Loving Direct Preaching


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Jesus ministered to believers and unbelievers about their specific sins


Do you believe the common humanistic idea that preaching to believers should not involve mentioning specific sins? If so, read Jesus’ Words in Revelation 2:1-3:22. In these verses, Jesus lovingly mentioned the specific sins of churchgoers such as forsaking their first love for Him (Revelation 2:4), sexual immorality (2:14,20), being lukewarm spiritually (3:15-16) and being proud, self-reliant and materialistic (3:17).

Jesus’ messages to the churches in Revelation 2:1-3:22 contain encouragement, comfort, warnings and rebukes. They also mention the word “repent” seven times. Can we as modern preachers honestly claim Jesus is inspiring our words if we never preach to believers about changing their heart attitudes to their sins and we refuse to ever name these sins?

When ministering to the unsaved, Jesus also mentioned their specific sins. Matthew 19:16-22 records Jesus lovingly zeroed in on the love of money and materialism of a young ruler who came to Him. John 4:17-18 reveals Jesus lovingly spoke to the Samaritan woman about her having five husbands and living de-facto at present.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus referred to some of the sins of the people listening to Him (see Matthew 5:21-32, 6:1-4 and 6:16-18). When preaching to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, He told them of their specific sins of which they needed to repent (see Matthew 23:1-36). There are other examples in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John of Jesus telling the unsaved of their specific sins. Jesus had not read Dale Carnegies’ “How To Win Friends and Influence People”. (I say this later statement in jest.)

Matthew 6:2, 5, 16; 15:7; 16:3; 22:18; 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29; 24:51, Mark 7:6, Luke 6:42, 11:44, 12:56 and 13:15 show Jesus had no problem calling various people “hypocrites”. It was not just the scribes and Pharisees whom Christ called “hypocrites”. In Luke 6:42, we see Jesus called His disciples and the great multitude who gathered to hear Him “hypocrites”. In Luke 12:56, He called the multitudes who were listening to Him “hypocrites”.

If He lived today, Christ would not have been invited to preach at many of the churches who mix the alluring ideas of humanism and other similar worldly philosophies with the teachings of the Bible. They would say, “He is too negative in His preaching.”


Peter’s preaching to the unconverted


Acts 2:23, 2:36, 3:13-15, 4:8-11 and 5:30 record Peter in his preaching to four different groups of unsaved people mentioned their specific sins against God. He told them of their wickedness in murdering and rejecting God’s Son. In Acts 3:14, he mentioned their sin of preferring a murderer to be freed rather than Jesus – God’s Holy and Just One. I wonder how many modern church marketers would disagree with what Peter did here.

In his preaching, Peter also emphasised repentance (see Acts 2:38, 3:19 and 5:31), conversion or turning to God from known sins (see Acts 3:19 and 3:26), salvation through Jesus Christ (see Acts 2:38, 4:12, 5:3) and the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:16-19, 2:33, 2:38 and 5:32). Also, note Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit on at least two of these preaching occasions (see Acts 1:12-13 and 2:1-4 taken together and 4:8).

In the account of Peter’s later sermon in Acts 10:34-43, there is no record of him mentioning the specific sins of Cornelius and Cornelius’ companions. Assuming this brief account is all Peter preached, this sermon is an exception.


Paul’s preaching to the unsaved


Acts 17:22-31 records Paul specifically mentioned the pagan worship of gold, silver and stone images in which his Athenian listeners were involved. In Acts 17:29-30, Paul confronted them with the fact that God commanded them to repent of such idolatry: “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.”

Acts 14:15 records Paul on a different occasion at Lystra told his pagan listeners there they should turn from the cherished idol worship and pagan religion: “and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these vain things to the living God…”

When we read extracts of Paul’s sermons in Acts 13:16-41, 22:1-21 and 28:26-29, we do not find Paul specifically mentioning the sins of his listeners. But note his sermon recorded in Acts 22:1-21 was cut off in the middle by his listeners abusing him (see Acts 22:22-23). Also, Paul’s words recorded in Acts 28:26-29 are only his final comments, as Acts 28:23-24 reveals. In Paul’s sermon recorded in Acts 13:16-41, the Holy Spirit did not lead him to mention the specific sins of his listeners. This is assuming that Acts 13:16-41 is a complete quote of his sermon.

There is no command in the New Testament that every sermon to unbelievers should include a mention of their specific sins. But any preacher who never refers in his sermons to the specific sins of his unsaved listeners is not fully a preacher in the mould of Jesus, Peter and Paul.

In Romans 1:29-2:5, Paul gives a strong warning to those religious people who know much about what is right and wrong, who criticise others practicing these wrongs, but who stubbornly refuse to repent of these things themselves. Romans 2:3-5 says: “And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgement of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation in the righteous judgement of God.”

In the original Greek, the word “hardness” above is a form of the word “sklerotes” meaning “a stubborn attitude with regard any change of behaviour”. [1] Also, the word “impenitent” above is a form of the word “ametanoetos” which means “unrepentant” [2] or “literally, without change of mind”. [3] In Greek, “ametanoetos” is a combination of the negative “a” and “metanoeo” meaning “repentance”.

Note in the context of Romans 1:29-2:11, Paul is referring to those who will not repent of the practicing of the various sins listed in Romans 1:29-32. This repentance is a part of their obeying the Gospel with its demands that they receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Romans 2:8 says such unrepentant people do not obey the truth. The truth is the Gospel. In 1 Peter 4:17 the words “do not obey” in the expression “do not obey the Gospel of God” is a form of the same Greek word translated “do not obey” in Romans 2:8.

Paul’s attitude to ministering to believers about repenting of their specific known sins can be seen in his words in 2 Corinthians 7:8-9: “For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.”

Paul said these words in 2 Corinthians 7:8-9 in relation to the very strong calls to repentance and warnings he had given in his earlier letter to the Corinthians. Examples of what Paul had said to them can be found in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, 4:19-21, 5:1-13, 6:9-11, 10:1-12 and 11:27-34.


Stephen and John the Baptist’s anointed preaching to the unsaved


Acts 7:51-53 records Stephen’s preaching to unbelievers: “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” The Holy Spirit led Stephen to challenge his unbelieving listeners about their specific sins of:


·         being stiff-necked toward God,

·         having uncircumcised hearts and ears,

·         always resisting the Holy Spirit,

·         betraying Jesus

·         and murdering Jesus.


He also confronted them about their more general disobedience to the Mosaic Law.

The Holy Spirit did not regard Stephen’s preaching as negative or too harsh as some humanistic Christians would. Acts 7:55-56 reveals the Holy Spirit filled Stephen when he preached in this challenging manner.

In response to Stephen’s preaching, his Jewish listeners became extremely mad and were not converted. Conversions do not always result from Holy Spirit-inspired preaching. But note Paul, a later convert listened to Stephen’s words (see Acts 7:58).

John the Baptist had little concern about offending his listeners’ dignity when leading them to repentance. For example, in Matthew 3:7-10, John preached: “…Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Because of their style of preaching, John the Baptist and Stephen – two powerful preachers filled with the Holy Spirit – would probably not be invited to preach at the meetings of many humanistic churches today. I believe in positive Biblical preaching but not in the positive cultic compromising preaching of humanistic religiosity.


McGready, Cartwright and other revivalists knew better


Many modern Western believers have been deluded by church marketing supposed “experts” into thinking preachers should not tell unbelievers about the specific sins unbelievers need to repent of when evangelising them. But note the great revivalist preachers did not agree with such claims. For example, in the great revival in Kentucky in the U.S. in 1800-1801, the leading revivalists James McGready, William McGee, John McGee and Barton Stone included continual calls for repentance from specific sins with their preaching of the Gospel of God’s Son. Hardman says:

“The awakening spirit, with many conversions spread over the entire South and West with amazing speed. Portions of the Ohio Territory, western Pennsylvania, Maryland, Tennessee, Georgia, and the Carolinas received showers of divine grace within a short time, although the vast congregations of Cane Ridge and Gasper River were seldom repeated. In time, the moral tone of the frontier was raised. The sins that McGready, Stone, the McGees, and others scourged – drunkenness, profanity, gambling, horse racing, cock-fighting, dueling, fornication and adultery – dramatically declined.

In the East, the church people were jubilant, particularly on hearing reports from eminent eyewitnesses like George A. Baxter, president of Washington College, Virginia, who toured Kentucky in 1801 and declared: On my way I was informed by settlers on the road that the character of Kentucky travelers was entirely changed and that they are as remarkable for sobriety as they had formerly been for dissoluteness and immorality. And indeed I found Kentucky…the most moral place I have ever seen. A profane expression was hardly ever heard. A religious awe seemed to pervade the country, Upon the whole, I think the revival in Kentucky the most extraordinary that has ever visited the church of Christ; and all things considered, it was peculiarly adapted to the circumstances to the country into which it came. Infidelity was triumphant and religion was on the point of expiring. Something extraordinary seemed necessary to arrest the attention of a giddy people who were ready to conclude that Christianity was a fable and futurity a delusion. This revival has done it. It has confounded infidelity, awed vice into silence, and brought numbers beyond calculation under serious impressions.” [4]

“Futurity” above refers to existence after death. “Infidelity” means disbelief in Jesus Christ and His Gospel.


Wesley, Wigglesworth and Finney’s words on preaching and ministry


Note John Wesley’s instructions to his people: “Love the strictest preaching best, that which most searches the heart and shows you wherein you are unlike Christ, and that which presses you most to love Him with all your heart and serve Him with all your strength”. [5]

Smith Wigglesworth said: “It is my business to make everybody hungry, dissatisfied. It is my business to make people either mad or glad”. [6]

When talking about preaching to unbelievers, Charles Finney said: “It is of great importance that the sinner should be made to feel his guilt, and not left to the impression that he is unfortunate. I think this is a very prevalent fault, particularly in books on the subject…A prime object with the preacher must be to make present obligation felt. I have talked, I suppose with many thousands of anxious sinners. And I have found that they never before felt the pressure of present obligation. The impression is not commonly made by ministers in their preaching that sinners are to repent NOW…The minister should hunt after sinners and Christians wherever they may have entrenced themselves in inaction. It is not the design of preaching to make men easy and quiet, but to make them ACT”. [7]

Micah 3:8 says: “But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.”


Church leaders must preach and teach God’s whole counsel


In Acts 20:26-27, the Apostle Paul told the leaders of the Church of Ephesus: “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.”

Here Paul stated that he was innocent of the blood of all those he had preached to because he had declared to them the whole counsel of God’s Word. Paul had not left out any part of God’s Word which human listeners did not like to hear. He did not preach a watered-down compromising people-pleasing version of the “gospel”.

When Paul said “I am innocent of the blood of all…”, he was referring back to God’s Words to the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 3:16-21 and 33:1-9. Ezekiel 3:16-21 records: “Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.”



Bible Study Questions


1.       When Jesus was ministering to believers and unbelievers, did He mention their specific sins? Give verses to support your answer.

2.       When preaching to four different groups of unbelievers in Acts 2:14-39, 3:12-26, 4:8-11 and 5:29-32, what did Peter emphasise? Also did he mention their specific sins against God?

3.       What sins did Paul confront the unsaved about when he was speaking to them in Acts 14:15 and 17:22-31?

4.       What can we learn from 2 Corinthians 7:8-9 about how Paul sometimes ministered to believers?

5.       In Stephen’s Holy Spirit-inspired preaching recorded in Acts 7:51-53, what did he challenge his listeners about strongly?

6.       Do you think if John the Baptist was alive today and often preached like he did in Matthew 3:7-10, that many modern churches would not invite him to speak in their meetings?


[1] Louw and Nida, page 766.

[2] Bauer, page 45.

[3] Vine, page 320.

[4] Keith Hardman, “The Spiritual Awakeners”, Moody Press, Chicago, page 139.

[5] Albert Outler, “John Wesley”, Oxford University Press, New York, 1964, page 382.

[6] Smith Wigglesworth, “Faith That Prevails”, Radiant Books, Springfield, 1966, page 51.

[7] Charles Finney, “Revival Lectures”, Fleming H. Revell, Old Tappan, New Jersey, page 231.

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