I have often wondered how some walk away from a sermon thinking that the preacher was talking about them or to them. In times past, I have received news that someone thought a particular sermon I preached was targeted at them. I would like to address this phenomenon from the standpoint of the scriptures and give a response to this suspicion in case anyone has ever wondered if preachers engage in this kind of activity.
First, I’d like to validate the suspicion because I do know of some preachers who absolutely target certain people in some of their sermons. But I don’t see that practice as appropriate. A much more biblical approach would be to speak to a brother one-on-one (Matthew 18:15-20), that’s what everyone else in the church who doesn’t have a pulpit must do, and a preacher is no different. Thus, using the pulpit to do what ought to be done in person is abusive and cowardly. Adding to more abuse, preachers who are prone to the above are also found guilty of airing their ideas and opinions without a solid scriptural foundation. The church hasn’t come together to hear these things, they have come to hear the word of God proclaimed. I have heard of a young and single preacher who would continually bring up the subject of women working outside the home, he was very against it, that is, until he got married and his wife worked outside the home, then no one ever heard him speak of the matter again. So again, I’m not saying that some do not abuse the pulpit, but putting that matter aside, I want to look at this idea from the standpoint of brethren who use the pulpit appropriately. One more matter to preface before we go forward is the requirement that preachers have to rebuke, and sometimes that is required in a public setting (2 Timothy 4:1-4). I have once been in a most violent situation where the local church was on the verge of a split. There was so much private backbiting and deceptive swaying of members toward a particular false doctrine that the public pulpit became the most important tool I had left to fight against this error. So I most certainly used the pulpit to publicly defend the truth, and yes, the opposing false brother accused me of foul play, but the Lord is the Judge (2 Timothy 4:14).
I know that, at least for me, I am not very observant, and I often do not realize what is going on around me. You could wear the same thing every time I see you and I would never know. So, it would be very challenging for me to base my sermon subjects on you. And that’s a good thing because I don’t need to. The Word of God has a profound way of getting to our hearts and exposing the errors of our lives and of our lack of faith and hope. Hebrews 4:12 carries this general application: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Even though this passage is referring to the Lord as the “Word,” it is true that you cannot take the Lord out of the Word. Both He and his message are a “discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” There is little need for any preacher to be scrutinizing every member of the congregation in order to find out what he should preach on next Sunday, he need only to preach “the Word”, for that is enough to be “piercing” to the soul.
It is kind of like a phenomenon, how a preacher can get up and preach on one subject that really hits the nail on the head for our own life, only for him to come back and do the same over and over again, no matter what the subject matter. And we just examined one of the reasons why that is, but I’d like to consider another angle: the Bible is one. The Bible is not merely many books, it is one book, one message. The Bible is God’s one plan for man’s redemption, and every word is pointing man toward eternal life with God. So, if we are struggling in an area of our relationship with God, then that will be made manifest by the scriptures every time, no matter whether we are reading them at home, or sitting in a Bible class, or listening to a preacher. Several scriptures highlight this idea. Romans 13:8-10 demonstrates how everything in God’s law is connected so that we cannot have one thing without the other, nor can we obey one law but not another. James made the same point in James 2:8-11, and of course, Jesus, in Matthew 22:36-40, showed how the word of God was so unified, that of the 600 laws in the Law of Moses, they can be covered in just two short commandments. So then, what do you think it is like to be a preacher? The preacher cannot help it, because, if God’s word can expose all the faults of our life in a matter of two sentences, as Jesus testified, then the preacher is bound to be accused of preaching to someone after proclaiming the word of God for 40 minutes.
Let’s get to the true application of the matter. Satan has got a hold on us if we are cut to the heart by a sermon, only to be bitter and suspicious of the preacher afterward. That is not an appropriate, mature, or humble response to God’s word. We cannot blame the preacher for hitting too close to home, if anything, we ought to appreciate that. If he preaches error, that’s another subject, but if he preaches the truth, we are all accountable to God to accept it and make the necessary application of it in our own lives. There is a twofold example of this in the word of God. The first is in Acts 2:37, when, at the preaching of Peter, the multitude was “cut to the heart.” The original Greek word means “to pierce thoroughly; to agitate violently, to sting to the quick.” And they responded to the truth that cut them so deeply and were brought to repentance. The next example is in Acts 7:54, when Stephen delivered the truth to the Jewish council. Afterward, they were also “cut to the heart,” but their response was to gnash their teeth at the one who spoke the word to them. They soon cast him out of the city and stoned him to death. So then, from Acts 2:37 to 7:54, we have two different groups, both cut to the heart by the word of God, but with two different responses. The application here is that God’s word will cut us deep, there’s no doubt about that, but how will we respond to it when it does? Will we blame God? Will we blame the messenger? Or will we blame ourselves?
Article by Tanner Campbell.