In the closing verses of the book of Acts (28:30,31) we are told that Paul continued “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” Even though the aged apostle was in prison he continued the noble task of telling others about the kingdom of God. The impressive point of the text is that he taught with confidence or boldness. In an unrestrained manner he shared the truth with all his visitors. There is something to be said for a presentation made with confidence. If a salesman is not convincing about his product, he will have little success selling it. If he appears uncertain or unprepared his chances of making a sale are greatly impaired. Why is it then that many who undertake the important task of teaching in the assembly of the saints do so with little or no preparation, enthusiasm, or confidence? To stand before the church ill prepared is inexcusable. Teaching is the life blood of the church. Through it the people are warned, encouraged, challenged, and edified. The caliber of teaching coming from the pulpit is parallel, in many ways, to the strength and growth of the congregation. Poor weak teaching results in weak disinterested members. Strong vibrant teaching will find its expression in an active growing church. What does it mean to teach with confidence?
Know Your Subject
Teaching with confidence can only happen when the one doing the teaching knows the subject or lesson to be delivered. I never cease to be amazed at how well some people can talk about ball games, giving scores, statistics, and eventually a complete wrap-up of the game without missing a word. Yet the same individual speaks about Bible subjects with little or no confidence at all. Why? The obvious answer is that the person knows the subject matter in one area, but not the other. Men who know their lesson usually have little difficulty delivering it. When someone hum haws around, stops and starts dozens of times, you can know for sure they have not adequately studied. The Scriptures are replete with passages that teach the necessity learning the will of the Lord. In 2 Timothy 2:15 the writer admonishes us to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Again in I Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” Abraham Lincoln said one time, “I believe I shall never be old enough to speak without embarrassment when I have nothing to say.” Daniel Webster declared, “I had rather stand before an audience half clothed than half prepared.” Perhaps the secret to successful teaching was best captured by Alexander Hamilton when he said, “Men give me some credit for genius. All the genius I have lies in this: When I have a subject in hand, I study it profoundly. Day and night it is before me. I explore it in all its bearings. My mind becomes pervaded with it. Then the efforts that I make are what people are pleased to call the fruits of genius. It is the fruit of labor and thought.” Remember before you take the audience’s time, you should earn the right by study and work that will allow you to give them something in return for their time. The bottom line is prepare, prepare, prepare.
Teaching with confidence also expresses itself in an enthusiastic delivery. The successful speaker must put himself into his sermon. Nothing is more discouraging than listening to someone who acts as if they have little feeling for what they are saying. Often this problem is magnified when the speaker reads his lesson word for word, sometimes halting and hesitating as he drones along. There is nothing wrong with a speaker referring to a commentary, Bible encyclopedia or dictionary. However to read endlessly from such is neither wise nor beneficial. When a speaker is so tied to his notes that he can seldom look at the audience, it won’t be long until he loses them altogether. The more pleasant, animated and excited one is about his lesson, the greater the possibility that those listening will be taught and encouraged by what they hear. Abraham Lincoln also said, “I don’t like to hear a cut and dried sermon. When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees.”
The individual who teaches with confidence possesses the ability to communicate ideas easily and effectively. The purpose of preaching, in part, is to provide the audience with the necessary information so that they can make wise and correct choices about their manner of life. Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:12, “1 charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” If the speaker fails to impart knowledge, or inspire change, he has failed. The late Senator Sam Ervin, from North Carolina, after listening to a speaker talk on and on without saying anything, said, “The official reminds me of a husband I knew back home who notified his lawyer that he wanted a divorce from his wife, even though he admitted that she was a beautiful woman, a good cook, and a good mother. Why then do you want a divorce, the lawyer asked? Because she talks all the time the husband responded. What does she talk about asked the lawyer? That’s the trouble the husband replied, she never says.” If people fail to get the point, it may be because we didn’t make one. Closely associated with this idea is the principle that preaching is designed to change the behavior of people. When we fail to reach sinners with our sermons and bring them to repentance, we have not accomplished our goal. If we don’t encourage the church member to greater and more dedicated service, we have failed in our preaching. People must see the point, grasp the thought, and get the lesson for any good to be accomplished.
Use Time Wisely
Speaking with confidence is greatly enhanced by making wise use of the time at hand. As someone has said, “One cannot see Paris in a day or the American Museum of Natural History in thirty minutes.” By the same token a speaker should never bite off more than he can chew. In teaching the Bible, we should take only the part to which we can do justice. I once heard of a speaker who had three minutes to speak. He announced he would cover eleven points. That would amount to about 16 seconds per point. One can easily see the futility of such a venture. On the other end of the spectrum is the speaker who speaks forever about nothing, and in the process totally wears out the audience. The old adage that says “the mind can absorb only what the seat can endure” is actually very true. Watch your time. Be sure you have enough to cover the subject, but don’t use so much that you lose the audience. Many a sermon would have been considered outstanding had the preacher stopped a little sooner than later.
Published in The Old Paths Advocate, January 2005