I have recently read two stories regarding preachers and preaching. The first tells the story of a preacher in Kentucky who wanted to make his first sermon to be memorable, so he preached a fiery denunciation of horse racing. After the sermon one of the deacons called him aside and reminded him that he was now living in a neighborhood noted for fine horses, and that many of his members enjoyed the races. The preacher took the hint, and the next Sunday thundered and stomped against tobacco, whereupon the same deacon reminded him that the weed was a major item in the region’s economy, and that part of his salary would come from the tobacco growers. The following Sunday, the preacher took out after whiskey, and again stirred the deacon to remind him that the church building was in the shadow of distilleries: in fact, some of the church members worked at the distilleries. Frustrated by this time, the young preacher asked the deacon, “What can I preach on?” The deacon replied, “Why not preach against heathen witch doctors? There isn’t one of them in a thousand miles of here.”
The second tells of a well-known preacher who was asked why he never addressed any of the issues of the day. There was nothing in his preaching which dealt specifically with sin. He filled his messages with love and steered clear of such topics as divorce, drinking alcoholic beverages, abortion, homosexuality, greed, and gossip. He defended his silence on the issues saying he wanted to be like Jesus and not be negative, wishing to be remembered for what he was for rather than what he was against.
The first story seems humorous but what it talks about is very serious. Should a preacher limit his preaching in order that he might not offend his hearers? The second preacher needs to study the teaching of Jesus Christ. While Jesus was often positive in His preaching, there were times when He was positively negative. Yes, Jesus taught love, mercy, and forgiveness and so should we. However, Jesus, when necessary, criticized hypocrisy, condemned sin, and demanded repentance. When Jesus criticized the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, He did not mince His words (Matthew 23). He very forcibly and plainly spoke about sin and authoritatively about repentance. We are called upon to imitate Him and follow His example (1 Peter 2:21). This means that in our teaching and preaching we will not only talk about positive things (love, mercy, and forgiveness) but also about those matters that we might consider negative.
Sadly, there are preachers like the one illustrated in the second story who do not want to “rock the boat” by preaching anything that might be considered negative. However, there are also brethren who do not want the whole truth taught because it would hit on their “pet sins” that they desire to engage in. Thus, some would seek to stop the mouths of preachers who would preach the whole-counsel of God as they desire only “smooth things.”
Brethren, let us never succumb to preaching and teaching only that which is pleasing to the hearers, but preach the whole counsel of God. We need to follow the example of the apostles who were told to stop preaching Christ by the leaders of the Jews. Their response was, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). May we always preach the whole counsel of God without fear or favor.