Is There A Place For Negative Preaching Today?

By In In Remembrance On April 13, 2014

This article was originally published in the Westside church of Christ’s bulletin, published August 28, 2011. Read the original publication (dead link)

When used in referring to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, the terms “negative” and “positive” generally mean that which is viewed as stepping on toes versus that which encourages people. 2 Timothy 4:2-3 reads, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers.” In describing the style or substance of preaching, Paul uses the words, convince, rebuke, and exhort. The word convince in the New King James is translated as “reprove” in the King James. Vine’s Greek Dictionary defines reprove as convict or expose. It means to correct in a favorable manner. Rebuke means to convict of one’s sins. “The sinner must be brought to a consciousness of his guilt whether by argument or otherwise.” (Truth Commentaries, 1 & 2 Timothy, page 224). Exhort means to call to a person, to entreat, admonish, to urge one to pursue some course of conduct. We often think of the word encourage, or encouragement.

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to “convict the world of sin” (John 16:8). Peter’s preaching, on the Day of Pentecost, pierced the hearts of the crowd (Acts 2:37). He then encouraged them to repent of their sins and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). Some of the sermons recorded in Acts can be classified as corrective, as the speaker rebuked the audience, while others may be seen as more positive in nature. However, most of the sermons contained all three elements of convicting, rebuking, and exhorting. Notice that Paul did not say that one can only do one thing at a time. Sometimes we need to be told to stop doing certain things, we need to be told what we must do, and we need encouragement.

However, when one starts talking about negative versus positive preaching, I wonder, to whom? A person goes to the doctor because of shortness of breath and chest pains. The doctor tells the patient that he is on the verge of a heart attack and needs to change his lifestyle. He is told to start walking more, eat less fried foods, eat more vegetables, and take medicine prescribed by the doctor. If he does these things he can head off the heart attack and will eventually start feeling better but if he continues on the current path the patient will have a heart attack. Is this doctor being negative or positive? He is telling the patient what he cannot do, what he needs to do, and the expected results.

Let us apply this to preaching. Is it negative or positive to tell a person that they are in sin, they must repent, confess Jesus as the Son of God, and be baptized to be saved? I dare say it depends on the audience. Those who take it to heart and obey the Gospel will say it is positive. Those who disagree will call it negative. Being rebuked does not make us feel better about ourselves; it is much like getting a spanking. A child at first does not view a whipping as being good. However, after a time they come to appreciate the discipline and often are thankful for being taught right from wrong. Such is mentioned in Hebrews 1:11, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Going back to our original question, “Is there a place for negative preaching today?”; some will point out that people want to feel good about themselves and respond better to positive preaching. Such is often true but are we trying to make people feel good about themselves or are we trying to help people be saved? A person who tailors the Gospel to please the audience is not fulfilling their ministry. “For do I now seek to please men? For if I still please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). At the same time we should not preach a gospel of condemnation without preaching how we can be saved. Just ripping into the audience and making people feel bad is not Gospel preaching either. After all the word “Gospel” means “good news.” There is a place for rebuking, convicting, and exhorting in our preaching and teaching.

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