In 1741, a man by the name of Jonathan Edwards delivered, what some consider, the best sermon ever preached. You may already know it, but the sermon’s name was “Sinners in the hand of an angry God.” As you can probably guess, this was not a ‘feel-good’ sermon. In this sermon, Edwards made the point that God’s judgment could fall at any time, and would fall on any unbelievers, even though they had numerous opportunities to hear the truth and repent. This was designed to get people to start doing something, instead of waiting around.
Sadly, when you look forward into the 21st century, this preaching intended to bring changes in people’s mindsets and to show God’s wrath has changed. Books like “Love Wins” from Rob Bell are becoming prominent in our culture, and even some in the church are buying into this belief that God is too nice to condemn someone. Preaching topical sermons and delivering basic lessons focusing on God’s love all the time is causing the church to become stagnate. We’re not moving forward in our Christianity because we’ve forgotten the seriousness of obeying all of God’s commands. In our culture, people mainly do what feels good. They join the church with the rock band and couches for pews because it’s what pleases them. Although Christians don’t do that today, how many of us have this mindset of coming to church to punch our cards and say we did something spiritual for the week? We come to church to look good, but we don’t live it. To me, this is a result from weak preaching. People don’t feel compelled to obey God because we never talk about the consequences of not obeying Him. We try to do the least amount possible in church because we don’t understand the idea of God wanting our best all the time. Preaching about God’s love is a great thing, but when you only get that side of the story, then we forget that we are to fear God. This fear is not respect, but a genuine terror and fright. Many verses speak of fearing God (Leviticus 25:17; 2 Kings 17:39; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Psalm 67:7; 96:4; Ecclesiastes 5:7; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 2:17). The meaning of life found in Ecclesiastes 12:13 is to fear God and keep His commandments. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God (Proverbs 1:7). I know God wants us to know of His love and He wants us to love Him as well, but we must remember the important aspect of truly being afraid of God’s power.
Apathy in the church is a scary thing. It is a consequence of preaching that does not motivate people to do what must be done in the church. Christians love hearing about going to heaven, and there is no problem with that. I like to hear about God’s promise to me and the mansion He has built for me in glory, but I also need to hear about the possibility of that mansion being taken by someone else, and me losing my salvation. People talk about how God changed from the Old Testament to the New Testament in that He became more compassionate and loving. God certainly is loving and compassionate, but do you think He completely did away with His anger? That would be ridiculous, yet we live like that so much of the time.
When people think of hell, fire, and brimstone preaching, they often think of loud preaching with pounding on the podium. That is simply not the case. Jonathan Edwards is said to have preached “Sinners in the hand of an angry God” in a monotone voice. This preaching can be done in any voice or style, as long as it’s done in love. It is simply getting people to realize the seriousness and consequences of not obeying God. If you want the church’s apathy to go away, preachers must be willing to do the hard thing and tell people how it is.
At this point in time, we need to be focusing more on what the church could be doing better instead of focusing so much on what the church does right. When we only focus on the things the church does right, we get complacent and stop worrying about being the best Christians we can be. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did not praise the crowds for what they did right. He kept saying, “You have heard…But I say to you.” In Acts 2, Peter preached the famous sermon on Pentecost. In it, he accused the people of nailing Christ to the cross. He told them what they did wrong and the people repented. In Acts 7, Steven called the council stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart. He did not praise them for being spiritual. My point is this: our preaching needs to be pricking people’s hearts and keeping them on their toes so they will constantly strive to be better Christians. The only stipulation that comes along with preaching about the issues in the church is that you better have a solution to the problems you raise.