December 14, 2017

Getting the Point

Shaking hands at the door of the sanctuary after the service, the pastor noticed frowns on several of his parishioners’ faces. “I don’t know, pastor,” one man said, pointing an accusing finger at him. “If I were you I’d take a look at Romans 2:1.”

When all had gone home for Sunday dinner and he feared his own was getting cold, the minister went back to his study to gather his things. His Bible was on the desk. Remembering his friend’s admonition, he opened it to Romans 2:1 —

“Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”

“Well, that’s pretty harsh,” he thought. “He has some nerve.”

The pastor decided he would call later and give him a piece of his mind. He looked up his number in the church directory to write it down and noticed something he had never seen before. The man’s picture. His gaze was piercing. In the pose, his hands were folded on a table in front of him but his index finger was pointing. Straight out from the picture. Right at the pastor. “That’s strange,” he thought. “I’d never noticed that before.”

The minister locked up the church and got in his car. Noting the time, he decided to take the interstate home. It was a few more miles but quicker. From the on ramp, he saw that the traffic was exceptionally heavy for a Sunday. “Must be an accident or something,” he sighed. He tried to merge, but no one would let him in. His temperature began to rise. Muttering turned to explosive cursing as driver after driver insisted on getting through without making room for him.

Finally, he saw a small opening and forced the front of the car into the gap. The man behind the wheel in the car he cut off laid on the horn but the pastor would not be denied. Finally, the man swung around, tires squealing, and passed him on the right, squeezing ahead of the frustrated minister once again. Before the car moved ahead of him, the pastor looked at its determined driver and shouted, “You idiot!” The man just glared and pointed his finger at the pastor. The right reverend was tempted to hold up another finger in reply, but somehow restrained himself. He turned up the air conditioning for the rest of the trip home.

“That was a pretty strong sermon this morning,” said the pastor’s wife as she passed the platter of meat to him at the table. “I would imagine more than a few people were unhappy about the way you criticized their sins.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his children nodding their heads. When all had fixed their plates, they bowed and the pastor led them in the Lord’s Prayer. His eye squinted open just as they were saying, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” What was that? Each member of his family had eyes closed and hands folded on the table, but their index fingers were pointing toward the head of the table, straight out, directly at him. For a moment he fumbled his words, catching up again at, “but deliver us from evil…”

That afternoon, he decided to fix a shutter that needed attention on the side of the house. The pastor wasn’t much of a handyman, but this was straightforward. A couple of screws had worked their way loose and the wind had caught the shutter, ripping it away from the siding and leaving it hanging there crookedly. Just replace the screws and re-secure the shutter. All was going well until he leaned back to make sure he had it straight. His foot slipped and he went tumbling off the ladder, hitting the ground hard on his right arm. He knew immediately it was broken, and it felt like he might have busted the index finger on his right hand too.

The physician at the emergency room said he’d have to wear the cast for several weeks, and should keep his arm in a sling to keep from moving it. The finger was also in a cast to straighten it and keep it immobile. The resulting look was almost comical. His right arm was slung across his chest, with the index finger pointing upward, right under his chin.

As he was leaving the room, the doctor gave the pastor a wry smile. “Guess you’ll have something to preach about next Sunday, huh?”

Comments

  1. When a preacher does not preach about sin, then he/she is remiss. It must be done. There’s no need for the gospel if we are not brought low in our sins.

    There are better ways to do this, of course.

    • cermak_rd says:

      I don’t think I ever heard a sermon about sin per se. I’ve heard sermons about the sin of David, and the forgiveness of sins. I’m not even sure what it would sound like? An angry jeremiad? Of course, I tend to sample a sermon for a few minutes and if it isn’t interesting, I tune out. Father Pacwa at Loyola could keep me listening the whole time, he was a scholar and gave good, Hebrew based scholarly expositions on the Scriptures (he probably, in his own way, helped me on my spiritual journey). My current Rabbi gives the same kind of expositions. Because for me, I’d much rather hear a scholarly presentation of what does it say, what did it mean at the time, why is it there, and is it possible to apply this to the present time. I find that far more compelling than an individual presenter’s take on what this scripture means to me.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Hmm, dunno, Steve. The focus of the Bible is not on sin, but salvation. If the Holy Spirit convicts people of their sin, then the purpose of a pastor/preacher is to point the light to Jesus and what that salvation looks like.

      Trust me, I do not advocate dismissing sin in any way, but a sermon that “preaches about sin” tends to 1) generate more guilt than hope, 2) present Scripture as a book of rules, rather than a plan for salvation, and 3) set the speaker up for the inevitable embarrassing moment in which his or her own sin is exposed (see: Ted Haggard). The alternative to this approach does not have to be a sermon which preaches “love without rebuke.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        A “sermon that preaches about sin” is always in danger of turning into a beatdown.

        There have been many postings both here and on other blogs about how Salvation has become nothing more than Sin Management in a lot of cases. And the Unpardonable Sin is always The Other Guy’s, never your own.

    • dumb ox says:

      I think the “how” is key. Even Luther stated that law must be preached in order to drive us to the gospel. We need the law to make us despair of any hope of saving ourselves, then the gospel is good news indeed.

      The problem with garden variety evangelicalism is the order is reversed, i.e. gospel-law, or the order is law-gospel-law. A candy-coated message is preached to solicit “decisions for Christ” (God has a wonderful plan for your life, etc). Once the contract is signed and the newly gathered sheep are in the pen WHAMO! Out comes the law: if you don’t do this, that, and the other, you’re really not saved, you’re at risk of backsliding and losing your salvation, or you really don’t care how much Jesus loves you and gave for you, because you’re not making much of an effort to pay him back. Pragmatic preaching is far more passive-agressive law: if you want God’s wonderful plan and your best life now, you have to follow these ten principles or secrets of the kingdom; at best, it is still condemning law; at its worse, it is man-made rules presented as “biblical principles”.

      Law needs to be handled surgically. Rightful preaching of the law is not finger-wagging, because the one who preaches is as much dependent upon grace as those in the pews. I’m not going to say that I know how it’s done, because that is not my vocation. I can say that I have been on the receiving end enough to know that (a) it’s no fun, (b) it never works long-term and (c) it only emboldens the self-righteous and crushes the broken reeds.

    • I’m with Stevie Martin 100% here. Gospel without law is as damaging as law without gospel.

      It is only in the context of our depravity and sinfulness that we can appreciate the magnitude of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and the atonement. Take that out of the equation and all you have left is a sentimental mushy ‘God’s love’ with no substance. Sweep sin under the carpet and you cut the nerve of the gospel.

      It’s not a question of whether the imaginary preacher ought to have mentioned sin from the pulpit or not, but (as the intellectually challenged bovine commented), it is HOW it needs to be done.

      John

  2. It is funny how the pendulum swings.
    I recall as a kid in the 1970s there still were genuine fire and brimstone sermons. I do not think they were very useful. In fact, perhaps detrimental.

    Since then, I have seen it swing to the opposite end. Now whenever sin is mentioned we get ‘come now, we musn’t judge’. This attitude is a license to allow people to just go on doing whatever they want. Funny how this type of ‘love’ without rebuke has arisen in the context of a culture in which the only sin is for anyone to have the audacity to say that anything is wrong.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am reminded of Isaiah who had to deal with his own sin (I am a man of unclean lips in midst of an unclean people), but that did not stop Isaiah from rebuking sin.

    What I see is a pattern of don’t rebuke sin from a hypocritical unloving heart, rather get cleaned up first (remove the log from your own eye so you can see clearly to remove the speck from a brother).

    • “this type of ‘love’ without rebuke has arisen in the context of a culture in which the only sin is for anyone to have the audacity to say that anything is wrong.”

      Agreed. I find it a little humorous when someone will say “such and such” is a sin and then you get all the compassion Nazis reacting by pointing their fingers and calling that person a Pharisee. What a terrible judgment of another’s heart and motives. Don’t they realize that such an accusation is perhaps the most judgmental thing a Christian could ever say?

      Regarding the above parable, it is hard to comment not having heard the preacher’s sermon.

  3. I’m curious what sins (and whose) should be dealt with from the pulpit? I suggest that the pulpit is precisely the wrong place from which to harangue a congregation – people whose sins need to be addressed should have that done privately.

    If the congregation is so collectively evil that it needs rebuke, why should that come from the pastor, whose leadership obviously didn’t prevent the congregation from straying? In that case, he should start the rebukes with his own. And if he’s denouncing the sins of those other than the congregation, why bother? If religion is all about judging other folks’ failures, we can do without it.

    The public pulpit should be a place of encouragement.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Maybe the problem is in your first sentence, Pilar. We like to think of “sin” as “actions which are bad.” Consequently, since we cannot possibly talk about every conceivable sin in detail (can you imagine a church in which a pastor covered one sin per week as the entire focus of his sermon for a whole year? how depressing would that be!), we tend to pick the “major” sins (i.e., the sins we tend to prioritize) and focus on those.

      I have often found that sermons on sin, especially ones which only address a particular sin, tend to be very superficial, regardless of the sincerity and passion of the speaker. Focus on salvation, and the sermon can really stir souls.

      • Marcus – what about the situation where your congregation is already composed of people who have been Christian for many years? I have a hard time understanding how a sermon about salvation is going to speak to the businessman who is using legal loopholes to withhold wages or any one of a number of pet sins that are in every group of people.
        I have been a Christian for over 30 years and know that many people who are in my age bracket still have serious issues that have never been dealt with that should be. These issues are holding them back and are a detriment to their community. In some cases they cause grave hurt to others.

        Churches are now full of people who live in this fundamental disconnect and think that it is really okay. My problem with the uber grace crowd is that they never seem to address the prophetic edge of scripture that calls all humans to repentance. You cannot ignore this, it is there. A leader rebuking sin in our lives is not being unloving. Condemning someone is a whole different story, but this is not the same as reproof or rebuke.

        A great help is to read the letters of Paul. He did not hesitate to reprove whole congregations (look at 1 Corinthians or Galatians). When I read the letters I see a pastoral concern that loves people enough that he is willing to put his relationship on the line. He knew he ran the risk of offending people, but also that their lifestyles were wrong and he had to set them straight.

        • “What about the situation where your congregation is already composed of people who have been Christian for many years? ”

          Then what of where Paul writes to Christians that they are to be working out their salvation with fear and trembling? Surely the Apostle sees it as an ongoing process – and specifically the ongoing process by which sanctification is completed. I believe that this is opposed to sin management, wherein specific sins are identified and attempts are made to lessen them. As the Lutherans among us would shout, that’s just more Law, and Law is death.

        • Phil M. says:

          I have been a Christian for over 30 years and know that many people who are in my age bracket still have serious issues that have never been dealt with that should be.

          How do you know?

          Maybe they have tried to deal with them, but they’re attempts have been unsuccessful. It’s like saying an overweight person hasn’t dealt with their weight. Chances are they have tried and failed many times, but eventually they gave up. I don’t know. I guess I question what the goal of living a Christian life is. Is it to die having the least amount of sin in our lives as possible?

          Personally, I think the sins we think are a big deal are probably not as a big deal to God, and the ones that we should be concerned about are probably going unnoticed by the majority of us, myself included.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        Great point, Ken. I think that a lot of church communities are composed of professed Christians that are unwilling to confront their sin, and are in desperate need of an eye-opener.

        Reproving WHOLE congregations: That’s the idea. If there is evidence of unresolved sin throughout the entire congregation, which the church community continues to affirm, then absolutely, bring it to their attention. Make the case that this is what the heart and mind of Christ is like, and this is the mission of our church community, so we need to move past this. However, if the sin being addressed does not apply to an entire congregation, and instead, applies to a single person in a congregation, or a couple of people, using the sermon as the tool of rebuke shames them publicly, when we would be much more effective in addressing the issue privately.

        This doesn’t mean that we cannot rebuke individual sin, only that the sermon is neither the only tool, nor is it the best in our arsenal. Back to the example of the bad employer: If the person is a well-known member in the church (like a deacon), I would prefer to meet with that person privately, perhaps with a fellow elder as support, and explain my concern regarding his sin in a safe environment. If the person is a visiting worshipper, I would much rather use that limited amount of time to show him what the generosity of God looks like. If the person is a member who I haven’t gotten to know yet, I would rather either establish a relationship with him before confronting him about his sin or, if I’m too busy, encourage that person into a relationship with a mentor who can help him confront his problems.

        • I think we are pretty well on the same page. A pattern I see in scripture is start privately, and if necessary go public.

          But I see that there may be times of where it has to involve the whole community. In this case I cannot imagine a situation where individuals are singled out.

          Your idea of unresolved sin throughout the congregation is really the situation I was getting at. In rural Canada there are lots of small congregations where you get weird things going on and it may be generational. You have groups of families that dominate community life in unhealthy ways. They end up being board members and power brokers and you get a really unhealthy community where wrong is rampant.
          This is what I see Paul getting at with the people of Corinth. And contrary to my Arminian upbringing I think repentance can be a process and public recognition of the problem may be a necessary step in the process.

          • Yup, been there.

          • “Your idea of unresolved sin throughout the congregation is really the situation I was getting at. In rural Canada there are lots of small congregations where you get weird things going on and it may be generational. You have groups of families that dominate community life in unhealthy ways. They end up being board members and power brokers and you get a really unhealthy community where wrong is rampant.”

            May the Lord have mercy on them and may God’s grace bring them to repentance. Unbelievably sad situations, but they are totally blinded, know of a couple of those communities personally.

    • “The public pulpit should be a place of encouragement.”

      In general, yes. But I think there is a time and place to publically denounce sin. For instance, what if the congregation contained several business owners, some of who were using a legal loophole to withhold wages that were due their employees? What sort of Christianity allows someone to hurt themselves or others without saying something about it?

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        Is the focus of this sermon on that person and their sin, or on God and his salvation? By using the pulpit to point at someone and say, “You’re a sinner,” there is usually an implication that either a) the speaker is not, or b) the speaker is, but he is a “better” sinner than the other guy. Hence, Jesus’ admonition to “Judge not, lest you also be judged.”

        More importantly, the situation which you referred to is very specific. I wonder how informed the preacher is on the actual context of why wages are being withheld? Imagine a pastor railing on the evils of unfair employer practices, when the employer has a perfectly legitimate reason for withholding wages (e.g., the employee has some citizenship problems that must be resolved first). Get on your pulpit and condemn a person’s sin, and you might end up pulling out the wheat with the tares, as it were.

        • “…there is usually an implication that either a) the speaker is not, or b) the speaker is, but he is a ‘better’ sinner than the other guy.”

          I really don’t like to discuss sin/righteous as though it was a scale of rank. This is all much more practical than that. My sin is sin because it hurts me and/or those I am sinning against. My sin needs to stop for the same reason. It has nothing to do with my righteousness compared to someone else’s.

          “…the situation which you referred to is very specific.”

          Then forget the specific situation. The point is that a preacher shouldn’t stand idly by if there is a common sin in the congregation that is hurting people.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          I agree; preachers shouldn’t stand idly by if there is a common sin in the congregation that is hurting people. However, I would add a couple cautions to that idea:

          1. Sin is not defined by the people who it hurts (i.e., it hurts me and/or those I am sinning against). Keep in mind that there are plenty of ways to hurt someone that are not sinful at all. The main feature of sin is that it separates us spiritually from God and puts us outside of the great work he has in store for us and the world around us. A slight distinction, maybe, but significant nonetheless. If we approach someone about their sin, thinking in terms of harm towards other people, it may be difficult to shift the conversation back to “how does this sin impact your spiritual walk with God?”

          2. My primary concern is that preachers should not think that the only tool available in their arsenal to get people to confront their sin is the pulpit. Sometimes, it could be the worst possible tool to use. Most times, if there is a group of church members who are engaged in a common sin, there is a way to confront those individuals outside of the realm of a worship service. The “preacher” persona is only one of many roles which a pastor assumes in his or her leadership; sometimes, in the role of counselor, or administrator, or conflict resolutionist, or any of the other roles assumed between Monday and Saturday, the pastor can find a productive way to criticize wrongdoing in the church.

    • Pilar
      I think where this comes from is a fairly clear pattern in both New and Old Testament. The job of a leader was/is to comfort and encourage, but another clear role is instruction and discipline.

      The discipline part requires wisdom. Obviously some things are of a private nature and need to be dealt with in privacy. However there are things that may need to be dealt with as a community when all are present.

      Here is a concrete example: a friend of mine talks about a church he knows where the young people went to the bar (and may have gotten drunk) to celebrate a baptism. I have no idea what the outcome was. But there may have been an opportune time for a pastor to point out that drunkenness is considered sin (and in his Pentecostal denomination more so than others), and I think it may be appropriate to mention it publicly. That way the teens are there in the presence of parents and the entire community. Now would he need to mention names – absolutely not. But it can be used as an opportunity to educate, and maybe even discussion.

      To my mind the scope of confrontation needs to match the scope of commitment of the sin, unless there is a good reason for all to know it should be dealt with in private. But there are times when a leader needs to come public and things are to be dealt with as a community.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        In the example offered above, why does this have to be addressed in the context of a sermon? If young people went to a bar to celebrate a baptism and got drunk, why not have a meeting with those young people (and, if they were underaged, with their parents), and address that issue? Compare the impact of a conversation, in which the pastor sits down with those folks and says, “I’m really concerned about this recent activity, the impact it has on your health, and the damage it could have for the church’s reputation, and here’s why,” versus a public twenty-minute shaming session, which will no doubt ensure that some of those people will never darken the steps of a church again. That first option is a conversation, in which thoughts and feelings are shared, and there is a better chance of reconciliation. The second option is tantamount to bullying tactics, in which people are told, in no uncertain terms, “Do this, and we will make you regret it.”

        • Somehow I see an assumption on your part that mentioning it in a sermon is bullying. Can you explain to me why this is so? I don’t see the connection at all.
          Depending on the way it is delivered it could be so, but does it have to be?

          I think the same could be said for talking about it in private or as a small group. That could be bullying on a personal more intimate level, in fact it can be a great opportunity for a pastor to be an idiot and not have the whole community witness it. I would bet that our fellow iMonks could recite a plethora of stories of leaders being jerks in private.

          So is the question one of that it is wrong to confront sin, or is it more the manner in which it is done? I fall down on the side that there are times when it needs to be done in community and that life is not so simple that it is a one size fits all.

          My problem is more HOW is it done? What is the attitude of heart of the deliverer? Is it sensitive in terms of timing? How likely is it to be effective? In short, my thought is that reproof and rebuke is not optional in the Christian life, and it is modeled throughout both New and Old Testaments. But it needs to be done with both wisdom and love (and some prompting of the Holy Spirit). If it is not done rightly, it tends to make things worse. Done rightly it can be a tremendous agent for growth.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          Let’s put it this way: if your job involved working with customers or clients, and you made a mistake, would you rather have your employer wait until you were working with a customer, or at the next employee picnic or staff meeting, and tell you how bad of a job you did? Or would you rather have your employer pull you into his or her office, explain his position, and attempt to work out a plan for success? Ask any person in student affairs, education, human resources, interpersonal communication, etc. and they will tell you that criticism is usually always best received in private, when people can feel safe, yet still have the opportunity to confront their issues. The reason for this lies in our understanding of human relationships, and pastoring is all about nuturing human relationships.

  4. David Cornwell says:

    I think there are ways to address sin from the pulpit without pointing an accusing finger. Tell the story, the story we all involved in, which pretty much leaves us hopeless and full of guilt, twisted up in a plot that can in no way resolve itself. Then tell the story of redemption and love that comes to us through the cross and Jesus Christ. We are all involved in this story, for it is a sad one indeed without this resolution of the plot.

    The great writers of literature understood this. Read Shakespeare and his MacBeth or King Lear. We don’t have to make people guilty, we are born in guilt and live out the sin that produces it every day of our lives. Find a way to retell this old story in your preaching, and do it as best you can, and that will do.

  5. JoanieD says:

    I am reading Tom Wright’s book Luke for Everyone and on page 34 he writes, “We cannot presume that because we have shared in the great Christian mystery, the new Exodus, coming through the water of baptism with all that it means, God will automatically be happy with us even if we show no signs of serious repentance. Of course, Christian living is far more than simply repentance, but it is not less. All spiritual advance begins with a turning away from what is hindering our obedience.”

    I think there is some wisdom there, especially in the “Of course, Christian living is far more than simply repentance, but it is not less.”

  6. Phil M. says:

    The whole notion that we need to go listen to someone give a speech about something for 30 minutes to an hour in order for the Holy Spirit to convict of us something is an inherently modern notion. Now I’ve heard some truly gifted speakers (heck, I’d even say “anointed”!), but they’re few and far between. Most sermons I hear now truly just come off to me as someone giving me their opinion on something I really don’t care that much about.

    As far as addressing sin from the pulpit, I’d say it can be done, but it’s a rare occasion when it’s done well. The pastor in the African American congregation I was a member of before moving did it best. He had such a father’s heart that you could simply tell that when he spoke of sin, he understood as something that was hurting the people. It wasn’t simply out of some abstract moral concern. And I think that’s probably what’s at the root of all this. A lot of Western theology is based on the notion that God is a monarchical tyrant sitting in heaven demanding perfection, rubbing His hands together waiting to smite the next person who ticks Him off. So pastors preach sermons that become about how we must appease this God – or else.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    As he was leaving the room, the doctor gave the pastor a wry smile. “Guess you’ll have something to preach about next Sunday, huh?”

    Reverend Everett Righteous.
    Pastor and Preacher of a church somewhere … in the Twilight Zone.
    (Doo dee doo doo Doo dee doo doo Doo dee doo doo Doo dee doo doo…)

  8. I always seem late in commenting being on the west coast and reading at night…but I have two things to say that likely no one will read…

    I’m not all sophisticated theologically and sometimes feel pretty silly next to some of the wonderfully erudite commenters on this blog. However, I have very firm beliefs that what Jesus actually did and said is my Way, Truth, and Life. I am reminded of the story of the adulteress and how Jesus instructed us not to cast aspersions in the form of stones unless we ourselves were without sin. He then quietly and privately asked her to sin no more. He didn’t preach to the crowd about their sins, didn’t publicly rebuke them. And given the public rebuking that Paul did regularly, whenever I have a disconnect between Paul and Jesus…guess who wins?

    The second thing is that no matter how close of friends you think you are with someone, Jesus reminds us that only GOD knows our hearts and where we are with our sins. To presume to know anyone’s heart, even a spouse or a child is to make yourself God’s equal. What this story said to me is that God gave this preacher lots of 2×4’s upside the head to remind him that he hold not presume himself into God’s equal.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      I’m not sure where you found a contradiction between Paul and Jesus; I know I haven’t found one yet. Jesus did, in fact, preach to people about their sins (a good chunk of the Sermon on the Mount is devoted to that) and as far as public rebuke, He had some pretty harsh words for the religious leaders of his time, both in direct rebuke and in parable form, and often times in public (I should point out that in the story of the adulteress in John 8, Jesus’ comment to the leaders that those without sin should cast the first stone was, in fact, a pretty overt rebuke). However, Jesus knew how to place his confrontations in context with the person who needed to hear the message (e.g., the woman at the well in John 4, who was gently confronted with her sin, but left empowered to spread the gospel herself).

      Absolutely, God is the only one who knows someone’s heart. In addition, spiritual leaders in the church should be aware of unresolved sins in their own life, and take that awareness into any intervention with an errant believer. However, this does not eliminate the need for interventions or direct confrontations of people’s sins. Even in the secular world, counselors make clients confront their irresponsible behavior, doctors confront patients, employers confront employees, teachers confront students, policemen confront criminals, etc. This doesn’t mean that counselors, doctors, employers, teachers, and/or policemen necessarily have a “God” complex, but sometimes part of their duties require them to pull someone aside and say, “This is wrong, unhealthy, or illegal.” Same rule applies to the church; however, I believe this is more of a job for pastors, not preachers.

      • When is the last time you read the Sermon on the Mount? I read your comment, then I read it again to be sure I wasn’t forgetting a part of it. It is Jesus gently instructing his followers to follow love, not the law. Rather than eye for eye, turn the other cheek. If a person is robbing you, give him more than they ask. Feed the hungry, give to those who ask. When you pray, this is how you should pray. Little of it is about sin, not a big chunk of it.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          Check out Matthew 5:21-37. The standard format for those sections read as a “you have heard this, but I’m telling you this.” You’re right, it is Jesus telling people to follow love, but the way that people know how to do that is by following the law (hence Jesus’ statement in vs. 17-21 that he had not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. Jesus was very much referring to sin, but he presented it as a way of living a life of love, not through condemning individual people.

          • Yes, I get that. He expounded on a few of the commandments. I still do not see how He used a big chunk of that sermon talking about sin. It was more about reconciliation, forgiveness, charity using a couple of commandments as starting points.
            On the other hand, Paul was steeped in the law. He had to first view his thoughts through that lens first before he reached the point of grace.

    • LA, I’m with you in often finding disconnects in the spirit of Paul’s and Jesus’s teachings. Paul struggled with things I believe Jesus may have told him to chill out about. He was conflicted in his guilt it seems, and that thorn in the flesh thing….
      Jesus made the comment of Peter that upon this rock I will build my kingdom, but it is Paul who has become that rock in the circles of evangelicals, and Peter the radical or ignored.
      I must say though, this particular scripture in this story is often overlooked as well when the first chapter of Romans is used as a beating stick for the gays. When that conversation is taking place, the scripture seems to stop suddenly at Romans 1:32.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        I’m still not sure where this disconnect exists between Paul’s teachings and Jesus’ teaching; maybe someone can explain that to me. I think Paul and Jesus were both speaking from different contexts; Jesus’ ministry focused on the Jewish community, creating the groundwork for the Christian church, and Paul’s ministry covered a larger geographical and cultural area. Jesus did not directly encounter some of the problems which Paul confronted (or, at least, it is not recorded in the Gospels), so while Paul’s approaches to certain issues within the early church may seem different than others, the principles and truths inherent in the teachings of Jesus always underscored Paul’s logic and approach. If there is an instance where that is not true, I’d love to see someone point that out.

        • One point of disconnect for me is when Paul gives instructions regarding sex and marriage. The only thing Jesus said of either is about most causes for divorce resulting in both parties being guilty of adultery if remarrying…you know the one. I’m not certain on what Paul bases most of his thoughts. He says it came to him from God during times of meditation. In this instance, I prefer the teachings of Jesus who is Love. God is Love..Jesus is God…Jesus is love. Pauls’ thoughts on the subject lead to hate, judgement and persecution of others. That is one example of a disconnect between the two for me.

          • Bottom line for me is that Paul is not God, Jesus is. And where Paul preached harshly and oftentimes in a circuitous route, Jesus was plain-spoken and loving. Jesus DID tell us the law. The ONLY law that we are to follow – and that is to love one another. Period. He said specifically that from there hang all the law and the prophets. That cannot be interpreted, explained away or altered. It stands from his lips to our ears as the only commandment. For better or worse, while Paul was, I am sure, divinely inspired, he was a human who told us not to ever marry unless our urges got the better of us. Yet Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding. So is marriage supported by God as a natural pathway for humans? Jesus certainly supported marriage by beginning his ministry at a wedding – he certainly would not have performed that miracle at that time if he thought we should never marry unless we were depraved and couldn’t control our urges. (Not trying to derail the subject, but using that as one of several examples where Paul’s teaching clearly strays from the actual ministry of Jesus).

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          It’s not a disconnect, anymore than a beginner’s level piano class is a disconnect from a music composition course. The elementary course sets the standards and principles that are to be used in the advanced course in which those standards and principles are applied. In the same way, Jesus set the standards and principles of love by which Paul gave advice to the early churches. Just because some people misinterpret Paul’s advice and use it to discriminate and oppress people, doesn’t mean that Paul was wrong; it means that those folks’ interpretation of Paul’s teaching was wrong.

          • And those who would use those words of Paul’s allowed into the printed version to condemn have blood on their hands. It is the exact opposite message than that of Jesus who is never misinterpreted on the subject because there is nothing recorded on the subject spoken by Him. And yet, it is Paul who is preached most by those who “hate the sin”.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            Still, the inconsistency is not with Paul’s writings. That’s a problem with the people who interpret his writings.

          • I do not agree with your assessment.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            Can’t argue with that logic.

          • @Marcus…are we to believe that you think that Jesus’ teaching is elementary and Paul’s is “more advanced”? Wow…I’m very surprised by that. I see that you really dig Paul…and that’s cool – personally I find him obtuse and pedantic, but that’s just me – I can’t plow my way through GK Chesterton either and I’m sure he’s a brilliant man too. Give me a good ‘ole physics, chemistry or computer language any day. However, I cannot put anything Paul says on the same level as the gospels. Paul, to me, is just another gifted interpreter of Jesus’ words…a brilliant one, to be sure, and divinely inspired – absolutely. But he is NOT God. Period. Jesus, however, is God. Maybe I’m misunderstanding your comparison of the elementary/advance music.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            @LA By referring to Jesus’ teachings as “elementary,” that doesn’t mean they are simple or trite. Rather, it means that in order to advance to an understanding of the teachings of Paul or Peter or any of the other epistle writers, we have to understand Jesus’ teachings first. If the word “elementary” doesn’t sit well, try this: Jesus’ teachings are foundational, and in order to understand why Paul said what he did, you have to understand Jesus first. Sound better?

          • Paul is the advanced Jesus….I see.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            I wouldn’t characterize Paul that way. Calling him “the advanced Jesus” makes it sound like he is the more improved version of Jesus. Rather, I’m saying that in order to understand Paul, you have to understand Jesus’ teachings first. Jesus’ teachings underscore everything that Paul said, but much of Paul’s ministry involved putting Jesus’ teachings into context with the struggles of different churches. Paul had to apply those truths to churches that were struggling with rampant sexual misconduct, mistreatment of people based on class and national origin identity, and the transition from Gentile idolatry to Christian monotheism. Hence, Paul’s writings take a position of, “You are struggling with this very specific problem. Jesus taught this principle in the spirit of love, and if you do this, then you are abiding by those principles.”

            I’m sure if Jesus had to deal with a church dealing with a member who was involved with his late father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5), or arguing over whether or not circumcision was still important, or the weird philosophy of Gnostics and Essenes (the book of Colossians), and those events were recorded, we wouldn’t have this discussion. However, Jesus’ audience was primarily Jewish, and Paul’s audience was primarily Gentile. Jesus himself even acknowledged that the gospel he taught had to expand beyond Judea; does it really make sense that the message delivered in Judea would be delivered the exact same way in Ephesus, or Rome, or Corinth?

          • I don’t see how Paul’s words apply to 21st century if read literally. Jesus’ teachings can be used daily by all who care to use them. Too many pastors put Paul on the same level of teaching, and that seems to create more negative results than positive. We have made Jesus’ ministry too complicated, but there’s no undoing it now. People are entrenched in what they think it all means, and I see very little of the love Jesus was so passionate about as a result.
            Ok Marcus, thanks for playing. Peace to you and yours.

  9. Just because some people misinterpret Paul’s advice and use it to discriminate and oppress people, doesn’t mean that Paul was wrong; it means that those folks’ interpretation of Paul’s teaching was wrong.

    I think this point was lost in translation somewhere in the last few comments and needs reinforcing.

    If someone drives a Chrysler into a crowded mall and mows people down, the victims families wouldn’t think of suing Chrysler because the car was never intended for that use.

    If you’re gay or close to someone who is, it’s easy to read your own bias into Paul’s teachings but it would more honest to say “I don’t understand how Paul and Jesus’ teachings correlate into the same Bible” rather than label Paul harsh and bigoted and Jesus as soft and cuddly. Yes, indeed Jesus did “quietly and privately asked her to sin no more” (though I’m not sure about the “quietly and privately” bit as it’s not in the text), but on another occasion when he told a paraplegic (and possibly quadriplegic) to “sin no more”, he also added “that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). That would have been enough to hurt MY feelings!

    If you fast fwd towards the end of the Bible it gets even worse. You have the same “sensitive” Jesus who told the adulteress to “sin no more” now saying about a false prophetess; “I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.” (Rev 2:22) Enough to send shivers up your spine I say.

    That’s THE SAME Jesus. Is he bipolar or what? Well, clearly he didn’t have the “one size fits all” policy but dealt with people accordingly, as the psalmist also reflects (Psalm 18:25-27). He dealt gently with the sheep but fiercely rebuked the wolves.

    If we insist on a disconnect and contradictions between Paul and Jesus we are faced with the (obvious) problem that we cannot rely on the Bible as an authoritative book for all matters of faith and practice. If you don’t like Paul you need to rip out 3 quarters of your New Testament because he wrote most of it. Paul didn’t refute Jesus but affirmed him (1 Cor 3:11). We now know that God imputes (credits) on us the righteousness of Christ in exchange for our sin which he took upon himself on the cross. Guess where this little gem of information came from??? Yes Paul (you’re so predictable 🙂 )

    We can’t cherry pick bits of the Bible we like and write off the ones we find dyspeptic. It’s an all or nothing thing and to not get those knee jerk reactions on things that make us feel uncomfortable. Context is of outmost importance when trying to interpret things controversial (who said what to whom when and why).

    The fact that preaching about sinFULNESS is done so poorly by some and framed in a condemnatory manner, does not invalidate its rightful place in biblical preaching. People who don’t think they’re sick don’t go to a doctor. If we don’t come to terms with the depths of our depravity and our irresistible urge to sin daily (in word, deed or thought) why do we even need a savior and redeemer? All we need is a life coach to help us improve our quality of life.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      JFDU, I know we debated vigorously in the past, but I think even we can come across the aisle and shake hands on this one.

    • JFDU…I have to agree – I don’t like cherry picking either, but when it comes down to “who’s right and who needs interpretation”, I have to say that Jesus is a whole lot clearer and far more tangible to me than Paul’s writing. I don’t believe that preaching about pitfalls of our humanity is wrong, just that it does not need to be done in a condemnatory fashion and particulars are best left to personal 1-on-1 conversations rather than beating up an entire congregation with the same stick. Jesus does instruct us to talk to one another before approaching the altar and in this way try to resolve the sinful behavior in a private fashion.

      For me, it is the judgment tone that CM’s post strikes…in describing this preacher’s behavior. It’s not the “hey, this is something we all face…there’s this sinful behavior out there and we need to do our best to avoid it”…but the “y’all are sinning, I know it, and you need to stop” attitude of the preacher described in the post that I feel is being admonished. I don’t like sermons that are all happy happy joy joy either – it’s good to go to the doctor and be told what’s wrong in our world. But making it personal, condemning and harsh is certainly not what our doctor (Jesus) is ordering up for us.

  10. LA

    You’re right. Dealing with sinful behaviors per se is only something a pastor can accomplish through visitations and private counselling. The pulpit is not reserved for hammer time.

    The “all encompassing” preaching of sin (as in WE not YOU) is casting a wide net to the whole congregation and does not isolate people. One has to trust the Holy Spirit to convict the hearts by using the Word, providing it is given in proper doses and balance between law (what we ought to do) and gospel (what God has already done for us).

    Also, if you notice the tags of the post, it is filed under “Parable, Metaphor and Illustration” so it’s not a true story but one that tries to make a point. Undoubtedly though there are preachers of this kind somewhere.

    (John From Down Under)

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Again, I agree with you, JFDU, although there is a sick part of me that would love to hear a pastor refer to his sermons as “hammer time.”

      • Marcus, I see more clearly what you are saying about Paul. And maybe it’s my scientific mind that just has trouble grasping and interpreting his word. Jesus…I get him…Paul just seems obtuse and circular. And then he comes at me with left-sided zingers like “women, be submissive to your husbands” which has been used for centuries to subvert our gifts and oppress really wonderful people to lives of servitude. Reading Paul is a chore for me – how do I read around or interpret cultural passages and take for truth other pieces? I never saw Jesus ever treat women the way that Paul talked about us…Jesus even spoke to the woman at the well against popular culture. I don’t ever see Paul as giving women the same treatment. I never felt that Jesus was “within a culture” as much as he spoke universally and with cultural “lingo”.

        I have personally sat through many, many hammer-time sermons…JFDU and Marcus, I challenge you to time travel back to 1960’s and 70’s Roman Catholicism. 🙂 And each time, Paul was the hammer and the poor congregants were the nails. It was only after I started attending a church and denomination that preached on the actual gospels and used Paul for Bible study and flavor text, that I realized the true nature of Jesus.