June 21, 2018

The Positive Effects of Negative Preaching

Connie W. Adams

The kind of preaching needed has been a subject of concern to many. Some are of the opinion that what the world (and the brethren) need is positive preaching which does not condemn, but which makes the hearer feel good about himself. If, by positive preaching, we mean that the truth should be clearly and plainly set forth to challenge the hearer to understand and then obey the truth, then I am for positive preaching. But if that means we are to give sin and error a pass and never condemn either, then I am not in favor of that .

The Preaching Of Jonah

We can all learn something from the experiences of the prophet Jonah. He was charged by God to go to Nineveh, the capitol city of the great Assyrian Empire, and to preach that  "in yet forty days and Nineveh shall be over thrown" (Jon. 3:4). That was not very positive. It surely was not calculated to make the Ninevites feel good about themselves and all warm and fuzzy inside. Nineveh was a mighty city and the nerve center of a great empire. But it was grossly wicked. Orders had come from rulers in Nineveh which brutalized the nations they overran. Nineveh had shed much innocent blood. On top of that, they were idolatrous with all the sensuality which attended such perverted devotion to non-existent deities. God judges evil nations and, in his time, calls them to account.

The message was stern and short; the consequences of their wickedness were clearly shown. What was the result? Surely, such a prophet would be laughed to scorn or he would be dismissed as a fanatic. But no! "So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid aside his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. "He called upon the people to "cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?" What was the result of this negative preaching? It was positive. "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not" (Jonah 3:5-10). Jesus said that the men of Nineveh "repented at the preaching of Jonah "(Matt. 12:41) and cited that fact to rebuke the Jewish rulers who refused to heed the warnings of a prophet "greater than Jonah.”

The Preaching of Peter

On Pentecost, Peter told his audience some facts about Jesus and how he was "approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know. . . . Him . . .  ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain”  (Acts 2:22-23). That was a heavy indictment, but it was true. After convincing them that this same Jesus had been raised up to sit on David 's throne and that he was now "both Lord and Christ” they could stand it no longer. In anguish they "were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2 ':37). Verse 41 tells us the happy result.  "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” While there were many ingredients in this sermon which affected them, we must not overlook the negative point that they had killed their own Messiah. To tell an audience  "you are murderers” is pretty strong medicine. All of it together worked to cut them to the heart. The result was positive.

The Danger of Negative Preaching

When sinners have their evil ways pointed out and condemned, not all will gladly receive the message. When Peter stood before the council, he told them they had healed the lame man in the name of Jesus “whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead” and that "this is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner " (Acts 4:10-11). The rulers observed "the boldness of Peter and John” (v. 13). But instead of resolving to amend their ways, they held a conference to decide how to stop such preaching.  "And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all or teach in the name of Jesus " (v.18). When they let them go, they continued their work of preaching and were arrested and brought before the council once again. They said, "Ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us " (v. 28). Peter reminded them that "we ought to obey God rather than men.” Then he said that God had raised that same Jesus "whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.” Had it not been for Gamaliel, they would have killed them. "When they heard what Peter said, "they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them." On the advice of Gamaliel, they were beaten and released with the charge again that they not preach any more in the name of Jesus (See Acts 5:28-41).

All of this came to a climax with the preaching of Stephen. When certain Jews could not refute what Stephen was preaching, they caught him and brought him before the same council that had brought about the death of Jesus and had tried to stop the work of the apostles. They found false witnesses and laid charges against Stephen. In Acts 7 we have the account of his defense. First he gave a survey of the history of God's people from the promises to Abraham right down to the time of Christ. But when he reminded them that their fathers had resisted Moses and killed the prophets, then Stephen said,  "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.” That was as much, as they could stand. They were also  "cut to the heart" but instead of yielding to the truth, as those did on Pentecost, they gritted their teeth at him and "cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him" (read Acts 7). What was the effect of this negative application to Stephen's sermon? They killed the preacher!

What positive effect did that have? Stephen showed us all how to die with dignity. He showed the same forgiving spirit toward his tormentors that Jesus did when he said, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." Heaven honored him for he said, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." What a tribute to the courage and faithfulness of this true servant of God! His life was taken in this world, but he was ushered into a far better place. I would say that was a positive result, wouldn't you?

Lessons for Us

1. There are basic truths which must be taught. These facts produce faith in honest and good hearts.

2. All have sinned and need to be convicted of that sad reality. Sin must not be ignored or glossed over. It must be confronted.

3. Sometimes it becomes necessary to make specific applications to those in the audience. It is not up to us to decide whether they will like it or want to kill us.

4.  Sometimes it is necessary to identify by name those who are causing others to sin by false teaching. Hymenaeus and Philetus prove that point (2 Tim. 2:16-18). Jesus identified the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees in his preaching. Peter and Stephen charged the council with betraying and murdering the Son of God.

5. All of us draw strength and courage from Jonah, Jesus, Peter, John, and the rest of the apostles, and from men like Stephen.

6. Whether we can foresee what positive results may follow from negative preaching, we "walk by faith and not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7).

Faithful gospel preaching is a mix of both positive and negative elements and will yield positive results. The message is from the Lord and he will give the increase.

Truth Magazine Vol. LIII: 1 January 2009