The Gospel & Controversy

What might one preach if he were asked to preach something non-controversial?

Perhaps he could preach a sermon about the one true God “who made the world and everything in it,” (Acts 17:24).  But that would be controversial to the idolater, just as with some in Athens who mocked when Paul preached that truth.

For those who believe in God, perhaps a sermon could be preached concerning Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  However, that generated controversy in the first century, for it was “to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23), and it remains so for many today.

Well to those who believe in God and Jesus Christ and Him crucified, one could preach a sermon about how “baptism doth also now save us” (1 Peter 3:21).  Surely that is not controversial, for the inspired apostle Peter is telling us nothing different than what he preached in Acts 2:38, “to be baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins,” which is nothing different than what Jesus said in Mark 16:16 where he taught that “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned.”  But we’ve done it again; we’ve managed to pick yet another truth that generates controversy.

Ok.  To those who believe in God, in Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and in baptism for the remission of sins, we’ll hear a sermon about the need to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, and not another day, in keeping with apostolic approved example (Acts 20:7).  But today, even among some who profess faith in Jesus Christ, that truth would be controversial.

Among those who believe in God and Jesus Christ and Him crucified and who believe in baptism for the remission of sins, a sermon could be preached about the sanctity of marriage and how the only one given the right to divorce or to divorce and remarry is one whose spouse committed fornication (Matthew 19:9).  While that is the truth that Jesus taught as part of His gospel, it would be considered controversial by some brethren and unacceptable to be preached.  In other words, the preacher might be told to find another subject to preach on, or he might be told that when preaching it, he ought to present it as a controversial subject with differing acceptable views and without a definitive answer.

Now surely I’ve got one.  If to those who believe in God and in Jesus Christ and in baptism and in the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week and in the truth about marriage, divorce, and remarriage, we preach a sermon about love, then surely there will be no controversy.  But even the subject of love is controversial, for to some, love is more about a feeling instead of active goodwill toward others that includes helping them come out of sin and error (James 5:19-20; cf. 1 Peter 4:8).

We just keep hitting controversial subjects with the gospel of Christ.  Why?  Truth is controversial.  By speaking the truth, Jesus was embroiled in controversy with the Jewish religious leaders.  There was controversy when the apostles spoke the words of “truth and reason” (Acts 26:25).  The truth spoken by faithful men like Stephen not only created controversy but made men furious (Acts 7:54).

But why does speaking the truth create controversy?  “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  The truth, the word of God, is like a sword, cutting and dividing and exposing.  The truth tests men’s love for it.  The truth tests men’s respect for the authority of God and Christ.  And the truth tests men’s will to submit to it.

The truth of the gospel generates controversy.  But don’t let fear of controversy keep you from speaking the truth in love.

                           –Larry Jones