In a message by Paul Sheppard, an interesting “topoi” is exhibited. Without going through an extensive discussion as to the nature of “topoi,” let me briefly define this classical rhetorical concept with the following bullet points. Topoi . . . .
- are generally held beliefs, opinions, or tenets of culture, society, or a subculture (i.e. — Christian thought).
- are argued from, not for (since they are already assumed by culture
- are “leaned upon” by a speaker
- may be stated and/or restated using different words
- can be supported if disputed
(link to previous articles which can further explain this classical concept)
Let’s lay out the portion of the message where the “topos” shows up and then flesh out these five elements.
You don’t get to be promoted – until you pass the entry level exams well.
God doesn’t let you scoot into prominence.
He’ll make you crawl there.
He’ll make you humble yourself there.
And let me tell you — Everyone of you – God has some wonderful plans for your life.
But you’re not jumping from where you are — to wonderful.
There is a process.
Again . . . .
( audio clip — Paul Sheppard, “Developing Discipline” @ 14:45 minute mark of original message)
God’s got time.
He does nothing good in a hurry.
No sudden success.
You will not go to bed a blunder and wake up a wonder.
No sudden success in the kingdom.
You reap what you sow.
- The belief, opinion or generally held tenet of Christian culture is that people are where they are in life over the process of time, that people don’t just “pop” into prominence in God’s plans and program. That could be and is illustrated by Joseph’s life. The Lord works over a span of time to develop and prepare His people for the task ahead.*
- Sheppard is not arguing for this belief. He is arguing from it. He is not establishing that truth by going to various passages to support or illustrate it. Rather, he is assuming the truth and assuming that his audience also believes that to be true. Nowhere is Sheppard going to a passage which relates to Joseph, or to any biblical passage, to support this belief or truth.
- In developing his point, Sheppard is “leaning upon” this truth as he speaks of Joseph’s life (and his experience) AND as he states that to be what the audience will also experience.**
- Sheppard states and restates the “topos,” using different words — “scoot you into prominence” — “you’re not jumping” — “There is a process” — “blunder to wonder” — “sudden success” — “reap what you sow.”
- If it was an interactive situation, someone could say, “Is it typically the case or is it always true that God works in our lives, preparing us for this-or-that time or event in life? ” Then, Sheppard would be called upon to support that “topos” which he has been stating and assuming.
The assertions Sheppard makes are . . . .
“God doesn’t let you scoot into prominence.”
“He’ll make you crawl there.”
“He’ll make you humble yourself there.”
“You’re not jumping from where you are — to wonderful.”
“You don’t go from blunder to wonder.”
“[There is] No sudden success in the kingdom.”
Note, that these are not the “topos,” but they all “lean upon” or assume the topos.
The topos, which is generally held by both secular culture and/or the Christian culture, could be stated a number of ways** . . . .
There is a process in life.
Life is a process.
“Life is a journey, not a destination.”
God works with people over time.
With God, there is a process — all things work and work together.
Life is like a tapestry!
God equips and prepares His people.
If the “topos” was not stated (Sheppard did not have to state the actual topos and could have just made the various assertions), and if you wanted to identify the topos, just ask a question after any of the assertions . . . .
“God doesn’t let you scoot into prominence” — Says who? and/or Why not?
“You don’t go from blunder to wonder” — Says who? and/or Why not?
The Rhetorical Technique Applied
Now, you can apply this “topos” in many other messages and/or with various and widely different passages.
You could preach a message from Acts 27 — Paul facing and/or after a shipwreck. The passage does not argue for the topos — “there is a process” — but you can argue from it.
“Paul has been prepared for this event. He had no idea that one day he would be aboard a ship which would require his leadership, intervention, and spiritual sensitivities, but the Lord was working in his life for this day. Just think back to all that Paul has experienced and gone through which was part of the process God used for this day! From the days of . . . . “
Or you can expand and develop the content of a grammatical passage. Again, the passage does not argue for the topos — “there is a process” — but you can argue from it.
“Hebrews 13:5 states, Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” As you hear those words as a new believer, you may well see this as beyond your abilities, but with God — the Christian life is a process. He not only exhorts us as to where He wants us to be, but He places on a road of experiences, spiritual growth, and increasing knowledge so that we can arrive there — The Christian life is a process!”
Or you can expand and develop the content of a Psalm. Again, the passage does not argue for the topos — “there is a process” — but you can argue from it.
“In the Psalms, David reveals how often he was tempted to give up. However, remember that giving up does not change the process which God has and uses to move in our lives. Quitting won’t shorten the process. Over and over David got back on his feet and the process of becoming what God had for him continued in his life.”
* A Corollary: If we fail at what the Lord has given us to do in our lives, it is not because He has not worked in our lives and prepared us for the task. It is because we have not allowed the lessons and tasks to do their perfecting work.
** The topos may be typically heard or stated in secular culture, or in the Christian community like this . . . .
- Everyone pays their dues.
- Your time will come.
- It all takes time and experience to hone our skills.
- If God has called upon you to do this-or-that, He will give you the tools to accomplish it.
- In everything, there is a season.
- In the fullness of time. . . .
- “After this . . . .”
Note: Paul Sheppard makes other statements in this message which also “lean on” this topos.
“On your way to destiny — don’t cheat — prove you are ready for more.”
“He’s positioning you.”