Were You Preaching that to Me?
I would suspect that every gospel preacher who has been preaching for more than a few years has been asked this question in one fashion or another. Usually, the questioner is asking with a rather defensive attitude, as if to express anger, disillusionment, or insult, that a preacher would dare to accost the demeanor of some soul by directly addressing from the pulpit a problem of which the soul is guilty! There are a few times when the one asking such a question is appreciative of the sermon, feeling its content directly complimented that individual. Well, at least they are listening! But, speaking for myself, I don’t choose targets in any audience! If what I preach pricks the hearts of the hearers, if I’ve preached righteously, it was God’s word that pricked their hearts. (cf. Acts 2:37) If they are angry, if I preached the truth without addition or subtraction (Revelation 22:18 – 19), then they are angry at God and not me. (comp. Acts 7:54) True, the preacher is the immediate “recipient” of these emotions, but if the hearers are sincere with their reactions, they need to consult God!
There is no question of preachers who do purposely “target” souls in their audiences. Jesus did: but He did it only after first approaching souls with genuine concern for their souls! After three years of ridicule from the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus was extremely pointed in His words to these hypocrites (Matthew 23). He could have made a target of the Syrophoenician woman, but instead, He was patient and later praised her faith (Matthew 15:28). And think of how pointed He could have been with Judas! Instead, He simply answered, “It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish,” when asked who it was that would betray Him. (Mark 14:20) There is a right way and wrong way to address the concerns of souls and following Christ’s pattern is without failure!
Are there matters that must be addressed in sermons that will include those within the audience? Absolutely! Every sermon preached needs to address each soul attending, whether saint or sinner! Sermons are to give milk to the babes in Christ and meat to those of full age (Hebrews 5: 12-14). Sermons must preach the word (2 Timothy 4:1), and endeavor to convert souls (Psalm 19:7 – 11). Sermons should stir hearts to obedience (2 Peter 1:13; 3:1) and cause every soul to think soberly regarding his/her standing before God (Titus 2: 11 – 15). But for a preacher to “target” a particular soul within an audience is the wrong time and wrong place and wrong manner by which to correct that soul! Take him aside and teach God’s way more perfectly (cf. Acts 18:26). If he is overtaken in a fault, restore him in meekness, considering yourself (Galatians 6:1). Only after every effort has been made to return the sinner to God is it righteous to take it to the church (i.e., involve the entire congregation) and reveal the matter that the soul might be restored to the Shepherd and Bishop of his soul (Matthew 18:15 – 20; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 6:5; 1 Peter 2:25).
Those of us with more than a half-century experience in preaching would undoubtedly concur that our best, most effective sermons are rarely publicly proclaimed! Instead, we’ve taken that precious yet dying soul and privately conveyed to them what they need to know to obey God! There are several times when hours elapsed before the end of such sermons. Let me illustrate: A young couple that I had had the pleasure of uniting in marriage came to our home one evening asking what they might to do convince his mother to obey the gospel. We began about 7:00 that evening and studied the matter until near or perhaps after midnight. When finished, I said to them, “There is one question that she could ask that will destroy all the good you’ve accomplished.” “What is it,” they asked with curious desire. “She will ask, ‘If you’re so right, then why haven’t you obeyed it?’” They left, and within a few minutes returned, crying and begging to be immersed into Christ for the remission of their sins. He now serves as an elder in the Lord’s church!
No, dear reader, I don’t “target” anyone in preaching from the pulpit! I preach to myself first: if the sermon doesn’t help me, then it can’t help you! Yet, if what is preached is truth and righteousness, and if that sermon affects you in some way as to stir your heart to obedience or to angered rejection, be assured you emotions are wrongly directed at me! If you are stirred to obedience, the praise goes to God! If you are agitated, irritated, or completely angry at what was said, provided the preacher proved the statements with Scripture, then your emotions are against God: it was His word you heard!
Regardless, the loving intent of the gospel preacher is to persuade all souls (including himself) to carefully examine his/her soul and see if that soul is in the truth (2 Corinthians 13:5). If not, then let us help you to reach that precious association with Christ. If it is, then let us help you remain in that secure station! Ours is to preach nothing more and nothing less than Christ and Him crucified: It and it alone saves our souls! (Romans 1:16 – 17).