When I attended worship services in the fifties and sixties, 95% of sermons preached were negative. By that I mean that the preacher covered a myriad of things we could not do. To illustrate this point, they would say you can’t pitch a song with a pitch pipe, because that is a type of musical instrument, and we cannot use musical instruments in our worship services. You cannot attend movies, they are of the devil. (Note that movies in the fifties had no profane words, no sex or nudity, very little violence. There was not a system to rate movies, but if there had been one, 98% would be rated G.) Television was also condemned, even though we only had 3 black and white channels that were strictly censored. Preachers and teachers would not be allowed to use a slide projector as a teaching aid because it “was like showing a movie” during the worship service. This resulted in very few teaching aids being used to help illustrate the speaker’s points. The audience would have to sit and listen to preachers talk (many times for an hour or more). Young ladies’ dresses were immodest if they did not come well below their knees, and they could never wear slacks or pants (men’s clothing).Young men’s hair could not be long enough to touch the collar of their shirts. If their hair was “judged” too long they would not be asked to take a public part in the worship service.
I heard countless sermons on the subject of hell. The individual that preached for the congregation I attended would illustrate how long sinners would suffer in “burning fires of hell.” He would say if the earth was a solid piece of granite rock, and a bird would fly by and brush its wing against that rock once every hundred years, when the earth was reduced to a small stone because of the friction of the bird’s wing, eternity would just be beginning. Obviously, he would use this illustration to frighten everyone. I would wake up in the middle of the night worrying about being in hell, with no escape. When I was fifteen I decided to obey the gospel, not because I wanted to spend eternity with the Lord in Heaven, but because I wanted to escape eternal punishment in hell. I knew very little about heaven and God’s loving grace. I find it interesting that the preacher never mentioned eternity when describing how long we will be with the Lord and the beauties of heaven.
I now want to fast forward to present day. What are preachers now proclaiming from the pulpit? Many preachers today, in fact one that preached for our congregation, would never preach on negative subjects. Ninety five percent of many current preachers’ sermons now focus on God’s love and grace, the word “hell” is never mentioned, it is considered too negative. Very few, if any activities, are ever condemned. The beauty of heaven is often preached, which is not bad in itself. A concern with this preaching philosophy is that members, especially young people, never hear that they are going to be held accountable for their transgressions. Preachers defend their preaching style by saying negative preaching discourages and depresses people. They want them to be happy and upbeat no matter how they live.
Of the two preaching scenarios described above, which one is right and which one is wrong? Both are wrong. Let me explain. The answer lies in the scriptures. Luke wrote, in Acts 20:27, a statement Paul said: “ For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” This means preachers and teachers should balance their teaching. When parents successfully raise children sometimes they need to praise them (positive) when they do good things, and discipline them (negative) when they have misbehaved.
In the Bible there are over forty verses devoted to the topic of heaven, and over fifty dealing with the subject of hell, these subjects are balanced. It is quite apparent from this that God wants a balance between positive and negative topics (Heaven and Hell). The preachers and teachers in the fifties as well as the ones in the present day are not always balanced. It is easy to fail to do as Luke writes and declare the whole counsel of God. Today, preachers and teachers should follow the Apostle Paul’s example and not hesitate to proclaim the whole counsel of God.
Matthew 7:1 says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” It has become one of the most misused passages in my lifetime. How many times have you been involved in a religious discussion, read a passage, and then applied it, and the person on the receiving end states “that is your interpretation?” It is a most discouraging response, and usually ends any kind of dialogue.
Jesus encountered these situations throughout his ministry and should we not also expect to have to deal with the same objections. I’ll admit that sometimes we hold people to standards we cannot even maintain ourselves, and the hypocrisy is obvious to everyone but ourselves. It’s one thing to judge someone’s intent, as Jesus stated in the first part of Matthew 7, but Jesus also says in the same chapter, “thus you will know them by their fruits” (v. 20), referring to false teachers.
We should not be fearful or angry when answering objections to the truth. However, in patience and love, we can allow the Bible to answer their questions. The reason many preachers and Christians aren’t convincing people about salvation is not because of the lack of knowledge, but how we go about teaching people. If we speak down to people or come across arrogantly with our knowledge we’ll lose any hope in the conversion process.
In Matthew 23:23-24, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees saying, “Woe to you, scribes, and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” We’re wasting our time in teaching if our reputation is one of arrogance, lack of forgiveness, and impatience. Jesus followed this by his condemnation of people who outwardly appear righteous, but inwardly are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
In verse 25, he mentioned persons “full of extortion.” It is pathetic that some in the church have a business reputation of dishonesty and greed, yet parade around quoting verses, attending every service at church, nitpicking other Christians, becoming the worst examples, discouraging other faithful pilgrims, and having no influence in the world. We need to be firm in our convictions (2 Thess. 2:15), having great faith by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This includes: the giving of our means on the first day of the week and not leftovers (I Cor. 16:1-2), encouraging those around us, showing proper respect for every person we contact, helping those in need, and “not be weary in well doing” (2 Thess. 2:13).
Let’s consider our faith, outward conduct, and attitude toward God and our fellow man, before we go about trying to teach others.