“Wounding and Healing”
Part of the preacher’s vocation is to make personal application from God’s word to the listening audience. He is not merely to present the information accurately, though that is an essential aspect of his duty (Titus 1:9; 2:1), but he must also persuade, challenge and inspire the hearers to grow. (Acts 18:4)
Many preachers become intoxicated with the ascetic pleasures of gaining Biblical knowledge and mistake it for spiritual growth. They assume everyone who comes to worship the Lord is vitally interested in who the Jebusites were. It’s easy to fall into the trap of presenting a bunch of information and calling it preaching.
But Paul commanded Timothy “to reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2) You get the strong sense that Timothy’s heart was to be fully invested, not only in his study of God’s word, but also in his delivery of it to the church.
This requires making application, showing the audience how to apply God’s word in their lives. The preacher who ends the sermon with, “May the Spirit of God apply this to all our hearts, Amen!” probably doesn’t have a clue how to apply the text himself. It is much easier to inform than to persuade. This is because preaching persuasively requires an engaged heart and may call for wounding the audience a bit - two activities that are rarely comfortable and always costly.
This is why persuasive sermons are both draining for the preacher to present and draining for the listener to hear. Because the goal is not merely the acquisition of Bible knowledge but to produce a real change in behavior and attitude, it takes listening with all your mind, heart and soul to truly benefit. (Jn. 16:8)
Knowledge alone makes arrogant (1 Cor. 8:1). For knowledge to be fruitful, it must be enjoined with active faith and love (Gal. 5:6; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:4; 1 Thess. 1:3; Jas. 2:18-22). The goal of growing in knowledge is growing in character, transformation of life (Rom. 12:1-2). Part of the role of Scripture is to teach, reprove, correct and train us to live as God's renewed people (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
One man said the job of the preacher is to “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Someone else once said the job of the preacher is to “break the hard heart and heal the broken heart.” Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah’s task was to “pluck up and to break down, to overthrow and to destroy” but also “to build and to plant.” (Jer. 1:10) Notice the balance. In other words, he was to wound and to heal, to sting and to sing, with God's message.
This challenging balance between wounding and healing sets the preacher apart from the false prophets who preach “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace. This false hope, God says, “healed the wound of my people lightly” and “misled my people” (Jer. 6:14; Ezek. 13:10). There are many beloved and popular Zedekiah’s of our day who prophesy only good concerning others (1 Kgs. 22). Jesus once warned, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets the same way.” (Lk. 6:26) A preacher’s great popularity is usually purchased at the expense of his integrity.
A preacher’s role may involve confronting false teaching. Most false teaching is safely ignored but sometimes an influential person can persuade the weak to lose their faith (2 Pet. 2:18; Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Tim. 1:19; 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 2:17-18; 4:3-4). Paul, speaking from experience, said such false teachers “must be silenced” (Titus 1:10-11; cf. Gal. 2:11). There is a time and place for calling down error but, the preacher must remember, it is not every Sunday.
It is easy for preachers to lose the delicate, Biblical balance of wounding and healing. We may wound well but never heal; believing faithfulness in the kingdom is measured by the hostility and fervor with which we point our finger at others. But this kind of one-dimensional, negative preaching leaves a congregation starving and paranoid. The problem with calling out everything Jesus is against is that we never learn what Jesus is for.
The opposite problem can exist as well. It is easy for preachers to heal but never wound. This preaching is so shallow and syrupy it leaves a congregation starving and sick to their spiritual stomachs. It feels good to go to church every week but inside, the soul is atrophied and feeble, not “being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). A steady diet of spun sugar leaves a Christian spiritually weak, just one tragedy away from giving up on the Lord.
A Biblical balance must be struck between wounding and healing. It is the burden of the preacher to learn how to wield “the sword of the Spirit” not only with accuracy but also with wisdom and love so as to both wound and heal, sting and sing, with God’s word (Acts 2:37-38; 3:19; 1 Tim. 1:5). Consider the words of the prophet Hosea (6:1-3):
“Come, let us return to the LORD;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”