An Eloquent Man

by Billy Norris
in Gospel Guide, May 1995

Whether in the political arena, the classroom, or the pulpit, eloquent speakers are few in number. In graduate school at the beginning of the year, I attended my first assembly. Deeply impressed by the marvelous eloquence of the visiting speaker, I looked forward to the assembly periods throughout the year. I could envision the programs on a very high and helpful level. It turned out I had raised my expectations too high, for never again throughout the whole year was there a speaker in the same league as the one who spoke at the initial assembly.

Apollos is described as an "eloquent man," wonderfully gifted in that along with his eloquence he was mighty in the Scriptures. Not only was Apollos eloquent of speech, but he must also have been an earnest, eloquent listener. When Aquila and Priscilla took him aside and explained to him the way of the Lord more accurately concerning baptism, it is evident that he listened, learned, and corrected his mistaken position. "And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him..." (Acts 18:24-28).

Is there such a thing as an eloquent listener? There may be just as much art in listening as there is in speaking. The teacher had the little boy read a story to the class. When he had finished, she asked him to relate to the class in his own words what he had read. She was surprised to hear him say, "I can't." When she asked, "Why? You have just read it aloud to the class," He confessed, "I know, but I wasn't listening."

Christ said, "Take heed how you hear..." (Luke 8:18).

Eloquence does not come easy. Demosthenes, the renowned ancient Greek orator, demonstrates this fact. Faced with numerous difficulties -- weak lungs, an unpleasant voice, an ungainly manner -- he had to make a special effort to strengthen his voice and give clearness to his speech. Standing on the seashore, with pebbles in his mouth, he shouted against the roar of the waves. His efforts were not in vain, for his arduous and determined regimen helped to make him one of the greatest orators of all time.

As there are characteristics of an eloquent speaker, there are also certain characteristics of an eloquent listener.

  1. Attentive Listening: -- Inattentive, aimless listening wastes time and breeds boredom. By the end of the message, one has learned little and may have paid only enough attention to confuse and distort the message. Listen carefully, for even with the best of attention one may not be able to remember all that is said.
  2. Retentive Listening: -- The psalmist said, "Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You." (Psalm 119:11). Retentive listening requires effort -- repetition of thought, running references. Always have your Bible with you at every service -- even taking notes for subsequent reference. After the service talk about the Scriptures used in the message; discuss them in the home with the family.
  3. Judicial Listening: -- As Jesus taught His disciples, "Take heed how you hear," He also taught them, "Take heed what you hear." (Mark 4:24). Even though we may have great confidence in the speaker, like the Bereans we must search the Scriptures "to find out whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11). Though we want to have the greatest confidence in the speaker, we are not to accept his word solely on the basis of our admiration for him. In time past a well-known preacher, becoming fascinated with a speculative and false doctrine, left the Scriptures. Someone who had known him through the years, and who was a great admirer, said, "He is such a good man. I cannot believe that he would teach error." An important test of goodness is soundness in the Scriptures. One who is greatly admired can do greater harm when he does depart from the Word of God. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (I John 4:1).
  4. Willing Listening: -- Cornelius is an example of a willing listener. Having gathered in his relatives and close friends, when Peter came to his home, Cornelius said, "Now therefore we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God." (Acts 10:33). Those who obeyed the gospel were first willing listeners -- Cornelius and his house, the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), the Philippian jailor, who eager to hear asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30).
  5. Courageous Listening: -- Some have not listened to the Lord with enough courage to do what He said. Though God told King Saul to destroy the Amalekites and all that they possessed, he saved the king and the finest of their flocks and herds. When pressed by Samuel, he confessed, "I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice." (I Samuel 15:24). Saul paid a dear price for lacking the courage to do what God commanded.On the other hand, there have been those who listened with great interest and courage. The Ethiopian eunuch, high in the queen's government, had the courage to obey at the first opportunity to learn the gospel. He could have rationalized whether the queen would be displeased with his accepting this new religion. He could have thought of himself as being in too high a position to condescend to the lowly requirements of Christianity. He listened to Philip the evangelist and courageously obeyed. Some in our own time, not as courageous, have failed to obey out of fear of displeasing relatives or friends.
  6. Personal Listening: -- This means applying the message to yourself, not necessarily to someone else. "What must I do ?"

If one has to labor tirelessly to be an effective speaker, does it not stand to reason that diligent effort must be made to be a successful listener? Then let us listen with the greatest care in order to learn, remember, and apply the word of God to our daily lives in preparation for the place Christ has gone to prepare for His own. (John 14:1-6).

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