Next Sunday morning, which kind of sermon do you need to hear: a comforting
lesson that helps you deal with discouragement or one that gets in your face
and warns you to take God more seriously? Depending on your circumstances,
you will probably need one more than the other, but whatever your needs are,
the Scriptures have what you need.
If, despite your best efforts, you’ve been struggling and doubting whether
you’re going to make it to heaven, you need to be encouraged. You need to
trust a God who is greater than your hardships, and there are texts in the
Scriptures that you need to pay particular attention to. You need, for
example, to hear Jesus encourage His disciples: “In the world you will
have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn.
But if you’ve been lax and overconfident lately, your problem lies in the
opposite direction. You need to be warned, and there are passages that will
do just that. You need to hear, for example, the Lord blistering the
Laodiceans: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could
wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither
cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15,16).
Passages that give us solace and security (such as Heb. 4:16: “Let us
therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and
find grace to help in time of need”) are not in conflict with those that
stress reverence and responsibility (such as Heb. 12:29: “For our God is a
consuming fire”); they just address two different needs, both of which we
will have at one time or another. The Bible is a medicine cabinet that
contains both sedatives and stimulants; which medicine we need at a
particular time depends on what is happening at that moment.
Over time, of course, all will need a balance of both, and that is one good
argument for learning all that is in the Bible. We need to be so familiar
with all the book of God that in the exigencies of any moment we can turn to
the passage we need to hear at that moment. And not only that, we need to be
able open the Bible and read to someone else what they most need to hear at
Any time a gospel preacher steps into the pulpit, he faces a tough
challenge: he must judge the needs of a group of listeners wisely and
present a lesson that meets the main need of the group as a whole, without
doing damage to individuals in the audience whose needs lie in the opposite
direction! A group that needs to be encouraged may contain an individual who
is already overconfident concerning his salvation, and a lesson that
comforts the group is likely to send that overconfident individual away
confirmed in his overconfidence. On the other hand, a strong lesson that
warns those who think they stand to take heed lest they fall is likely to
have a discouraging effect on that downtrodden soul in the audience who was
already doubtful of her salvation and now goes away thinking the task is
even more impossible than she thought.
So what is the answer? It is that we all need all of God’s word. And not
only that, we need all of those who preach and teach God’s word. Some
individuals need encouraging while others need warning. Some congregations
need to be comforted while others need to be confronted. Some preachers tend
to be better encouragers while others do a better job of warning. It is the
net effect of all of us doing what we personally think needs to be done that
— over time — will be the mix out of which God will bring forth the
accomplishment of His purposes (1 Cor. 12:14-22). The work is much too
important (and much too big for any individual) for us to waste time
quibbling about whether someone else is putting the emphasis where we
personally think it needs to be put.
And what is the application for me personally? It is that I probably need
to hear that which I think I least need to hear! The preacher who emphasizes
things that I think don’t need to be emphasized is probably bringing a
helpful counterbalance to my thinking. And the passages of Scripture that
seem least congenial to my thinking on a given day are probably those that I
most need to listen to.
Variety is more than just the spice of life; it’s a requirement for
spiritual survival. Do you want a deeper devotion to God? Do you want to be
more devout? Then study Bible passages you think you don’t need to study and
listen to gospel sermons you think you don’t need to listen to. Somehow,
you’ll be encouraged. Sooner or later, you’ll be warned. And in the long
run, you’ll be more healthy spiritually.