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by Jacob Ninan
Many years ago, I heard that a man I knew had left his job to become a ‘full time Christian worker’. When I met him some time later, I asked him what he was doing. He said he was an itinerant preacher going from church to church. When I asked him what he was preaching about, he said he talked about the prophecies in the books of Daniel and Revelation. When I further asked him why he had chosen this particular subject, his reply was shocking to me (I was young and innocent!). He said it was because that was what people liked to hear about! This instance produces two questions for us. One is whether a preacher (or a writer) should bring out what the people want to hear or what the Lord wants them to hear. The second is about whom we would like to hear, the ones who tell us nice and interesting things, or what the Lord wants to tell us.
Certainly the Lord has much to tell us to encourage and comfort us. But He does not throw His pearls before swine. To those who have become weary, trying to be good and do good, He brings great comfort. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt.11:28). It seems, from the words of Jesus (Matt.7:13,14;Lk.13:24), that those who are really struggling to find that rest are few. But everyone likes to receive words of comfort, even when they are walking in ways that are displeasing to the Lord, or lazing around, spiritually speaking. Then, when there are preachers who give ‘words of comfort and encouragement’ regularly, is it any wonder that many people flock to them?
New Year after New Year, we hear messages about how the Lord is going to make this year a special one unlike all the years that have gone by. Debts will be cleared, relationships will be restored, long lasting sicknesses will be healed, promotions will come, we will become house owners, years of prosperity are going to start, etc. Even if we have heard similar messages many times earlier, we hope that this time it will become true.
Another set of preachers brings out messages about the second coming of the Lord, blood moons, the Antichrist and his mark, Israel and their festivals, etc., that fill our curiosity. Isn’t it very interesting to listen to such learned speakers who bring out ‘secret’ knowledge that very few on earth have received?
Who doesn’t like to hear about the love of God towards us, especially when the preachers make it absolutely clear that this has nothing to do with what we deserve or how we live? This gets exaggerated to the extent that this false grace becomes a licence for sin (Jude.4), but we cannot deny its appeal to everyone who hears!
Then there are preachers whose strength is in holding out hope for the future – a revival is coming, the Spirit is going to be poured out, dry bones are going to come alive, there will be rivers in the desert, things are going to make a turn around, etc.
It is no wonder that such preachers become very popular. By their charm and offer of great things to come, they gather more and more followers. If they also exhibit supernatural powers in their midst, their followers get absolutely convinced that they have found God’s spokesman for them on earth. This fan loyalty can become so strong that even when other people notice and point out discrepancies in the teachings or lives of these preachers, the followers hang on to them tenaciously.
What is commonly lacking among such preachers is a comparative absence of telling the people what they ought to do (apart from giving their tithes and seed money!). No obedience to the Lord and to His commandments is required from the people, but only ‘faith’ that the Lord will do everything. People don’t have to seek after the Lord, learn to love God more than everything else, put away sin and idols from their lives, love and forgive those who do harm to them, etc. In fact, a whole lot of the warnings and exhortations in the New Testament become irrelevant or unnecessary for such preaching.
When John the baptiser came out preaching, his message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt.3:2). This was the same message Jesus started preaching (Matt.4:17). But the popular message of today is, “Believe” – no repentance. This is the message people would like to hear, and this is what would make preachers popular. A sad thing is that even after years of listening to this message to ‘believe’, when there is no significant change in the lives of these people, they are still encouraged to keep on believing. What a difference repentance would have made to lives where they believed!
“The difference between true and false repentance lies in this: the man who truly repents cries out against his heart; but the other, as Eve, against the serpent, or something else” (John Bunyan). Is repentance only required for those who hear the Gospel for the first time? In fact, it is not preached even then. Don’t we, who have known the Lord for a long time, have any need for repentance? If we acknowledge that there are still numerous things in our heart and life that have not become like Christ, but still bear the character of the flesh, it is necessary for us to have an attitude of repentance that leads to life constantly (cf.Acts.11:18)?
Many prophets of old had but one refrain, “Turn to God from your evil” (2Kgs.17:13;Jer.18:11;Ezek.33:11;Zech.1:4). Have we really grown spiritually to the extent that now we don’t need this warning from God in any area of our life? Don’t we need to hear from God, “How long will you put off entering to take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” (Josh.18:3), “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1Kgs.18:21), “The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, … flee from these things” (1Tim.6:10,11), “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2Tim.2:22), “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1Jn.5:21), and other messages like them? But popular preachers have made many believe that all is well between them and the Lord, and all they have to do is to wait to be raptured! Anyone who preaches about repentance and obedience will be shunned immediately as preachers of the Law and bondage. Such preachers are unlikely to be popular among the majority of Christians, it is sad to note. What the people want are preachers who entertain them. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2Tim.4:3).
So, who are the preachers we listen to, or read? That will indicate to us something about the condition of our hearts, whether we only want those who make us feel good about ourselves, or we want to hear those who expose to our own eyes who we really are. If we want a ‘nice time’, we can look for those who entertain us. But if we want our lives to show gratitude to the Lord for what He has graciously started in our lives, let us also be careful about who we spend time with and who we listen to.
People will appreciate us when we are careful about what kind of food we eat and what kind we avoid because of contamination. But the moment we say we want to avoid certain types of preachers, the cry will come out, “Do not judge!” But don’t we have to be actually more careful about our spiritual health than about our physical health?
-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, June 2016
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