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Tarzan, Billy Graham, and Love

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According to Billy’s father, Billy’s Tarzan impersonations led Billy to become a minister. When Billy Graham was a youngster in Charlotte, North Carolina, he loved reading novels for boys, especially Tarzan. So, Billy would often be found as a young boy, hanging from trees and bellowing out that oh so familiar Tarzan yell so that he could scare horses and drivers.

Graham was almost expelled from Bob Jones College in Cleveland, Tennessee. Bob Jones, Sr., told Graham that his voice “pulls.” And, “God can use a voice like yours. He can use it mightily.” Eventually, Graham would speak to an audience in Seoul, South Korea, of 1 million people. It is estimated that 2.2 billion people have heard Billy Graham speak.

All who’ve viewed Billy Graham on television, often preaching to thousands or tens of thousands, can recall that voice. That voice was full of power and conviction, especially when the words “God loves you!” came pouring out like a proud father, broken down from agonizing over his rebellious son. There’s no question that generations have associated the sound of Billy Graham’s voice with what they would imagine to be the sound of God’s voice.

Whether or not Graham’s theology aligns with ours, it is fair to say that Graham had gifted voice. What he did with that voice was up to him. He was offered 1 million dollars to appear on television opposite Arthur Godfrey. Billy turned it down to continue his missions in major cities which often lasted several weeks. What an incredible decision he made so that many throughout the world, sometimes sitting in trees or standing in streets would hear those bellowing words “God loves you!”

The apostle Paul is the one who wrote what so many today call the “love chapter.” 1 Corinthians 13 is most often heard in wedding ceremonies and the topic of love is especially appropriate for those uniting themselves in marriage. However, when Paul spoke of love in this familiar chapter, he was speaking not to a couple about to tie the knot but to a puffed up and cocky group of Christians. Apparently, love (agape) for fellow Christians was not as much a priority as was a unique voice.

Many believers in Corinth had been given a gift of unique speech. Many were able to speak in languages and dialects unknown to locals. So prized was this gift of speech that the gift of a new way of life in the King, and the gift of a new family in the King, both took a back seat. This meant that love took a back seat. Knowing, although a gift from God, became an occasion for not knowing God. If anyone wanted to claim that they knew something special and unique, then they needed to recognize that the gift of speech could be something that pulls, something that “God could use mightily.”

The love chapter is important not simply because love is needed, but because love and loving others are the real indicators that we know God and that God knows us. Abraham Joshua Herschel is quoted as saying “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.” It should come as no surprise then that Paul would use the metaphors child and man in his love chapter. The believers in Corinth were acting like children with their unique gift of speech. With their voices, they were scaring others off, distancing others, separating the “best” from the rest. They were like children in their understanding of God, bellowing out like a young Tarzan. Paul wants them to use their unique gift as it was intended, to edify one another, embrace one another, and unite one another. Then they will become like an adult, mature in their understanding of God. Others will begin to hear a different voice, one that bellows out like a father agonizing over a rebellious son, saying “I love you!”

In a similar way, we all have a unique gift from God. We all have a voice, and it’s up to us how we use it. This voice we have “pulls” and “God can use it mightily.”

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