Never Preach in “Glittering Generalities”

W. R. Jones
One piece of wisdom I have given to young preachers who have sought advice is this; “Don’t preach in glittering generalities.”

One of the many remarkable things about the teaching of Jesus is seen in the fact that it was always simple and to the point. The same for the most part can also be said of Paul. In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul said, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with ex­cellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God” (1 Cor. 2:1). Both Jesus and the inspired apostle demonstrated the importance of simplicity of speech. Sometime it is easy for preachers to preach in such “generalities” that no one knows for sure just what they are talking about. And sometimes worldly-minded members like it that way, be­cause that kind of preaching really never bothers anyone. I might add that it also accomplishes very little, if anything. A preacher may impress his audience with a wonderfully worded speech, but if his lesson doesn’t teach and touch the hearts of his hearers, the time has been wasted.

This reminds me of the story about some people who came as visitors to hear a preacher, noted for his “excellency of words.” When the service had ended some friends inquired concerning their impression of the preacher and the lesson. Whereupon, one young fellow responded, “that must be the smartest man in the world, I never understood a thing he said.” This was meant to be a great compliment, but it was far from it. Lost and dying men today stand in need, not of high sounding lectures centered around the projects of men, but the simple gospel of Jesus Christ. Our pulpits should ring with the sound of truth, but it is easy  for the pulpit to become nothing more than a “promotional podium” for pet projects and the monetary resources to support them

I am told the story of two candidates who had engaged in a very hot campaign for the office of governor. Most of the things in each man’s platform were identical. The incumbent had been content to plainly set forth his platform time and again. Meanwhile, his opponent had loosed quite a few implicating “glittering generalities,” making sure that he did not commit himself plainly and specifically to anything. He made it plain enough to do harm and vague enough to sound innocent. In the incumbent’s last campaign speech, he said, “The issue in this campaign is really very clear. When all the glittering terms are stripped of their glitter and my opponent’s speeches have been set out in their light, the one and only issue between us is this: I am the governor of this state and he wants to be.”

In preaching, “Glittering Generalities” are mighty effective for easing the sting of truth, and keeping the preacher uninvolved, but not for setting forth the saving power of the gospel. There is an old East Texas saying which says, “You have to put the salve where the sore is.” Applying the remedy round about will not get the job done. As preachers we should desire to preach, and as members, we should desire to hear only the “truth of God” in all simplicity. Perhaps we would all do well to ask ourselves the following question: “What kind of spiritual food am I receiving where I worship? As preachers we need to ask ourselves the question, what kind of diet am I offering my listeners? Our mission is to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. We would do well to remember, you can’t make a strong church with a weak diet!

Where I preach I am constantly pushing for more in attendance. However, I must be careful that my quest for numbers does not influence me to present a “please everybody, watered down message.” It is a great temptation to alter the lesson when you fully know that your lesson will hinder your desire for great numbers. But remember, “telling it like it is” will also win some lost folks to Christ and prepare them for eternity. We have but one choice: preach the word in season and out.

From The Messenger, Decker Prairie, Pinehurst, Texas
Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 24  p17  December 21, 2000