The fumble -- accompanied by audible gasps -- came moments after Elliff told students that a wealthy doctor had donated more than 2,000 uncut diamonds to the IMB to fund mission work.
When he spilled more "diamonds" a second time, Elliff admitted they were not, indeed, real diamonds but plastic replicas he had bought at a crafts store. The story about the diamond donor, he said, was to underscore the value of time.
"Every day God has given you is worth more than a diamond," Elliff said at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus. "And God is going to hold you and me accountable for the way we use every one of these days He entrusts to us."
Elliff, in preaching on the use of time, cited Psalm 90 which records Moses' plea to God to "teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."
"Time is a resource that God places into your hands," Elliff said. "And like every other resource that God places in your hands, He expects -- especially of His children -- that you be a good steward of it. One of these days, you will answer to God for the way in which you have spent this time."
Because of the fall of man, Elliff noted, even time has been corrupted.
"Time, unless we have other redemptive plans for it, is not going to just naturally run to the good; it's going to naturally run to the evil," he said.
"We're to redeem the time. We're to have better plans for our time than the devil. By the way, the devil has plenty of plans for your time, and he has already mounted a multi-billion-dollar program to capture your time and use it for evil purposes. But you have to buy it back; you have to make better plans for it; you have to redeem it.
"I confess to you that I am speaking on this subject because I wish someone had spoken to my heart about it when I was seated right where you are," said Elliff, who earned a master of divinity degree at Southwestern in 1971.
Connecting his message to the urgency of missions, Elliff pled with the students to maximize their time in seminary. He corrected the common error of those who feel theological training would waste time when, otherwise, they could be on the mission field.
Elliff also spoke of the hundreds of thousands of people on the earth who die every day. He encouraged students to get their training now but to continue to share the Gospel as they do.
"Why not just share it on the way home at the filling station or the grocery store?" Elliff asked. "If you're not going to do it there, you're not going to do it 7,000 miles from here.
"Every person you see has eternity in their heart," Elliff said.
Audio and video of Elliff's Oct. 9 message can be accessed at www.swbts.edu/chapelarchives.
Keith Collier is director of news and information at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (www.swbts.edu/campusnews).
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net