In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul says this:
And when I came to you, brethren, … my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Cor 1:1-5)
I’ve been thinking about what it means to persuade people of the truth. From my point of view, you persuade someone by a) understanding the truth, b) understanding their point of view, and c) building a bridge that will get them from where they are to where they need to be.
But is building a bridge that will get them from where they are to where they need to be the same as getting them to rest their faith on their own wisdom? Perhaps you need to just skip the bridge and say, “This is the truth!” even though you know they’ll never buy it because, from their point of view, there isn’t any reason to.
Proverbs speaks favorably of persuading people:
The wise in heart will be called understanding, And sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. (Prov 16:21)
The heart of the wise instructs his mouth And adds persuasiveness to his lips.(Prov 16:23)
By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, And a soft tongue breaks the bone. (Prov 25:15)
The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable (Prov 15:2a)
Paul certainly persuaded people, too:
And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. (Acts 17:4)
And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:4)
And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. (Acts 19:8)
Agrippa replied to Paul, ” In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26:28-29)
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. (2 Cor 5:11)
How does all this work out? I’m still not sure.
I was wrestling with this verse earlier this week. It is tough for me when I am evaluating seminaries and they teach courses on “how to preach”. I do not know if I should spend more time working on the art of my delivery or the mastery of the text. Certainly being investing in a delivery of the sermon so I can relate it to people cannot be bad, and I do not wish to use this verse as an excuse to be lazy in preparation. However, I do struggle with the idea of how much rhetoric is too much. Is Paul suggesting maybe the emotional music during an altar call prayer and dramatic emphasis on hot topic issues is too much? Or is he simply saying the art of rhetoric will ultimately not persuade anyone to be a true Christian and live out their salvation, and that true genuine faith is found in the power of the Holy Spirit to convert and no man should take the credit for the Spirit’s work?