God is Love
Lesson 1 for preachers, God is Love. Be loving. Pastors who seek the image of Christ need to be understanding, compassionate, gentle, kind, meek. Not proud, brusque, angry and judgemental. Jesus talked about not casting the first stone. He is loving, kind, patient, merciful, longsuffering, gracious and forgiving toward us. That's how we are supposed to be.
Season your speech with salt. Edify, build up, encourage. Proverbs 3:3 says to seek truth and kindness. Both together. The one is useless without the other. Truth without kindness is harsh and hurtful, people will turn and leave. Kindness without truth is useless. But people will receive the message of truth when we focus on the tone of the delivery in kindness.
Southern hellfire brimstone preaching is amusing, but not always effective. Denouncing, criticising, and bashing aren't Jesus kinds of things, they are Satan kinds of things. Satan is called the accuser of the brethren in Rev 12:10.
The Holy Spirit will convict men of sin and righteousness, you don't have to. You have to just love people. Don't get me wrong, sometimes you have to clarify sin, and gently move peoples perception of it. But mostly as the Spirit is moving when you preach, they will be convicted of it all on their own.
Look at what Isaiah says the Spirit has anointed us for: I don't see standing in judgement of every little thing, thundering against sin, railing against doctrine you don't agree with...
Isa 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners;
2To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,
3To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.
4Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, They will raise up the former devastations; And they will repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations.
5Strangers will stand and pasture your flocks, And foreigners will be your farmers and your vinedressers.
6But you will be called the priests of the Lord; You will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, And in their riches you will boast.
7Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, And instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, Everlasting joy will be theirs.
The Bible says in John 16:8 that the Holy Spirit will convict men of sin and righteousness. (And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment). I don't need to do the Holy Spirits job for Him, He is quite capable! People living in sin know it (whether they are ready to admit it or not). Most often they are hurt, broken, traumatized by life. Many gay people who I have counseled were the victims of abuse or rape. Me beating them up rather than binding them up is not the answer. Many hurting people are afraid to even go to church and don't feel worthy of the love of God. Judgemental hateful 'Christians' have turned them off ever wanting to hear about Christians. Let us be sensitive, share the love of God, and let the Holy Ghost do his job.
Jesus followed this pattern as well. When the religious leaders brought the adultress to Jesus in John 8:7 he asked who was without sin to cast the first stone. Jesus saved his most scathing comments for the judgemental religious leaders, not hurting sinners. Somehow we have gotten away from the teachings of Jesus, and we are all to ready to cast that first stone, point the finger of shame, and kill with our words out of ignorance. Ignorance of what its like to sit across the desk as they sob out their story in Christian counseling, and receive healing from their wounds where the devil has cut them. We are too ready to condemn the sinner, drive them out and away, and not ready enough to heal them.
Did God come down with brimstone and fire when Adam ate the fruit I Genesis 3:9? No, it was with simple questions, where are you, who told you that you were naked? Conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit, condemnation is the work of Satan, called the 'accuser of the brethren' in Rev 12:10. Don't do either job for them. Do your job, binding up the broken hearted, healing the sick, proclaiming freedom to captives, sharing the love of Jesus.
None of this is to say that you can never point out sin or speak conviction. Far from it! However be sure that you are sensitive of your own shortcomings and the grace you have been given, and minister that same grace to the hearer. Grace means unmerited favor, treating other better than they deserve. Look at what Paul says in Gal 6:1, Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.
Think of the roughly 30% of women who have been victims of sexual abuse or violence in your congregation. Think of the untold pain. Think of the struggles with pornography the men endure. Think of the shame. Think of the secret hurts, the stresses, the loss of jobs and homes, the sickness disease and cancer people struggle with. Your congregation is hurting, no matter how bright a face they may try to put on things. Man of God, be sensitive, be caring, be loving.
1 John 4:19 says we love God because He first loved us. You will bring more people to the cross with love than with condemnation. God is love, you be love too.
A great question can be raised, how do you handle when you know people are out of line.
The first answer is always to pray for that person out of love. God may reveal to that person how they need to change. I remember a young lady who is working on my youth ministry team who had an issue with how she dressed, showing an awful lot of cleavage every Sunday. I prayed about it, the very next Monday she showed up wearing a pantsuit that was completely modest.
The second answer is always to pray and ask God to change you first. If you go into confrontation as your freshly self, your flesh might get involved. Before we correct someone, we need to make sure that its not just our issues getting in the way. Cultural differences, gender differences, all these things can cause an offense. An example might be in black church showing up on time does not necessarily value as much as it is and white church. Collecting someone on a cultural issue like this may just be in sensitivity on your part.
The third answer is to pray, how does God want you to handle the situation? Do you need to do some research on how to deal with this issue? Is there a word of knowledge God has for you on what's going on with this person? Are they struggling with an issue, and the bad behavior you're seeing is just a symptom? Can you be there to heal them and help them, and behavior will correct itself because the root cause was dealt with?
The fourth answer is to pray about if this is spiritual warfare? Is this a person carrying out an assignment of the enemy to get under your skin or distract you from your purpose? Is there a spiritual force it was that you need to discern and take authority over? Is this something that is assaulting you in your faith or temper? Praying that God will help you to discern the spiritual root of the issue will always make you more effective at binding it, kickin it out, or dealing with it.
The fifth answer is to be very sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit in dealing with the issue. It may be while preaching that He releases you too comment broadly on the issue and teach the resolution without specifically calling that person out, rather than going directly to the person. Recently while preaching as a guest speaker in another church the Holy Spirit had me to stop and treat the issue of spousal abuse very thoroughly, even though it wasn't in my notes. The spirit was telling me there was someone in the audience who needed to hear it. The pastor took me aside later and was laughing because he had not been released to deal with a man in the church who he knew was abusing his wife, but I as a stranger not knowing the situation I was able to preach on it without condemnation. I'm sure that man was particularly uncomfortable well I was dealing with the subject for about 5 minutes!
The last step is to follow the biblical order for confrontation in Matt 18. Be gentle, be loving, be understanding, but be firm. Don't allow the issue to wander into other issues, stay on focus. Don't do it out of your flash, if you're losing your temper, the issue is with you not with them. Remember your own faults and shortcomings, and the grace that God has given you. Give them that same grace.
Prov 27:5 better is an open rebuke the love that is concealed. Prov 17:10 a rebuke impresses a discerning person more than 100 lashes for a fool. Prov 9:8 do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you, rebuke a wise man and he will love you.
Some people are fools, and you will not get through to them. They will laugh, or rage, and there will be no peace. Just realize you're dealing with a fool, I didn't say that, the Bible did! But if things go badly, you have to check yourself, learn what you could have done better, and realize that you may not have been the right. Let God work in your heart so the next time you do better.
Just like 1st Corinthians 13 says, everything has to be done out of love. Check yourself closely, that there's not some contentious spirit in you, a desire to just be right, or show how much you know. Truth and kindness. God is love.