Between the message and the messenger, which is more important? It goes without saying that the message is more important because it is the message that makes the messenger important and powerful. If there is no message, then the messenger will be meaningless. However, let us not be so quick to jump to conclusions. Instead, let us dig a little deeper to discover something interesting.
Amos received God’s message for Israel in a ‘vision’ while he was among the shepherds of Tekoa then he declared that message like a roaring lion (1:2). Prejudice is not just a modern phenomenon. Ancient people also had it based on racial, educational, and socio-economic background. Amos was a man from the southern kingdom of Judah but God called him to proclaim His message in the northern kingdom of Israel. If that is so, you can easily imagine how much the northern people of Israel resisted Amos’ proclamation of God’s word.
Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, perhaps the most prominent religious leader of the northern kingdom of Israel, warned Amos, “O seer, go, flee to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom” (7:12-13). Amaziah never acknowledged Amos as a colleague or a minister. “You are a clown from a country village of Judah. How dare you preach in Samaria, the capital of Empire! Return to your home town and support yourself through preaching (“eat bread there and prophesy there”). After all, are you not preaching for money?”
As an Argentinian, Luis Palau likely endured similar prejudice in the early days of his ministry in America. At Luis’ memorial service, the chairman of LPA’s Board of Directors reflected on how he became a part of Luis’ ministry. When he attended an evangelistic rally in Chicago years ago, he was disappointed to hear that the speaker was an evangelist from Argentine. His disappointment, however, soon turned to excitement as Luis powerfully proclaimed God’s message. Luis persisted through any obstacle. Luis made a powerful remark about temptation in the Connect PDX Conference in 2019, “We often talk about temptations coming from power, sex, and money. But there is one more temptation we should never succumb to. The temptation to give up. Fellow evangelists, never give up.”
Amos responded to Amaziah “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now therefore hear the word of the Lord” (7:14-16a). The authority of Luis’ preaching neither laid on his racial- nor his educational background. The authority of Luis’ ministry came from God’s call. Coming from Argentine did not matter to Luis. Luis fearlessly proclaimed the gospel because the word of God came upon him.
Be careful, though. The fact God called you will not automatically make you a powerful preacher without a price to pay on your part. As Moses spoke to God about his own inadequacy as God’s spokesperson, God said, “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exod. 4:12). This doesn’t mean that Moses simply waited for God’s word to be automatically uploaded to his lips for speaking. God truly ‘teaches’ His words to His messenger. Nevertheless, unless the messenger does not make an intentional effort to ‘learn’ what the Lord is teaching him or her, God’s word will not go out of the messenger’s lips like a round of ammunition fired from an automatic machine gun. The only bullets that will be fired automatically are void words without any nugget of truth.
I heard Pat Palau say that out of her half of a century-long married life to Luis, Luis traveled 17 years away from home for preaching. In other words, Luis was constantly on the road for the cause of the gospel. The weariness of travel, however, did not keep him from the discipline of daily study. If it were not for his discipline of daily study, none of his books, radio and television programs would have existed. If they did, he would not have become such a powerful spokesperson for God for our generation because his messages were bound to be shallow. An evangelist’s message will become only powerful in proportion with the amount of time he or she spent in his or her study praying, researching, reading, writing, etc. If that is so, which is more important – the message or the messenger? Apart from a message, the messenger bears no meaning. Yet, depending on the quality of the messenger, the message can be either magnified or buried. The biblical messages are already given and fixed, but the age in which these messages are proclaimed will constantly change. If a messenger lacks the insight to read the time in which he or she lives, the messenger will fail to clearly expose the word of God to the people of his time. In fact, so many people are reluctant to receive God’s message because they are sick and tired of the messenger. Is it the message or the messenger? Theoretically speaking, the message is more important than its messenger. In reality, however, the message will not be understood and received apart from the messenger’s ability to communicate the message in the most powerful way. Pastors often ask me, a seminary professor, for the best Bible study material or the best discipleship training material. As I give my recommendation I think to myself, “Using that study material will not develop your church people as disciples because without developing the messenger first, using the right study material will not accomplish anything.”