Who proclaimed truth more than any other person on the planet? Who offended people, divided crowds, made people uptight, and enraged the masses more than any other person on the planet? The answer to both these questions is the same: Jesus Christ.
Not only did Jesus cause trouble wherever he went, but so too did his disciples. Whenever they opened their mouths to proclaim the truth of the gospel, they seemed to get into trouble. Indeed, it seems like half the time the disciples preached, a riot broke out.
The idea that everyone loved Jesus and what he had to say is not something one can get from reading the four gospel accounts. His words always produced a strong reaction, and he always caused division. The same with the disciples. The message they proclaimed always provoked people, irritated people, challenged people, and offended people.
What is good for Jesus and the disciples should be good enough for us. Thus if our aim in life is to offend no one and to have everyone like us, then chances are good we are not real disciples of Jesus. Of course I realise that if you want to fill churches and keep the money pouring in, then the way to go is to preach a man-centred and man-pleasing message.
That works every time, and the biggest church in America today does exactly that. It tells people just what they want to hear, but not what they need to hear. No wonder it is such a megachurch. Men pleasing will always bring in the crowds and the moolah.
Telling the truth however will always alienate people, always upset people, and always offend people. How can this not be the response? When we preach the gospel that Jesus and the disciples preached, we should expect to get the same reaction that Jesus and the disciples got.
Jesus was crucified for his efforts, and the disciples were persecuted, jailed and killed. How can we expect to get any less of a reception if we faithfully and fully proclaim the biblical gospel fearlessly and boldly as Jesus and his early followers did?
Simply read again the gospels and the book of Acts. These guys were a radical bunch! They were not playing games. They were not out there trying to please people. They were not worried about weekly attendance figures or the weekly offerings.
They were interested in only one thing: boldly proclaiming the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If as a result they got beaten up, or chucked into prison, or stoned, or thrown out of town, or whatever, it mattered not. Indeed, they were proud to suffer for the sake of Jesus and the gospel.
Simply read what Paul boasts about for example. Does he boast in how big his churches are? Does he boast in how much money he is bringing in? Does he boast in all the TV shows and conferences he is involved in? Nope, not in the least.
In 2 Corinthians 11:16-23 for example he tells us about the stuff he proudly and unambiguously boasts in: his sufferings for the sake of the gospel. In verse 18 he says this: “Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast.” This is what he then says in vv. 23-30:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
He was proud about how often he was rejected, persecuted and hated – for Christ’s sake. That should be our attitude as well. If we only get the praise of men when we preach, then maybe we are doing something wrong. If we only get applause and approval, then perhaps we are not preaching the way Jesus and the disciples preached.
Don’t get me wrong here: it is nice to be accepted and endorsed – if we are being faithful to the gospel. And we of course are not to go out of our way looking for trouble, trying to deliberately be offensive, or be lousy and annoying ambassadors of the gospel.
We can be rejected because we are obnoxious, or unChristlike, or proud. People can be offended at us because we are offensive. But I am talking here about being true to the gospel, as we proclaim it by his grace, with his Spirit, and in his way. Even then people will take offence.
As a brief example, I spoke at a men’s breakfast this morning at another church. I spoke a strong word to around 40 guys who received it well. But one guy walked out on me halfway through. I later joked to someone that I would be offended if no one walked out! I was later told he was a pastor of a liberal church, so I guess that explains why he was not too impressed with me.
Having some negative reactions will regrettably always be a mark of true gospel proclamation. All the great men of God who proclaimed God’s truth in God’s way got some negative responses. That is just how it goes I am afraid. And that is the kind of preaching I will always prefer listening to.
I will take one A. W. Tozer or one Leonard Ravenhill over a hundred marshmallow weenies found in so many of our pulpits any day of the week. They had the courage, the commitment, and the Holy Ghost firepower to speak truth and not give a rip about the negative feedback.
They were not men pleasers but God pleasers. They put the fear of God way up on their priority list, while rejecting altogether the fear of man. I love their work, and I love sharing what they said. In this regard, they each said something I have shared many times before, but is worth repeating here as I close:
“I have preached myself off of every Bible Conference platform in the country!” A. W. Tozer
“Finney preached and sometimes the whole congregation would get up and leave! That’s good preaching.” Leonard Ravenhill