Over the last couple of days I’ve been reading the early chapters of Job as well as the latter chapters of 1 Kings, and I think I’ve got a word for preachers and teachers: it’s not enough to say the right thing; rather we must learn to say the right thing, in the right way, for the right reason (i.e., with the right application). Or to put it negatively, the right thing said or applied in the wrong way is always the wrong thing.
This train of thought sounds too familiar to be original with me, but it popped into my head as I was contemplating the early chapters of Job and a sentence I had written in the margin of my Bible: “Isn’t it amazing how a person can say so many things that are right, and yet be totally wrong.”
Let me show you what I mean. In Job 5:8-18, Eliphaz says to Job: “As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: he gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields; he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end. They meet with darkness in the daytime and grope at noonday as in the night. But he saves the needy from the sword of their mouth and from the hand of the mighty. So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth. Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal.”
Eliphaz says so many things that are right, but he says them with a haughty spirit and he draws completely erroneous conclusions about Job, and what is more, about God. In this way, he makes a mockery of truth, he further wounds his friend, and he besmirches the glory of God. Indeed, the right thing said or applied in the wrong way is always the wrong thing. It’s like multiplying by zero: no matter how great a number you start with, or how long a string of numbers you pile up, multiplying by zero nullifies them all.
But how are we to learn to say the right thing, in the right way, with the right application? This may sound simplistic, but in life at full-speed it’s not—we must learn to say only what God would have us say, in the way he would have us say it, and for the reasons he would have us say it. We must learn to have the same unflinching commitment to the Word of God as did the prophet Micaiah.
In 1 Kings 22, King Ahab was preparing to go up and take a little city called Ramoth-gilead. In preparation for the battle, he called in his prophets and asked them what they thought about his plans. To a man, they came back with the consensus that he should go up and take the city for, they said, the Lord would give it to him (v. 6). But Jehoshaphat, Ahab’s partner in battle, pressed him to find another prophet upon whom they could call. Apparently, Jehoshaphat was not impressed with ear-tickling prophets! Ahab gave a classic answer, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil” (v. 8). Translated meaning: “This one always tells me the truth, and I don’t like the truth!”
So they sent for Micaiah, and in the exchange between him and the man who went to get him we find the answer to our question: “And the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, ‘Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king. Let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.’ But Micaiah said, ‘As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak’” (vv. 13-14).
There it is, preacher: learn to wait on the Lord, listen carefully to His Word by his Spirit, and then speak ONLY what you hear him say. In this way, you will learn how to say the right thing, in the right way, for the right reason.
“I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another” (1 Cor. 4:6).