Good Words, Strange Manner
By Anthony Casperson

“Alright, what’s God got to say to me through this sermon today?”

I readied myself to listen to the words of a preacher. And hit the play button. Right away, I could tell that the topic was one that many needed to hear. The direction that the man was taking the topic was excellent. He even started out strong by using a verse in his introduction.

But then…

I noticed as the man continued speaking that there was a whole lot about psychology and the human condition, but there wasn’t much more bible. As a matter of fact, other than vague references to a bible passage or two—for which he never gave the references—that single verse from the introduction was the only bible among the words spoken that day. Though I will admit that he did come back to that one verse in his conclusion.

That fact, in and of itself, would make me raise an eyebrow. But I also noticed that during the core part of the man’s words, he put up multiple lengthy quotes from a psychologist’s book on the screen beside him. It almost seemed to me that the psychologist’s book was the passage from which this man drew inspiration and merely used the bible as his introductory illustration.

And by the end of the video, my exact response was: “That was an amazing Ted Talk; but it certainly wasn’t a sermon.”

Now, were the words he spoke good? Yes. Were they the truth of God’s created order? Yeah. Could I even call those words godly? Yep. But were they the very word of God given life in order to speak application into our present circumstances? Not really.

It made me question how I could appreciate the words while simultaneously disagreeing with how they were portrayed as a sermon.

A sermon should be dripping with bible. Drawn out of the words of God as the passage impresses upon the preacher the truth that’s obvious from those words. And then applied to the lives of those called to hear this truth.

It’s different than a devotional, bible lesson, or a blog—like this one—where both the illustration and bible verses have limited available space. There should be biblical substance to the meal of a sermon, not just the garnishment or dash of bible placed onto a different meal.

As I considered my conundrum of appreciating the man’s words, but deep unsettlement at calling them a sermon, a passage struck me. They were the words of Jesus found in Luke 9:49-50.

In the context, Jesus had just interrupted an egotistical argument among his closest followers where they questioned which of them was the greatest. And Jesus used a child as example, saying that whoever is the least among them is the greatest. Essentially, he told them to stop inflating their egos over each other and instead seek to be humble.

Then we get to verse 49, where John—probably in order to save face because he had been one of those who was very invested in the argument—changed the subject and showed how much of a good follower he was, saying, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” John figured that calling someone out for not doing a spiritual act in the “right way” was a good thing.

But Jesus answers in such a way that shows us how we can appreciate a good work even if it is performed in a less-than-preferred manner. His response from the next verse is, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

We can find value and truth in many places. After all, all truth is God’s truth. We must be cautious to not include half-truths or lies that like to infiltrate with the truth, but it is alright to accept the good of spiritual acts that are performed in an eyebrow raising manner. There’s not a problem in appreciating a Ted Talk, even if the person speaking the words would call it a sermon.

And in many cases, it’s alright to leave it at that. But there is an even better way. This would be one that we can see lived out by a married couple in Acts 18:24-28. Priscilla and Aquila came across a man named Apollos, who knew a lot about the Scripture and godliness. But there was one thing that he did that raised some eyebrows.

Apollos knew of the baptism of John—the Baptist, not the Apostle from the previously mentioned passage—which was a call to wash in repentance and await the coming Messiah. But he didn’t understand the indwelling of the Spirit of God that comes to all of us who follow Jesus. Thus, when Priscilla and Aquila heard him speak of such things, they spent some time with him and “explained to him the way of God more accurately” (v. 26).

We can see Apollos used greatly by God as a teacher after this correction throughout many other passages of the bible. All because a couple appreciated his words, but realized that he could use some more teaching in how to speak that truth in a manner more fitting to the truth he believed.

Truth can be found in many strange places. And it’s good to appreciate the truth even if we disagree with part of the manner in which it’s given. But it’s better for us to show the one speaking in that strange method a more accurate way.

Appreciate the truth. But correct the method in a humble and polite manner.

A rendition of Apollos.