“It’s Not What He Said, It’s How He Said It”

Jon McCormack

It is a regular occurrence for a preacher to receive feedback from the sermons he preaches. Often the comments are very encouraging. It’s always nice to hear when brethren appreciate hearing the Truth. At other times the comments can be disappointing. Consider one such event in this preacher’s life.

About fifteen years ago I was preaching a sermon on what our Lord teaches concerning marriage, divorce and remarriage. After the sermon one of the brethren rushed to me and asked to see me in a back classroom. He began to chastise me for the lesson I had brought. My first reaction was to ask him what I had said that was un-Biblical. He replied, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” He began to emotionally describe how his son was visiting that morning and happened to be in an adulterous relationship. I then asked him, sincerely, how I should have preached this topic. He responded by informing me that I should not have preached the sermon at all because God will forgive adulterers without them having to separate from their current partners.

Proponents of the phrase, “It’s not what he said…” usually have the same mindset as the aforementioned brother. In reality it is what the preacher says that is despised. Take for example this very situation. To many, the words of our Lord in Matthew 19 are too harsh no matter how they are spoken. It’s the doctrine that individuals have a problem with, not the method of delivery.

This attitude reminds me of the words spoken by Ahab in First Kings 22. In that chapter Ahab wants Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, to join forces with Israel to overtake Syria. Wisely, Jehoshaphat asks that they first inquire of the Lord. The king of Judah asks this important question, “Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might inquire of him” (1 Kings 22:7)? At this request Ahab states, “There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the Lord: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil” (1 Kings 22:8).

Sometimes people hate hearing the truth. Was it the way that Micaiah spoke that ruined him as a preacher for Ahab? Certainly not! It was the message he preached that Ahab hated.

Let’s not mistake boldness in preaching for meanness. Jesus, John the Baptizer, Paul and Peter were all bold in their preaching. Many hated each of these preachers. Was it the tone of voice that Jesus used that caused His death? Was it the rhetoric employed by John that caused him to lose his head? No, it was his courage and boldness to tell a man that it was not lawful for him to have his brother’s wife. There is no doubt that a preacher should be kind, caring, longsuffering, but also full of bold conviction for the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). These characteristics are not mutually exclusive. Consider this next time a sermon angers you. What are you really angry with, the man or the message?

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Author: Editor

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