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Don't Preach That

In some ways, preachers and their preaching are not what they used to be.  Whereas preachers were once strong, bold, and even confrontational when necessary, now preachers are often ambiguous, restrained, and evasive of controversy at all costs.  Whereas gospel preaching was once clear and distinct, now preaching is often compromised and vague.  Too often preachers are shrinking from declaring the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27) in favor of cute anecdotes, humor, emotional stories, and irrelevant blather such as one would read in a newspaper advice column.  As a result, churches and Christians now are not what they used to be.

Perhaps the reason for this change in preachers and preaching is that listeners have demanded it.  The world has changed, and many people are no longer tolerant of a challenging gospel message that calls upon them to give up their selfish pleasures, make sacrifices, and live by God’s rules.  Therefore, they have accumulated to themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires and turned away from the truth (2Tim. 4:3-4).  Like the old song says, they demand a message that will “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and latch on to the affirmative.”  Because of this, preachers are compelled to compromise the gospel message in order to meet expectations.

What we need to ask ourselves as preachers and listeners is this: Since when do we get to choose the content of God’s message?  Whether positive, negative, or neutral, God’s word is finished, complete, sealed, and unchangeable (Ps. 119:89).  It has never been man’s prerogative to add to it or take away from it (Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18-19).  Why now do some preachers determine not to preach certain parts of God’s message or some listeners refuse to hear the whole counsel of God?

Imagine if the Lord was here today conducting His ministry and His listeners were demanding that He avoid certain “negative” subjects.  They might say, “Don’t give us that hellfire and brimstone preaching” in hopes of eliminating all of the Lord’s unpleasant warnings about hell (Matt. 5:29-30; 25:31-46; Mark 9:42-50).  Of course, this would not change the truth about hell, but rather it would just render them ignorant of it.  They might also say, “Don’t preach on sin and repentance” because it is not nice to make people feel that they are condemned.  Of course, this would not save them from condemnation, but rather it would leave them ignorant of their true spiritual condition (Matt. 23:1-36; Luke 13:1-9; John 8:11).  They might even say, “Don’t preach about divorce and remarriage, traditions of men, the narrow way for salvation, or any other subject that might make us uncomfortable.”  Of course, this would leave them ignorant of the truth about divorce and remarriage (Matt. 5:31-32; 19:1-9; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18), traditions (Matt. 15:1-9), salvation (Matt. 7:13-14; John 14:6), and many other subjects, but at least they would feel positive about themselves.

Actually, this is not a scenario that we have to imagine, for it is essentially the same situation that the Lord faced when He was here.  His teachings were opposed by the established Jewish leadership, and this led to His persecution and eventual crucifixion.  Even His disciples were sensitive to the boldness of His teachings.  Once when Jesus condemned the traditions of the Pharisees, His disciples asked, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” (Matt. 15:12).  On another occasion when Jesus taught about divorce, His disciples said, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10).  At a time when Jesus described Himself as the bread of life, His disciples said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60).  None of these responses by His disciples persuaded the Lord to change His message at all.  His concern was for preaching the truth, and nothing would change that.

The Lord did not compromise His preaching to accommodate the sensitivities of His listeners, and neither should preachers today.  The gospel message is intended to pierce to the heart (Acts 2:37), and the word of God is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12).  If preachers take away that sharp piercing edge, then they render their preaching ineffective and powerless for salvation.  Not everyone will appreciate strong preaching.  In fact, many will be offended, made uncomfortable, or be otherwise repelled by the truth of the gospel.  However, some will be saved from the sins, and it is much better to offend many and save some than to offend none and lose all.  Therefore, every preacher must “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2Tim. 4:2) regardless of preferences of any listeners.

Stacey E. Durham