Many a faithful Gospel preacher has been chided for being “too negative” in his preaching. True, a preacher can certainly be overly negative, robbing Christians of the joy which is rightfully theirs by blasting the congregation from the pulpit every Lord’s Day, condemning them for sins of which they are not guilty, and omitting the preaching of the encouragement offered in the Bible. Positive preaching is an essential part of preaching. However, it is not the entirety of preaching—it is only part. Negative preaching is also essential, including that which God has commanded man not to do and God’s warnings to man. When the Lord gave His commission to Jeremiah as a prophet, He told him, “Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant” (Jer. 1:9-10). Jeremiah had the authority to preach God’s word, by which he would strive to accomplish six things:
He would root out (“pluck up” American Standard Version).
He would pull down (“break down”ASV).
He would destroy.
He would throw down (“overthrow” ASV).
He would build.
He would plant.
Notice that the first four objectives of Jeremiah’s preaching were negative, while only the last two were positive—the negative was twice the positive. Having a certain balance of positive to negative preaching is a concept extended into the New Testament. Paul commanded the younger evangelist Timothy, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). Again, there is seen twice the negative (reprove, rebuke) to the positive (exhort). It is often said that a car battery needs both a positive and negative post, otherwise the car will never start. If the church has no negative preaching, it will not work as it should, yet “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
Before we can “build” and “plant” we must root out, pull down, destroy, and throw down all things contrary to God’s will in order to leave the pure foundation of Christ upon which to build (1 Cor. 3:10-11).
The Lord has reasons for demanding negative preaching. Warning is a foremost component of preaching: “I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me” (Ezekiel 3:17). Paul told the elders of the Ephesian church, “I am pure (or ‘innocent’) from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God…watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:26-27, 31). If Paul omitted the negative portions of God’s word, he would have been guilty of their blood. He also ceased not to warn (preach negatively to) everyone night and day for well over two years. One may be sinning and not aware of it; yet he is still accountable to God for his sin (Ezek. 3:18). Some may simply need reminders of what sin is, that they can avoid it and help others avoid it. Even the righteous need to be warned (Ezek. 3:21).
Man can only be saved through the Gospel (Rom. 1:16) and the Gospel, though a message of “good news,” is fraught with negative warnings as well. This is because God desires that all be saved, and, if unwarned, man will run the way of sin and none will be saved. Biblical negative preaching is saving preaching. Christians should appreciate Biblical negative preaching—if they hear it and heed it, the results will be positive.