King Solomon wrote, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). I think of many fitting words I’ve heard over the years.
Ken gave me a Thompson Chain Reference Bible while I was a Samford student. In the day, it was the premier study Bible and I wanted one, and still use it. I demurred, telling him it was an expensive gift. He said, “Throughout your ministry people will want to give you things, so you need to learn to be gracious.”
I was making a brilliant economic point in my sermon, I’m sure, but LaFayette good-naturedly accosted me afterwards, “Don’t ever use welfare and Social Security in the same sentence again!”
Rhonda was our summer youth intern and was headed back to Tuscaloosa for school. On her last Sunday, I made some joke about Alabama (I’m an Auburn grad). Elton came by the next day. “I’ve seen people really get mad in church over this. You’re the leader of our church and you should know that what we do on Sunday is more important than football.” He was correct, and I’ve been more judicious.
At one of our final seminars in Louisville for my doctoral program, Dr. Frank Tupper said, “Men, after you get your degree, let your churches call you ‘doctor’ one time, then get over it!”
More encouraging that any of these is a word spoken by Paul in Romans, the greatest theological document ever written: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). This is a word to empower us when we face evil, and a word to encourage us when we get down.
The early church faced many obstacles including continuing persecution. But they clung tenaciously to their mission and refused to be deterred. They knew God was with them and they wanted to please him. “We ought to obey God rather than men,” Peter said (Acts 5:29).
About 100 years after Peter and Paul were martyred, Polycarp served as pastor of the Christian church in Smyrna in the Roman province of Asia Minor—the modern nation of Turkey. City officials arrested him on the charge of atheism, since he denied the existence of the pantheon of gods the people worshipped. “If you curse the name of Christ, we’ll set you free,” they promised.
Polycarp spoke a fitting word. “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he hath done me no wrong,” he said. “How then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”
Polycarp was burned at the stake in Smyrna. But he went into the presence of Christ with confidence. If God be for us, who can be against us?