I recently delivered a sermon for one of our congregations that I knew they would be interested in hearing. They are a lively bunch and love to debate each other. They even meet after their service for discussion, which can often get quite heated.
I knew my topic would be provocative for them. However, I didn’t give much thought to just what kind of impact my sermon might have on them. And THAT was irresponsible.
I myself love to discuss ideas. I am a committed life-long learner and accept that I can learn much from the knowledge and experience of others. Indeed, it was in such a context that my sermon topic arose.
My team and I are leading a course for new Christians. During one of the classes, the question of the inherent authority of the apostle Peter came up.
To give you some quick background: In The Gospel of Matthew, Jesus commended Simon Peter for his faith. Jesus then made a provocative statement about Peter that has caused all sorts of heated debates ever since.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Because this question came up, I had to do some research and offer an answer. Which I did, and discovered some interesting points in the process.
I realised, then, that I was rostered to deliver a sermon for the previously mentioned congregation. I expanded my answer out to a full sermon, knowing that this congregation would very likely be interested in this topic, as I’ve already written.
Here’s the problem: In preparing the sermon, I naturally had to share points to apply my insights from this story to the everyday lives of my listeners. Which I did. My application points were two-fold: 1) Be consistent in faith and lifestyle; and, 2) Stop the debating!
I don’t know if you have every delivered and shared a sermon. For me, something weird always happens: As I’m delivering my sermon, my mind is thinking through the relevance to and response of the congregation. I can’t stop this from happening, this second guessing. As any preacher will tell you, one just has to push through this.
Anyway, such thinking always happens to me. Except, this time, I startled myself with the realisation that I had not paid attention to my intended congregation for this sermon. I knew they would be interested in the topic. I knew my viewpoint would not be acceptable to everyone and that there would be discussion afterwards —we had very good discussion afterwards, by the way. But, my point in saying, “Stop the debating!”, was a general point that Christians should not allow friction to tear our communities apart. The problem is that I forgot that, for this congregation, such friction was a constant threat.
I was quite irresponsible in not paying more attention to my intended congregation. Yes, they were interested in my topic, but my topic had the potential to cause much more serious friction than I was willing to consider. My application was a general statement, whereas I should have applied my message to their specific situation.
Yes, they needed to stop debating, but I needed to couch this in much more considerate language and expand my application so much more than I had done.
Words are powerful and those who teach carry an awesome responsibility upon their shoulders. The apostle James wrote,
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
Especially when we share the good news about Jesus with others we would do well to be quite intentionally considerate. Spend more time than you think you need in applying the Bible to Christian lifestyle. When done right and well, such sharing has the potential to build me up and encourage them to a much better way of living in this world with one another.
If you would like to read the sermon for yourself, you can do so by clicking this link: “Your Arguments Are Making My Head Hurt“