Biblical Rationale for Dynamics in Communication

Just as we seek to discover our hermeneutic method from the pages of Scripture, and just as we seek to apply those principles consistently, we also need to recognize that Scripture has much to say regarding how we should communicate God’s word to others. These principles on this topic even go so far as to help us think through the appropriate dynamics of communication.


Keep it as Simple as Possible

In John 16:29 the disciples acknowledged that Jesus was speaking plainly or boldly (parresia), rather than with figures of speech, and they responded, “Now we know…” They were not confused about His message, and understood what He was telling them. While certainly there are appropriate uses of figurative language and illustration, it is generally better to communicate simply and straightforwardly in order to ensure the point is not lost in translation through the use of too many rhetorical devices. It is worth noting that Jesus didn’t use parables for the sake of making things easier to understand – in fact, His stated purpose in some cases was just the opposite (Mt 13:13,34; Mk 4:33-34). Notice that even when He used figurative language with His disciples, they misunderstood (e.g., Jn 6:51-61, 11:12-14) He later acknowledges the superiority of plain speaking as opposed to figurative (Jn 16:25). This is not to say we should not utilize parables at times, but rather we should not misrepresent how Jesus used that particular rhetorical tool and for what purposes. Though Paul made use of occasional metaphors (e.g., Gal 4:24, 2 Tim 2:4-6), he later confirms the importance of clear and distinct speech if the intent is that what is said is to be understood (1 Cor 14:9).


Some practical implications:

  • Speak with clarity.
  • Avoid wordiness.
  • Use figures of speech judiciously.
  • Speak distinctly, so as to be understood.
  • Remember that if you can’t say something concisely, you don’t know it.


Speak Boldly

Because of the glory of the message and the hope it provides, Paul was able to say, “we use great boldness (parresia) in speech” (2 Cor 3:12). He adds that he ought to speak boldly (Eph 6:20). He modeled this boldness when he proclaimed the gospel to the Thessalonians even amid much opposition (1 Thes 2:2). Paul encouraged that these things be spoke confidently (Tit 3:8). The confidence didn’t derive from the speaker, but rather from the message itself, because these things were God’s words.


Some practical implications:

  • Don’t hide from controversial issues. Attack them head on with the truth and clarity of Scripture.
  • Speak at an appropriate volume.
  • Avoid nervous ticks (both in speech and action: avoid uhms, you knows, I means, rattling keys, etc.).
  • Embrace silence, which can be a very effective tool, giving listeners time to consider.


Speak To Please God, Not Men

Paul modeled speaking to please God rather than men, recognizing that God examines hearts (Gal 1:10, Col 1:10, 1 Thes 2:4). He later warns Timothy of the coming danger of people who will not endure sound teaching but will want their ears tickled (2 Tim 4:3-4). These people will prefer myths to truth, and will demand teachers who accommodate that preference. When we encounter those preferences, we have an obligation to Biblical integrity, no matter the consequences.


Some practical implications:

  • Avoid peer pressure.
  • Avoid outcomes based thinking: speak the truth, regardless of consequences.


Speak Humbly

In Luke 7:13-16 is the account of Jesus raising a woman’s only son from the dead. Upon Jesus’ command “the dead man sat up and began to speak.” God doesn’t need you and He doesn’t need me. He has gotten along just fine for many years without us, and while He chooses to use us, He can raise up dead people, or rocks, or even a donkey to speak for Him if He so chooses. Just as there is no room for boasting in our efforts as related to salvation because they have nothing to do with our salvation (Eph 2:8-10), there is no room for boasting in His use of us either. As Paul said, we should boast in Him.

In our speaking, let’s not confuse humility for weakness. Christ demonstrated humility, but never weakness. He acknowledged that the one speaking from himself seeks his own glory (Jn 7:18), reminding His listeners that He was indeed speaking from the Father (Jn 7:16). The principle He cited is also true in our case. If we speak from ourselves it is our own glory we are seeking. To speak with the proper humility means to boast in Him, and never in ourselves. It means that we are speaking from Him, and not from ourselves. As Peter put it, believers who are speaking should be speaking as if the very words of God (1 Pet 4:10-11). In other words, what we say should be consistent with and representative of Him. And as Paul put it, when speaking His message, there is an obligation to faithfulness, and no cause for boasting (1 Cor 9:16).


Some practical implications:

  • Avoid excessive use of first person pronouns (I, me, etc.).
  • Wherever possible, refer to you when commending and encouraging, we when exhorting and reproving, and I when providing self-deprecating examples.


Speak Impartially

The scribes and chief priests unsuccessfully attempted to find some inconsistency in Jesus, hoping that they could have Him condemned. In one of their attempts they acknowledged the relationship of correct teaching and impartiality, noting that Jesus was teaching correctly and was not partial, or that He was not showing favoritism (not receiving appearances or faces, ou lambaneis prospon). Likewise, while Paul had a particular method of seeking audiences in the synagogues, wherever he found pliable listeners he would invest himself, even challenging societal norms (e.g., Ac 16:13), just as Jesus had done before (e.g., Jn 4:9). James adds that in the body of Christ we are not to show favoritism (Jam 2:1-9).


speakingSome practical implications:

  • Avoid appealing only to certain demographics.
  • Make eye contact with as many people (of all ages etc.) as possible.
  • Be encouraging to all wherever possible.
  • Avoid appeals to authority other than Scripture (be careful with quoting secondary sources), as this can reflect partiality.


Don’t Put the Cookies On the Floor

The stated goal for believers in the sanctification process is that they will have a more accurate and intimate knowledge of Christ (e.g., Eph 1:15-23). He chastises the Corinthians for the immaturity and fleshliness (1 Cor 3:1-3), and for their lack of knowing God (1 Cor 15:34), and he challenges them to maturity in being of the same mind (1 Cor 1:10). Peter adds later that Paul’s writings include difficult things to understand but are inspired by God and are of wisdom (2 Pet 3:15-16). All Scripture is authoritative and useful (2 Tim 3:16-17), even if not always easy to understand. The teacher need not feel the burden of trying to simplify that which is not simple. The student bears the responsibility of investigating and coming to a deeper knowledge of the truth – as the Bereans modeled (Ac 17:11).


Some practical implications:

  • Don’t dumb-down what the text says.
  • Show your work. Model, don’t hide your exegetical process.
  • Try to speak at a level just slightly above your audience, challenging them to reach up just a bit.
  • Remember that the goal is to teach your audience how to handle the word of God for themselves, so that they can study and grow on their own.


Maintain Priorities

Paul demonstrated a tremendous amount of humility in his preaching and teaching, acknowledging that Christ had not sent him to preach in cleverness of speech, but to proclaim the gospel (1 Cor 1:17, 2:1), so that the cross would not be emptied of its power (kenoo). What a vital lesson this is: our focus is to be the message itself in all its simplicity, because the power is in the message, not the messenger.

Paul acknowledged being unskilled in speech (2 Cor 11:6), and he humbled himself for the Corinthians’ benefit (2 Cor 17), not demanding they support his ministry financially. He did not employ all the skills at his disposal, nor did he make demands of them related to his preaching/teaching ministry so that more important goals could be achieved. Paul was willing to stay out of the way so that God could work through His message. “For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me…” (Rom 15:18).


Some practical implications:

  • Stick to the text, don’t wander or meander.
  • Don’t say everything you can say, just what should be said.
  • Don’t be the center of attention, let Him be that.
  • Remember the goal: preaching so that people can be introduced to Christ, teaching so that people can learn to handle the Bible for themselves, and grow to maturity.


Speak for Profit

One of the reasons for Paul’s critique of the Corinthians’ misuse of the gift of tongues was that it simply wasn’t profitable for the listener (1 Cor 14:6, 19). He adds later that all of his speaking to the Corinthians was that they might be built up (2 Cor 12:19).


Some practical implications:

  • What we say should be intended to edify.
  • Some recognition of the need of the moment can be helpful.
  • Some recognition of the maturity (or lack thereof) of listeners can be helpful.
  • Remember that music also provides a means of teaching for profit. Ephesians 5:19 prescribes that believers be “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…” Don’t neglect the didactic functions of song.


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 then 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 11:21 he reiterates that he is engaging in foolishness. In 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). “…laying 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).