This is the third post in a series about gospel speech. Read parts 1 and 2.
“I’m not gifted enough!”
Maybe you think that you’re not qualified to speak the gospel to people because you’re not gifted enough. But if you’re a Christian, you already have the greatest gift in the world. It’s a gift that makes you talk.
Throughout the Old Testament, there is a recurring pattern:
- Speech / singing
This is how God works, according to the Bible. People sin against God, repeatedly and inexcusably. God is therefore rightly angry with people. But instead of simply judging them, he saves them, proving how powerful he really is. And then, once he’s given them this great gift of salvation, God does something to their mouths. He puts a speech or a song in their mouths, and tells them to speak over and over again about how amazing his salvation really is.
Here are three places in particular where this pattern is clear. These are very significant parts of the Old Testament. In fact, the apostle Paul refers to them repeatedly in his letter to the Romans.1
Deuteronomy 32 is a song Moses taught to Israel just before they entered the promised land. It’s a song they must keep in their mouths, singing it constantly, never forgetting it (cf. Deut 31:19, 21). It’s a strange song for a nation to sing. In fact, it’s the complete opposite of a national anthem. It’s not a song about Israel’s glory, but Israel’s shame. Israel, according to this song, is a rebellious nation. They deal corruptly with God. They aren’t God’s children. They are blemished and crooked and twisted and greedy and scoffers and demon-worshippers and perverse and cheats and foolish and venomous. Israel is powerless and weak and utterly corrupt. But God is powerful and righteous. He will show his power through Israel; both by judging his enemies, and also by rescuing his powerless servants (see e.g. v. 36). He gives Israel the great gift of salvation.
But even though the song is about Israel’s sin and Israel’s salvation, it’s not just a song for Israel alone. It’s a song that is put into Israel’s mouth, so that everybody else can hear how God helps those who can’t help themselves. God doesn’t just rescue his weak and foolish people, he also uses them as his global mouthpiece. Israel’s job is to sing of God’s greatness to the world:
Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth …
For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! (Deut 32:1, 3)
Isaiah 59 echoes this same pattern. The chapter describes the total depravity of Israel at a particularly dark time in their history. Israel’s hearts, hands and mouths are defiled, because they are not upholding God’s justice. Nobody, none at all, is doing what is right. But the uselessness of God’s people doesn’t mean that God himself is powerless. He is powerful; he will achieve his purposes to judge the world and to deliver Israel, despite their sin:
He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. (Isaiah 59:16)
“And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the LORD. (Isaiah 59:20)
What does God do once he’s saved Israel? He gives them a role; a task. This task is to speak God’s word; to have this word of salvation in their mouths and to declare the light of God’s glorious power to the nations:
“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore.” (Isaiah 59:21)
And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:3)
Psalm 51 is a song of David, king of Israel, after he had stolen a man’s wife and then arranged his murder. David is stricken, and begs for forgiveness. He realises that he deserves nothing from God. But he knows that God’s response to his sin will prove God’s justice and power. In fact, his broken spirit and contrite heart will enable him to be a mouthpiece for God, to shout to the world of God’s mercy and power:
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. (Psalm 51:12-15).
For David, as for Israel, salvation is a matter of the mouth as well as the heart.
Do you notice, in all three passages, that the singers are exactly the right people to sing the song? The song / speech is about God’s salvation, not about human achievement. And so the singers / speakers aren’t powerful people, or talented people, or upright people. They’re weak people, broken people, sinful people. But when God saves these sinners, they also become gifted singers; singing (or speaking) about God’s salvation to the world. The gift they’ve received isn’t a melodious voice, or a clever turn of phrase, or a quick wit. The gift is salvation itself. Since they’ve been saved from sin, they’re qualified to talk about salvation from sin. If you’re a Christian, you already have the greatest gift in the world.
You’ve been saved. It’s a gift that makes you talk.
This is the third post in a series about gospel speech. In the next post, we’ll think about another objection: “I’m not really a ‘speaking’ Christian.”
1 Paul quotes these passages explicitly:
- Deuteronomy 32 is cited in Romans 10:19, 12:19 and 15:10.
- Isaiah 59 is cited in Romans 3:15-17 and 11:26-27.
- Psalm 51 is cited in Romans 3:4.
- Psalm 32, another Psalm about David being forgiven and then proclaiming God’s word, is cited in Romans 4:7-8.
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