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The Offense of the Cross

When the Ten Commandments are used in open-air preaching, people often come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Some may try and deal with their conviction through anger. It is easy to forget that behind the flesh and blood is a seething demonic realm (see Ephesians 6:12). That’s why it is wise to use words “seasoned with salt.”

There have been times where I haven’t been as wise as I should and have suffered the consequences. Take for instance the time an attractive woman in her mid-twenties angrily hollered out the f-word at me. When she did it again, I said, “Ma’am, could you watch your language? There are ladies present.” She looked at me with disdain and said, “I’m a lady!” I answered, “Ma’am, you may be a woman, but you’re not a ‘lady.’” At that she rushed at me like a bat out of heaven to prove the truth of what I had just said. As she began hitting me, I noticed that it wasn’t in the typical womanly fashion. She was laying into me as though she was a prizefighter, with blows to the ribs, mouth, and upper torso. She was so quick, she managed to land about six good punches before members of our team were able to rescue me from her fists. As they held her back, she said that she wanted to pick up her purse, so they let her go. That’s when she landed a powerful kidney punch. After she left, I was able to continue preaching (she actually doubled my crowd). It took two weeks for the bruises to go away.

One other time a woman approached me and used the same swear word to describe what I had been saying. I looked at her and said, “Ma’am…it sounds like there are some demons in there.” At that, she slapped my face (understandably). I looked at her and said, “Any more where that came from?” There was. She then punched me in the mouth and walked off.

What Is the Right Method for Preaching the Gospel?

While outbreaks of anger are reasonably common, it is usually verbal or taken out on the microphone or Lazarus (a dummy used for fake funerals). It was because of this regular contention that two pastors set up a lunch appointment with me. Over lunch they gently told me that they were offended by my way of preaching. They said that they had received numerous complaints from non-Christians and some from Christians about how I stirred up the crowd and made them angry. They also said that I was condescending, condemning, and judgmental. They said that that was the reason the crowd was offended. I told them that I strived to be gentle and show respect and that love was my sole motivation. I also mentioned that other Christians who were more gracious than me received the same venomous response. I told them that it was the message that was offensive, and the normal result is that those who are offended take their anger out on the messenger.

“It was the message that was offensive, and the normal result is that those who are offended take their anger out on the messenger.”

After some time, I asked how one of the pastors presented the gospel to sinners. He said, “I tell them that God loves them and that He wants to be their friend—that He has a mansion in Heaven for them. I tell them that the thing that’s stopping them from going there is the wages of their human nature.” He said that he tried to avoid any words that caused sinners to stumble. I gave some examples: “You mean ‘sin,’ ‘righteousness,’ ‘judgment,’ ‘repentance,’ etc.” He said, “Yes.”

I could see why he was offended by my preaching. I could also see why nobody would be offended by his. The question then arises: which method is right? Let’s look to Scripture and see what happened when Paul preached:

Acts 13:45: When he preached, the crowd began “contradicting and blaspheming.”

Acts 13:50: Paul and Barnabas were thrown out of the city.

Acts 14:5: The crowd began to stone them.

Acts 14:19: Paul was stoned and left for dead.

Acts 16:23: Both Paul and Barnabas were beaten with “many stripes.”

Acts 18:6: Paul’s hearers “opposed him and blasphemed.”

Acts 19:26-28: Paul preached against their idolatry (violation of the first and second of the Ten Commandments), and his hearers were “full of wrath.”

Acts 20:23: Paul was told that afflictions awaited him wherever he preached the gospel.

Acts 22:21-22: The apostle’s preaching caused his hearers to call for his death.

Acts 23:1-2: As soon as he began to speak, he was smacked in the mouth.

Acts 23:10: After he spoke, there was a “great dissension.”

Acts 23:10: The crowd was so angry that Paul was nearly “pulled to pieces.”

Acts 23:12: A crowd conspired to murder him.

Acts 24:5: He is called a “plague,” a “creator of dissension,” and a “ringleader” of a “sect.”

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he said that when he preached the gospel to them, they “received the word in much affliction” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Scripture gives us the content of his message. He preached against their idolatry (verse 9), as he did at Athens. Paul said that he and his companion were “spitefully treated” and that the gospel was received with “much conflict” (1 Thessalonians 2:2). Now listen to Paul’s words: “But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know…” (verses 4-5).

Preach the Truth or Else

If we do betray our trust, flatter our hearers, and adulterate the Word of God, we will not only fill the Church with false converts, but we will have similar experiences to that of Art Neyland, from Great Falls, Montana. In 1986, he used a man-centered approach and told a man that God loved him and that He wanted to give him assurance that when he died he would go to Heaven. Then he led the man in a “sinner’s prayer.”

The following Sunday he arrived at his new convert’s house to take him to church. When the man’s wife let him in the house, he was nowhere to be found. She said, “Where did John go? He was here a minute ago.” She then opened the closet door, and there was an embarrassed John, hiding in the closet. Art said, “I take it that this means you don’t want to go to church?” He didn’t.

Ray Comfort

Ray Comfort is the Founder and CEO of Living Waters and the bestselling author of more than 90 books, including God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life, How to Know God Exists, and The Evidence Bible. He cohosts the award-winning television program Way of the Master, airing in every country in the world, and is an Executive Producer of “180,” “Evolution vs. God,” “Audacity,” and other films. He is married to Sue and has three grown children, and hasn’t left the house without gospel tracts for decades.

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