task.”
Now, if you are a Christian, you have that Holy Spirit. You have been gifted by the Holy Spirit. So you do have that primary equipment that is necessary for a fruitful, active ministry as a layman.