Some of the stranger moments in my ministry have to be when people have asked, “Why would you preach that [topic]? My answer on some of these occasions has been less than stellar but I have always tried to emphasize it’s because it’s God’s Word. But mostly, I think I have been dumbfounded by this question. This is especially true given the fact that I preaching expositionally–meaning that I strive to draw my “topic” from whatever the topic the verses I am preaching presents.
It has been my experience that the “Why would you preach that?” question has been primarily in regard to more debated issues, and unless I preach those issues uniform to what the hearers have always been taught or have always assumed, then people tend to get upset. Here are a two reasons I have heard over the years for their disgruntledness.
1) “It’s confusing for people”–While I completely understand this concern, I don’t believe it is ever a reason to shy away from any biblical topic. Certainly, some biblical topics must be taught age appropriately or even spiritual-age appropriately, but the Church must never back down from preaching the Word and trusting the Holy Spirit to apply it to hearts as He sees fit. How often did Jesus teach His disciples something that only led to their being wholly confused? One of many examples is when Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn.2:19), and the disciples had not a clue what Jesus meant (cf. Jn.2:22).
2) “It creates doubt in the hearts of people”–Again, I completely understand this concern, but I don’t believe it is ever a reason to shy away from any biblical topic. We should certainly anticipate the potential doubts that may arise, but that’s part of the job of a pastor. It is his responsibility to be patient with those who have doubts, but it would be irresponsible for a pastor to avoid a topic for fear of creating doubts. After Jesus was raised from the dead, some of His disciples doubted it (Matt.28:17). Does that mean Jesus was irresponsible in raising Himself from the dead? Or does this mean that pastors who preach the resurrection are irresponsible for preaching it? God forbid! What we must realize is that oftentimes doubt is just a polished up word for unbelief.
I remember in particular being asked once why I would even bring up the doctrine of election because it only leads to confusion and causes people to doubt their salvation. This person tried to defend his statement by saying, “What if someone has been a member of the church all their life and think that they’re saved but they’re not. And when they hear about election it creates doubt that troubles their heart. If they are not elect, wouldn’t it be better for them to live in peace for the few years they have on earth before they die and go to hell.”
Needless to say, I was astonished for several reasons. First, I would never just “bring up” a difficult doctrine like election unless I think it necessary. I would say that 9 times out of 10, I have only brought up election and similarly difficult doctrines only if the doctrines are mentioned or alluded to in the Scripture that I am preaching.
Second, I’m pretty sure Jesus never held back anything in His preaching that would discomfort unbelievers who thought they were believers. On one occasion in which the Jews were arguing with Jesus about eternal life, the Jews said to Him, “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” (Jn.8:53).
Jesus ends this argument a few verses later by answering all of their questions with great finality: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (Jn.8:58).
What do you think their response was to Jesus? Great joy? No, anything but. Their reaction was unbelief and anger and murderous intentions (Jn.8:59). Here are the Jews who thought they were “saved,” but in reality they were not. And here is Jesus who did the most loving thing He could in that situation–He taught them the truth.
So in the power of the Holy Spirit, and speaking the truth in love, may the Church proclaim all the counsel of God–because souls hang in the balance and it is better to trouble a soul a little here than to see an “untroubled” soul perish in hell.
Soli Deo Gloria,