So many deeply challenging messages fall short of their intent. After preaching through a powerful passage, the final few minutes often undermine everything. All sorts of conviction has been achieved, then at the end all open wounds are smoothed over, rather than following through to excise the growth of ungodly matter in the life of the listener. The sermonic surgery ends in comfort and the problems persist. Why?
One reason is that too often preachers are too careful to offer balance and comfort too soon. In effect, the message finishes flat with something along the lines of, “But what if you haven’t lived up to this? What if you’ve failed in this area? Well there is grace, God forgives, etc.” And people go away having felt convicted, but reassured that all is well. Whether or not all is well, all is back to normal and lives move on relatively unchanged by the encounter with God’s Word in that message.
When the light of God’s Word shines in all its radicality, in all its power, in all its uncompromising directness, let’s be careful not to undermine the whole thing by merely reassuring people. This is not a call for extreme holiness preaching without love – a sort of military-style duty-driven drill of responsibility. It is a call for the scandalous love of God in the gospel to reek havoc in comfortable self-absorbed lives. It’s the pulpit equivalent of a Keith Green concert – calling for deep repentance and response, rather than comforting listeners with the “everything is happy” jingles of some “Christian” music. God’s overwhelming love calls us to full followership, to radical reality and response, and sometimes to tears, silence, repentance and brokenness.
If we preach the Word, but always sooth the listener, then perhaps we fail to preach the Word. Perhaps we are tickling ears. Perhaps we are preaching in fear. Or perhaps we are preaching out of our own limited spirituality. Perhaps it’s time for some of us, maybe all of us, to be broken ourselves, to be repenting of comfort-preaching, to get real in response to an oh-so-radical Gospel? Let’s ask ourselves two questions, one concerning our preaching, and first of all, one concerning our own lives.