Preaching with Objections in Mind

After a sermon a couple weeks ago, someone from my church with whom I have a great relationship mentioned to me that I have a particular habit when I preached.  Bracing myself, I asked them to elaborate.  In essence, they said, “When you preach, you do this thing where you change your voice then state a possible objection to what you or the Bible says.”  So I listened over my sermon again, and sure enough they were right! 

I was preaching on James 5:13-20, stating all the different conditions that Christians go through, and noted that in each of these issues, James tells us to ‘pray/praise.’  So, I lowered the register in my voice and said, “Now some of you will say, [lower voice here], ‘Bro. Matt, what kind of advice is that?  Are you saying we should just pray?” [Back to normal voice here.]  To which I exhorted them, “Yes, you should.”  And away I went.

I’m not sure why I did this or where this habit came from—maybe to provide variety?  Even so, what about this (not the voice, the idea of stating objections only to answer them)?

Since I practice this in my preaching, my natural tendency is to say, “Yes.”  While some may believe I’m not giving people enough credit, my response is that I’ve met too many people and know what so many are thinking.  After a while, you begin to see a pattern and know what the world’s system will object to (see 1 Peter 3:15-16). 

Biblical Examples of Preaching With Objections in Mind

Without doing an entire survey of the Scriptures, I do believe a survey of Paul’s epistle to the Romans would suffice.  At certain points in Romans, he brings forth a question to propel his argument.  Here are some examples:

  • “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?  Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:3-4)?  Paul saw the objections from the Jews: they were the chosen people of God from the seed of Abraham.  They were bullet-proof.  But if the fruit of their lives showed that they were not redeemed, they would not escape judgment. 
  • “So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision” (Romans 2:26)?  The Jews could not understand how an uncircumcised Gentile could be accepted by God.  But as Acts 10-11 show, the Spirit was falling on the Gentiles too when they received Jesus as their Messiah as well.  And it had nothing to do with surgery!  They showed their circumcision was of the heart, not of the flesh.  Objection answered!
  • “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2a).  At the end of Romans 5, Paul spoke on how great sin was, but how much greater is grace!  Some were using this as justification for their sin so to magnify God’s grace.  He understood the objection and addressed it!
  • “What then? Are we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means” (Romans 6:15).  Since “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (6:14), some said you could indulge in sin because it will not touch your eternal position!  Paul struck down that objection in a hurry. 
  • “What then shall we say? That the law is sin?  By no means” (Romans 7:7)!  Since Christ came to release us from the power and threat of the law, then the law must be bad.  Throw out the Old Testament!  No, Paul says.  The law shows where God’s boundaries lay.  We know what sin is!  “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”

These examples show an important principle: we must not only preach to the convinced converted, but also to the unaccepting unbeliever!  And let’s not forget the struggling saint who is still doing battle with the world, the flesh, and the oppression of the devil (the unholy Trinity). 

I teach 11th grade apologetics at Blue Grass Baptist School here in Lexington, Kentucky.  One of the issues they tell me in regards to preaching is that the preachers always assume their hearers (especially the younger hearers) know more than they do.  They rattle off Bible verses, then just go on before they really understand what the Word is saying.  And the result is tragic: they lose interest in the most interesting Book written by the most Interesting Being in the Universe. 

Maybe understanding the Word, but also having possible objections in mind would help make that all important connection from “Jerusalem to Lexington” (or insert your city in place of Lexington). 

What think ye?  Have you come across this issue lately?  How have you addressed this?

Which Type of Tolerance Marks Your Ministry?

Beware of replacing real truth-based tolerance with spurious professional tolerance. Once upon a time tolerance was the power that kept lovers of competing faiths from killing each other. It was the principle that put freedom above forced conversion. It was rooted in the truth that coerced conviction is no conviction. That is true tolerance. But now the new professional tolerance denies that there are any competing faiths; they only complement each other. It denounces not only the effort to force conversions but also the idea that any conversion may be necessary. It holds the conviction that no religious conviction should claim superiority over another. In this way, peaceful parity among professionals can remain intact, and none need be persecuted for the stumbling block of the cross (Gal. 5:11).3 The aim of this book is to spread a radical, pastoral passion for the supremacy and centrality of the crucified and risen God-Man, Jesus Christ, in every sphere of life and ministry and culture. Increasingly, a ministry under the banner of Christ’s supremacy will be offensive to the impulses of professional clergy who like to be quoted respectably by the local newspaper (John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, Kindle location 95). 

So This is Christmas… So What Are You Preaching?

Both Resurrection Sunday and Christmas put preachers on high alert!  We know from experience that those who are usually absent from church during the normal course of the year will attend on these two special days.  Some preachers grow nervous at the prospect—especially younger ministers.  Others get more amped! 

If I may, I’d like to reflect on twenty years of ministry and 8-9 years in pastoral ministry and pass along some things I’ve learned regarding preaching on such special occasions.

Pray for every person God brings in as well as your sermon.  Yes, pray over your sermon, but God has not called us to simply preach the Bible, but to preach to people the Bible.  Consider:

  • Folks are stressed because of the commercial nature of the holiday, and long to get back to the original intention of this time.  
  • For most parts of the country, it’s cold.  While ‘cold’ is relative (cold in Minnesota or New England is different than the cold I experienced in Florida, which is different to the cold my Trinidadian friends experience), and while some enjoy this, for many it brings on a melancholy, even a depressed state! 
  • For many who have lost loved ones during this time of year, which magnifies their grief.
  • Your regular attenders will likely be there, but as I mentioned earlier, others who are fringe attenders or unchurched will come as well. 

When you pray for those sitting in the pews or chairs, your heart will be burdened for the strengthening of Christians and the surrendering of unbelievers’ hearts to Christ. 

Make the gospel clear, clear, clear.  Just because unbelievers may be in attendance, don’t make the mistakes I’ve made: trying to be uber-cool and ultra-relevant, risking taking away from the thrust of the gospel.  One Easter, I preached on the power of the resurrection.  As a ‘relevant’ illustration, I mentioned how we as Americans are all about power and potency.  To my horror, I recall how I mentioned certain products men use for physical issues in certain areas—totally unnecessary to the point being made.  It didn’t add to the discussion, and I’m certain for many turned them off.  Make the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the atoning work of Christ, and the need to surrender to Christ clear, clear, clear.

In a broader sense, stick to the Scriptures.  Those coming into our service need to hear a word from God.  Again, they need reminders from God’s Book about the season’s reason!  James Robertson noted that the Dutch brought St. Nicholas to America, the Germans brought the Christmas tree, and the British brought the carols.  I fear we Americans have brought the consumeristic commercialism.  This last contribution weighs down many Americans (even Christians) to the point that counting down the days to Christmas brings moans and dread rather than introspection and celebration!  Yet in the Scriptures, we see that in the midst of the darkness of our sin and fallenness where creation groans for redemption (Romans 8:17-25), God brings a great light (Isaiah 9:2-7) in the person of Jesus Christ (John 8:12). 

Address the issues skeptics find in the incarnation and the crucifixion/resurrection.  Skeptics abound, especially when it comes to the particulars of the incarnation or anything along the supernatural.  If something cannot be observed, examined, or explained, then it loses credibility.  The teachings such as those regarding the Virgin birth are considered too outlandish or steeped in Greek mythology in order to be credible.  Yet, as Daniel Akin notes:

The virgin birth should not be an obstacle to faith but rather a help.  Jesus Christ did not enter the world like any other human.  He came as God incarnate, conceived in the womb of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is a miraculous gift to humanity and the world. . . .  If one rejects the virgin birth, he receives the approval of some people in the modern academy.  If one affirms the virgin birth, he receives the support of Scripture and almost two thousand years of church history (Akin, Theology for the Church, p. 512). 

Apologetics (defending the faith) is both for Christians and non-Christians as we seek to strengthen and explain, respectively, the rationale behind our faith.  Though only the Spirit can change hearts (1 Corinthians 2:11-14), we can certainly plant the seeds and give the reason for our faith as we dole out the reason for the season.

What think ye?