Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke and encourage your people with good teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. … Work at telling the Good News and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. [2 Timothy 4:2-4,5 (NLT)]
In a comic strip drawn by Marcus Hamilton, Dennis the Menace is sitting next to his father at church. As he drops the offering envelope in the plate, Dennis asks his father, “Can we get a refund if the sermon isn’t that good?” For Dennis and many church-goers, a good sermon is one that is pleasant and entertaining. Unlike movies and concerts, however, sermons aren’t meant to be entertainment. The Christian church is neither the “church of what’s happening now” nor the church of “anything goes.” While many messages can make us feel good, feeling good is not the purpose of the Good News.
I doubt any of the early churches were entertained when Paul’s letters were read to the congregation. While he always had words of encouragement for the church, the intense Apostle had no sense of humor and his words were often ones of conviction and correction. False ideologies were corrected, sins of immorality were confronted, and proper behavior was addressed. Corinthian church members probably squirmed in their seats when Paul’s letters took them to task for infighting, abusing the Lord’s Supper and their wanton behavior. When Paul told the Galatians they’d perverted the gospel of grace, surely not everyone welcomed his words. He admonished the new churches for such things as false beliefs, divisiveness, lax morals and questionable motives in preaching.
Paul probably wouldn’t have won a popularity contest in the early Christian church and yet, because of his words, the early church not only survived but thrived through persecution and troubled times. The 21st Century church faces many of those same problems—internal conflict, hypocrisy, questionable doctrine, arrogance, and a dumbing down instead of raising up. Without some tough love from our pulpits, can we survive and thrive?
A watered-down “feel good” message that doesn’t condemn sin or challenge us to grow more like Christ is not the sort of epistle Paul would write. It certainly is not the sort of message Jesus gave. Jesus spoke of peace, love and forgiveness, but he also spoke of sacrifice, obedience, repentance, judgment, taking up one’s cross, and persecution. With that kind of sermon, Dennis might choose to demand a refund.
Let’s never forget that a good pastor is as zealous as was the Apostle Paul. His job is to shepherd his flock—to warn, correct, educate, rescue, convict, set goals, lead, and protect as well as to comfort, nurture and encourage. His job is not to make us happy—it is to guide us on the path to salvation. His job isn’t to preach only good news; it is to preach the gospel which is the Good News of Christ. It may not always be the news we want to hear; nevertheless, it is the news we need to hear.