A preacher had just finished a very strong sermon on the subject of sin. One of the officers of his church came to him and asked for a private word in the preacher’s study. Once there, the scolding began.
The officer said, “We don’t want you to talk so openly about peoples’ guilt and corruption. If our boys and girls hear you discussing such subjects they will more easily become sinners. Please do not speak so plainly about sin.”
To that, the preacher answered, “Consider a bottle of strychnine. On the bottle the word ‘Poison’ is written in red letters. Do you understand what you are asking me to do? You are suggesting that I change the label on the bottle. Suppose I paste on the label ‘Essence of Peppermint’? Don’t you see what might happen? Someone would use it, not knowing the danger involved, and would certainly die. So it is with the matter of sin. The milder you make your label, the more dangerous you make your poison!”
As a preacher, I must admit that such illustrations sting me a bit because they cause me to wonder if I preach too lightly against sin. My problem is that (like most preachers) I don’t want to offend anyone. I really don’t enjoy fighting or hurting peoples’ feelings. Jesus took that stuff out of me some time ago.
But if I don’t call sin what it is, I’m not much of a preacher. Sometimes I have to remind myself that God didn’t call me to be liked. Of course, I want to be liked. Every right-thinking person does. Being liked, though, can come at too steep a price. If I have to shave the edges off the truth, water down right doctrine, and wink at sin, I’ll have to get used to being disliked by some.
As for having a preacher “step on your toes,” did you know that the Bible teaches that how you respond sets the course for your life? Note carefully the following verses from the book of Proverbs (all references from the N.K.J.V.):
Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction. But he who regards a rebuke will be honored. (Proverbs 13:18)
The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise. He who disdains instruction despises his own soul. But he who heeds rebuke gets understanding. (Proverbs 15:31-32)
He who receives correction is prudent. (Proverbs 15:5)
He who hates correction will die. (Proverbs 15:10)
We don’t have to read very far into the Bible to find a man who didn’t receive rebuke and correction well. The story of Cain is recorded in Genesis 4:1-24. Cain and his younger brother, Abel, each brought offerings to the Lord. Cain’s offering consisted of the fruit of the ground, while Abel’s was a slain animal from the firstborn of his flock. God accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s.
Theologians have long debated why God didn’t accept Cain’s offering, but I agree with those who say the reason involved the shedding of blood. After Adam and Eve’s sin, God made them tunics of skin to wear to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:21). This meant that He shed the blood of either one or two animals. This was the world’s first object lesson on the subject of forgiveness of sin, and that lesson was: God only forgives on the basis of shed blood (Hebrews 9:22). Adam and Eve then passed this divine truth down to their sons, Cain and Abel. Abel received it gladly and brought an offering in line with it, but Cain rejected it and brought a bloodless offering that appealed to him.
And how did Cain respond to God’s rejection of the offering? He got mad (Genesis 4:5)! That’s when God came to him and warned him about the ramifications of his attitude towards the rebuke. He said, “Cain, if you do well, will you not be accepted?” That was God’s way of telling Cain that He wasn’t playing favorites with Abel. But then God gave the warning: “And if you do not well, sin lies at the door” (Genesis 4:7). Clearly, Cain had a choice to make. He could heed the rebuke and gain understanding or he could disdain it and send his life down a bad road. The choice was his.
Sadly, Cain chose poorly. Rather than bring the right kind of offering to God, Cain went out and killed Abel. The man who wouldn’t shed the blood of a sacrificial animal didn’t mind shedding the blood of his brother! For that murder, God said to him, “Now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth” (Genesis 4:11-12). Cain then lived out the rest of his long life away from his family and out of relationship with God.
I hope you remember Cain the next time a preacher comes down hard on your sin. Remember that Cain’s response to being rebuked pointed him in an undesirable direction in which he continued for the rest of his life. Don’t get mad at the messenger and ignore the message. Instead, embrace both as God’s way of keeping you from poison. And, by the way, if you have a preacher who doesn’t shy away from preaching against sin, be thankful for him. I can tell you from personal experience that the man doesn’t have an easy job.