Recently, the president of the Oklahoma Wesleyan University (OWU) reported that a student complained that a sermon on Love from I Corinthians 13 offended him because “it made him feel bad for not showing love.” This student felt the speaker was wrong for making him feel that way. As this story might seem too outlandish to be believed, the president of the OWU assured us that he was not making it up. It really did occur.
He wrote a response to this incident in which he observed: “Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them ‘feel bad’ about themselves, is a ‘hater,’ a ‘bigot,’ an ‘oppressor,’ and a ‘victimizer.'” His whole statement can be found here.
He further stated: “I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience…The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization. So here’s my advice…If you want to complain about a sermon that makes you feel less than loving for not showing love, this might be the wrong place.” Thankfully, this university president seems to get it.
However, what is true for that university, is especially true for the Lord’s church. Jesus did not come to this world, suffer and die on the cross so that you and I could feel good about living in sin. Jesus came preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). He came not to send peace, He said, but a sword and division (Matt. 10:34; Luke 12:51). He told the Scribes and the Pharisees that they were hypocrites (Matt. 23:13). He said not everyone that claims to be one of His disciples was going to enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21-27).
The examples of this kind could be multiplied over and over again where individuals were challenged to think and do better. I am sure that those who heard Jesus felt convicted of their sins. Many felt so bad that they, much like the student mentioned above, were offended (John 6:60,61). The apostles were afraid on one occasion that the Pharisees were offended by what Jesus had said and subtly warned Him to control His speech (Matt. 15:12). Some were even so offended that they “went back, and walked no more with Him” (John 6:66). Truth has this affect on the dishonest and insincere.
It is true that one can preach a sermon out of a hateful and malicious motive. Paul encountered those that preached out of envy strife and contention, intending to add affliction to his bonds (Phil. 1:15,16). But even a sermon preached out of love–love for the truth, love for God and love for the souls of men–can prick the honest and sincere heart.
The first gospel sermon preached after the ascension of our Lord back into heaven was preached out of such love. Nevertheless, it was a hard sermon. “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain…Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:22-23,36).
Who would dare say that Peter had no love in his heart? This is the same Peter who said see that “ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (I Pet. 1:22). This is the same Peter who said “honour all men. Love the brotherhood” (I Pet. 2:17). This is the same Peter who said “have compassion one of another, love as brethren” (I Pet. 3:8). Peter loved and cared, even in his sermon on Pentecost. But love sometimes, often times, requires painful honesty.
The result of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost was discomfort. The Bible tells us when they heard Peter’s inspired sermon on their involvement in the crucifixion of the Christ, they were “pricked in their heart” (Acts 2:37). Their conscience was pricked and they felt bad and they understood that the were culpable in the rejection and murder of the very Son of God! This was exactly the intended result. Peter wanted, indeed, God wanted, them to feel bad because he wanted them to repent.
Too many preachers today tickle the ears because men love to have it so (II Tim. 4:3). Many will serve their own belly by speaking smooth words and giving fair speeches, deceiving the heart of the simple (Rom. 16:18). Sermons that say nothing, but make you feel good generally are nothing more than pablum. If what you hear from the pulpit is what you can hear from any denominational preacher, then maybe the preacher is not speaking the truth that saves.
Here is a suggestion. From now on, when you hear a sermon you disagree with, have the courage to engage the speaker (at the appropriate time and in an appropriate way, of course. Always act in Christian charity!). If the speaker does not offer proof for his contentions, ask for it, honestly, respectfully, but ask. If the speaker is sincere, he will be glad to help and enlighten. If he is not sincere, there may be more friction than light. But if you hear something and it challenges you, that is, it makes you feel guilty, examine sincerely both what you have heard against the scriptures (Acts 17:11) and your own heart. If you hear a sermon and feel uncomfortable, then maybe you have heard the truth and it is having the desired effect. Then, you ought to be thankful that you have learned the truth.
Eric L. Padgett