May 17, 2013

Is Your Preaching Treating the Disease or Just the Symptoms?


About a year ago I got really sick. I tend to avoid doctors like a cat does water, but after a week of feeling miserable I went.

The doctor quickly looked at all my symptoms and said, “You have an ear infection, sinus infection and a fever. Here are some drops for your ear, nasal spray for your sinuses, and antibiotics for the fever. You should be good as new within a week.”

I took the medicine and it made me feel a little better, but after a week I was still sick. I thought it was strange, but I continued to wait another week doing what the doctor told me to do. I only got worse.

Finally, my wife convinced dragged me kicking and screaming to the emergency room. When we told the ER Doc what was wrong, he agreed it was strange that I wasn’t getting better. So he ran a few tests.

When got the test results he exclaimed, “Well, we found why you aren’t getting any better. You don’t just have an ear infection, sinus infection, and fever. You have strep throat.”

I had been misdiagnosed! The first doctor was treating my symptoms, but not the real problem! Strep throat was the cause of all my other symptoms.

So the ER Doc gave me the biggest shot of penicillin I have ever seen (in the rear) and a few medications to help my throat.

The shot hurt. It wasn’t fun. But it was exactly what I needed. I was back to normal in a few days.

This experience got me thinking about how we as pastors preach and prescribe remedies to our people. Are we preaching just to treat symptoms, or are we getting to the root of the problem?

Moral preaching treats the symptom.

It is easy to look at our people prescribe moral fixes:

  • “Don’t look at porn.”
  • “Don’t lie.”
  • “Don’t steal.”
  • “Don’t cheat.”
  • “Forgive your enemies.”
  • “Love your neighbor.”
  • “Serve the poor.”

Moral preaching is easy. It is what people expect to hear in church. They will agree with your prescriptions, and if they apply moral principles to their lives, some of their problem areas may get better.

There is nothing wrong with moral principles. They are true and good principles to live by. But if people in our churches only follow moral principles, they will fail to treat the one problem that causes all immorality.

Moral preaching robs the church of its power. It fails to distinguish what makes Christianity any different than Oprah or Dr. Phil. The single differentiating message of the church is the Gospel. It should permeate every aspect of our preaching.

That is why Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).

Gospel preaching cures the disease.

Gospel preaching begins with a focus on main problem, moves to the only solution, and then overflows into the symptoms.

The problem is that we are all sinners. None of us are good and we are deserving of death and God’s wrath. But Jesus Christ died for our sins in our place to pay the debt we could never pay. It is because Jesus conquered sin and death and rose again that we can have forgiveness of our sins, be reconciled to God, and be formed into the likeness of Christ.

Once a person admits that their core problem is sin and accepts the Gospel, then other symptoms can be addressed.

Therefore, instead of the moral preaching of, “Love your neighbor, because it is the right thing to do,” Gospel preaching says, “We love, because Jesus first loved us.”

Instead of the moral preaching of, “Give generously to the poor, because nobody else is helping them and they need you,” Gospel preaching says, “Give generously to the poor, because Christ has given so generously to us.”

Instead of the moral preaching of, “Forgive your enemies, because unforgiveness only hurts you,” Gospel preaching says, “Forgive your enemies, because although we were once enemies of God, by the grace of God, Jesus chose to forgive us.”

Do you see the difference?

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Matthew 9:12) Our mission as preachers of the Gospel is to proclaim the healing that only Jesus can bring to the sick.

You can’t just yell at a sick person to act healthy. You cannot just prescribe antibiotics to a cancer patient and expect them to feel better. You have to get to the root of the problem. You have to cure the disease.

The difference between the Church and every other religion or moral teacher in the world is that we alone hold the cure.

The disease is sin. The cure is Christ!

I pray we will never forget this, and that we allow it to shape every aspect of our preaching and teaching.

What symptoms do we commonly treat in the church without treating the disease?

CC Image • Purple Penning on Flickr
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