If you asked me, “Hey, Collin, what would you preach, if it was up to you, to offend the fewest people?” Left to my own thinking, I would answer you by saying that I would just give people really good news, all of the time. Who does not want good news? When you tell someone you have good news and bad news, asking which they want first, the idea is that they only want good news, but must deal with the bad at some point.
I would think that preaching that offers the best news imaginable could not possibly offend people; it could not possibly stir up controversy. In fact, answering the opposite question, if I wanted to offend the most people, I would spend all my time telling people what to do (we don’t naturally like authority), and then, on top of that (which is already offensive), I would tell them they are failures.
This just makes sense to me. Good news = easy ministry. Commands and judgment = offense and controversy.
Yet, in some significant sense, I find the opposite to be true in ministry. The very thing I thought people would just love to hear, often times, rubs them the wrong way. It rubs me the wrong way! The very thing I thought we would not want to hear, well, is not always all that bad to us, or offensive. This is what I mean: as a Bible preacher, part of my job is telling people, including myself even as I preach, what they ought to be doing. We ought to be doing God’s will. Yet, I know that as a Bible preacher part of my job is to tell people, including myself, that we are failing miserably; for we all have sinned (see Rom. 3:23).
This is what I thought as a preacher I would be most nervous to talk to people about. This is the part of my message I thought would be most offensive to people. But I find that I do not get very nervous to talk about this, nor do I think that people are most offended by this.
I find that most people readily accept that they are not perfect; and if God’s Law demands perfection, they logically conclude they have not met His standards. I’m not saying this is always the case, or that most people I meet experience Spirit-wrought conviction leading to repentance. I’m also not saying this bad news is not at all offensive. It is. But what I am saying is that there is a logic here that a lot of people simply “get”.
I think it is the next part that I get most nervous (and most excited) to preach that causes the most offense. It is the next part of my message week in and week out that ruffles feathers and startles hearts, including mine. It is the part of the message in which I turn to tell people that there is nothing we can do about our sinful, guilty state and yet wonder of wonders, God has taken care of it all for us in Jesus, on the cross.
In case that seems weird, listen to Paul in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ“ (emphasis mine). Paul says if he were trying to win the approval of others or people-please in ministry, he would not preach the message of Christ. The message of Christ is that we are “…not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…” (Gal. 2:16). Yet, that is what he says is offensive.
How is this stuff offensive? This is good news! This is the best news! This seems so backwards.
I know, I know. It does to me too. But here is why the cross is offensive: we do not like being told there is nothing we can contribute to our salvation. Being told we failed is one thing, but being told we can’t make up for our failures is a whole-nother shebang. The American way is not perfection, but rising from the ashes, picking ourselves up again; that is our glory. We fail, but we always fix it.
But God does not offer us this glory. God’s message is not that we have failed but we can make up for it. God’s message is that we have failed and that He made up for it. The only thing we contribute is the failure. I find that in ministry it is this gospel of free grace for sinners that shakes us. We question, “Is this too good to be true?” This is what I get most nervous to say, wondering how many are going to question the message of Christ.
But screw it. It is all we have. It is the message of Scripture. I live to tell people about the scandalous grace of God, come down to us in the God-man, Jesus Christ, dead on a cross, risen from the grave, for you, and for me. All glory be to God alone.