In many local churches today the preaching mainly emphasizes what’s positive, encouraging and inspiring. Heart-warming messages are the order of the day. Helping people deal with their felt needs is part of the regular Sunday diet. And enticing seekers to come and hear next week’s message is a big objective.
When uplifting messages are the mainstay of preaching; conviction, rebuke or correction are eliminated or downplayed. When rebuke or correction are absent from sermons, preachers have strayed from God’s command to challenge, warn or tell people they’re not living in obedience to God’s Word
Consider this instruction: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus … I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” 2 Timothy 4:1-4 (NIV).
Note the phrase “I give you this charge.” The Greek word for “charge” is diamarturomai. It was used when an official called on someone entering public office to work responsibly and seriously. Paul’s use of the word reminds us that God is watching what we do and listening to what we say. It also indicates that when we’re told to “preach the word,” it’s command language. It’s not optional. Every preacher, in favourable and unfavourable conditions, whether it’s convenient or inconvenient, whether it’s received or rejected, must show people in what ways their lives are wrong (cf. the Amplified Bible).
There are numerous preachers who are ignorant concerning God’s “charge.” Their ignorance is evident through how they limit their preaching to selected texts and specific themes. It’s a wretched state of affairs. Many preachers “have forsaken the right way and gone astray … they speak great swelling words of emptiness” 2 Peter 2:15,18 (NKJV).
Hollow words are commonplace. Critically review the content of the average sermon today and it’s evident that serious teaching is sadly lacking. Most preaching is light and fluffy – designed for consumers wired for the quick and easy. Where are the preachers with a backbone? Where are the modern-day Isaiah’s intensely proclaiming woe and judgement? Where are today’s Jonah’s preaching against wickedness? (cf. Jonah 1:2). Who, like Paul, are commanding people to repent (cf. Acts 17:30). While evil increasingly abounds, the courage to confront and expose depravity is unusual.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” Isaiah 5:20 (NIV). Are the prophet’s words true for today? I think they are. Some congregations never hear a message about Hell. Yet Jesus spoke about Hell more than He spoke about Heaven!
Preachers, are you proclaiming sin and judgement? Are you teaching people to fear God and live holy lives? If not, by omission you’re a false teacher enticing people to follow a fictitious Jesus.
Not speaking about negative things is an unspoken rule in some local churches and denominations. Yet all of God’s Word must be preached – even the parts of the Bible that are offensive to society at large.
Tragically, as the voices of the LGBTQ+ community grow louder, the voices of some preachers grow quieter. Why is the pulpit silent on matters of purity? The Bible isn’t ambiguous concerning homosexuality. Romans 1:18-32 clearly condemns perversion and warns of God’s wrath as a penalty for everyone who exchanges natural relations for unnatural ones.
The sexual confusion, abuse and defilement we see around us today may be due in part to preachers not preaching the Word. Are preachers scared? Do they feel intimidated by popular culture? Why are most preachers virtually inaudible on sexual purity despite the fact that pornography and lust are epidemics?
Preachers, preach the Word. It should be anathema to feed people spiritual junk food and catchy ideas that tickle their ears (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3-4). But that’s what’s happening.
Renewal and restoration is desperately needed. Up until the mid 20th Century most Evangelical preachers confidently confronted and exposed sin. Holiness went hand in hand with being a Christian. And luke-warm Christians were uncomfortable because messages were firm and convicting.
Nowadays people are rarely pierced by the preacher’s message. At the conclusion of a service, they smile and say, “Thank you for the message Pastor” or “I enjoyed the sermon” or “I’m looking forward to what you’re going to say next week.”
I know when I’ve preached the Word. It’s when someone says, “I felt convicted” or “You made me feel uncomfortable,” or “Your message was negative!”
A woman recently approached me after a service and said, “May I make a comment?” Of course,” I replied. “I notice your message didn’t use inclusive language,” she said. “What do you mean?” I asked. With some intensity, she continued, “Well you spoke about men and women in a way that made no provision for other sexual identities and relationships. Everyone is part of God’s family and their sexuality should be embraced and accepted.” After a brief pause, I said, “Thank you for sharing your opinion. I appreciate you taking the time to speak to me. But the Bible clearly teaches us that there are only two genders – male and female.” The discussion continued for another five minutes, and then her parting shot, “You’re wrong. You should be more sensitive and understanding …”
That’s what happens when we preach the Word. People can and will take offence. In fact to those who are perishing “we are the smell of death” 2 Corinthians 2:15 (NIV). I didn’t know that being “the smell of death” was part of the job description when I started preaching. But it will be if we’re faithfully preaching the whole canon of Scripture!
Another thing I didn’t know when I started preaching is that two of the three commands in 2 Timothy 4:2 concerning preaching, are negative. Timothy was exhorted to elegcho (convict, prove wrong and thus shame a person) and to epitimao (charge, rebuke). In other words, preachers must major on corrective preaching, and as they do they should temper it with parakaleo (encourage and comfort).
Sugar-coated preaching is dangerous. As someone once said, “It is better to speak the truth that hurts and then heals, than falsehood that comforts and then kills.”
So live up to God’s charge to boldly correct, rebuke and encourage people to abstain from sinful desires and live righteously. Because when we don’t preach the Word (all of the Word) the outcome is want and spiritual poverty (cf. Proverbs 11:24).
© Scripture Union Canada 2019