When I finished preaching yesterday, I was encouraged by the normal comments from people who had appreciated what I had to say. I was a little surprised then, when one woman rather breezily said, “Thanks for the sermon, though I disagreed with you.”
“Oh,” I asked, “what did you disagree with?”
It turns out that she had a problem with my primary point from 1 Peter 2:21-25, that Christians must follow the example of Christ by loving the people who hurt us instead of defending ourselves, even at great personal cost. Clearly, this woman had been hurt and she felt that in order to protect herself, it was not possible to extend grace to the one who had caused her pain. Indeed, she felt that it was wrong for the church to extend grace when that grace came at the expense of support for the victim – her, in this case. “Grace is for God to give,” she said, “it isn’t possible and it isn’t good for me to try and do God’s job.”
First, of all, I wanted her to know that I was sorry for her pain. I also wanted to affirm that a church must offer both grace and truth. In our attempts to give mercy, we must also be sure to not make excuses for sin or deny the truth. But having sympathized with her, it was important that I not back down from my message, but find a way to lovingly re-affirm the truth as I found it in the Scriptures.
The passage was clear, though the message was difficult. I encouraged her to take some time to go back and read the passage carefully and to let the Holy Spirit speak. I reminded her that the truths of Scripture might be hard, but that they always resulted in something good. Further, I tried to help her see that until she could find a way to forgive the one who hurt her, she would never know real freedom in her heart. Forgiveness, I admitted, is risky. People take advantage. They did it with Jesus and we shouldn’t be surprised if it happens with us. But if we can learn to live like Jesus, following the example he gave us to walk “in his steps,” we will grow into the kind of people that God intended us to be.
It was a lengthy, emotional conversation, but by the end of it, the woman seemed to appreciative the dialogue. Personally, I relished the opportunity to engage a conversation of such depth and importance. This is what preaching should always lead to if we’re listening honestly. The Bible is hard on us and it doesn’t hurt to admit it.
Reflecting on the experience later, I realized that I had experienced again the importance of expository preaching. When you let the Bible speak, you don’t have to worry when people disagree. I was able to help the woman see that whether or not she agreed with me was irrelevant. The question was whether or not she was willing to listen to God and to obey what she had heard.
The text was clear and I was glad to let it speak…and let it stand.