The Preacher's Greatest Temptation
- 2009 12 Aug
In the Sunday, August 9, 2009, "Parade" magazine, movie celeb Brad Pitt is talking about his life with Angelina Jolie. They are all the rage of the tabloids, they appear to be in love, they live together but are unmarried, and they're the parents of five children, three of them adopted from various countries.
Wherever they live--in France, in L.A., and in New Orleans--Pitt says he tries to get involved in helping the needy. In New Orleans, his organization is leading the way in innovative techniques for building new homes for those devastated by Katrina.
And yet, this couple is a favorite target for anyone with a soapbox and a sermon, it would appear.
Pitt says, "I resent people telling others how to live! It drives me mental!"
"Just the other night," he says, "I heard this TV reverend say that Angie and I were setting a bad example because we were living out of wedlock, and people should not be duped by us! It made me laugh!"
He might have laughed, but he was angry. "What d--n right does anyone have to tell someone else how to live if they're not hurting anyone?"
Those of us in the ministry know exactly what was happening with that preacher, I surmise. He was making a point, a biblical one, no doubt, about the sanctity of marriage or the importance of obeying the teachings of scripture in one's personal life. He thought of Brad and Angie and threw that in to make his point.
A few years ago it was Elizabeth Taylor and her--how many, eight?--multiple marriages. In the 1990s, it was President Bill Clinton and his philandering ways. It was Michael Jackson, it was Marilyn Monroe, it was Madonna. In the 1940s it was Errol Flynn and the usual Hollywood crowd.
It's cheap preaching.
On the surface this kind of direct, in-your-face sermonizing seems biblical since the Bible has so much to say on the subject of marital fidelity and purity of mind and body. The Old Testament prophets seem to have come down hard on the rulers of their day--the only kind of celebrities they had--and spared no guns.
But those prophets exercised a kind of caution absent with a lot of today's preachers.
Check out the preaching of Amos, the blisteringly strong 8th-century B.C. prophet, who is the role model for every modern would-be prophet. Amos was careful to deal with the big picture and not to accuse individuals by name. Well, okay, other than the head priest of Israel, a character named Amaziah who asked for everything Amos handed him. (Amos 7:10.)
There's something self-righteous and hypocritical within some of us--maybe all of us; I'm not sure--that cries out for the preacher to "let those other people have it!"
I still cringe at the memory of the preacher who stood at a public gathering in the Washington, D.C., area and opened with a stale joke, "As Elizabeth Taylor said to her eighth husband, 'I'll not keep you long.'" In the audience was Virginia Senator John Warner, the eighth (or whatever number) husband of Elizabeth Taylor.
An incredibly deep hurt, no doubt, and for what? Absolutely nothing. The preacher was just trying to be cute.
Let's see if I can say this and be kind and gracious about it: the preacher who stands in his pulpit and attacks modern celebrities by name for their sins is a coward.
If he is addressing the sinners in person, and decides to talk with them about their behavior, that's another story. (We think of John the Baptist confronting Herod Antipas for taking his brother's wife. The story is recorded in Matthew 14, among other places. It was courageous, it was bold, it got him arrested, and eventually beheaded. Was it the right thing to do? We'll leave that to the Lord and John.)
"I preach against sin," some man of God responds.
No problem there. But let's see you address the sins of your audience, not those out in La-La-Land. Those are too easy targets. The ones in the pews pay your salary, and in too many cases, buy your silence.
"I follow the example of the Apostle Paul," another says.
If you do, great. But let's look at what Paul did, or more precisely, what he did not do.
The time is Paul's third missionary journey, the place is Ephesus, and the setting is a mob scene. So many people have been responding to the gospel message of Paul and his team that the makers and sellers of figurines depicting the goddess Artemis (Diana) are losing business, a major tourist industry in Ephesus. What we have here is a riot scene brought on by the chamber of commerce! The town's commercial leaders want to protect local industry and attacking these upstart Christians seems to be the way to do it.
It took the town clerk to quieten the disturbance. How he did it and what he said is what we find most instructive.
Addressing the mob, the official said, "You have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess." (Acts 19:37)
Now, meditate on that a moment. Here we have what may be the greatest preacher in the history of Christendom and he's ministering in a city devoted to the worship of Diana, the goddess of the Romans. And by the testimony of a leading official of Ephesus neither Paul nor his team members have spoken one word against that idol.
What a great temptation it must have been for Paul to have gotten on television, bought billboards, rented out the city auditorium, and lambasted the pagan idolatry that was choking the life out of those citizens in a wicked stranglehold. Such idol-worship gave rise to all kinds of evil and wickedness.
Yet, he didn't do it.
It was too easy. Too cheap a shot. Unworthy of the Lord Jesus Christ whom, you surely have noticed, did not condescend to mention the behavior of Herod and Pilate and their contemporaries. He could have; He knew what they were doing. He had bigger fish to fry.
The Lord and the Apostle Paul and every faithful servant since have all stayed with the "good news of the gospel." When they attacked sin, they either did it one-on-one in private or in broad generalities.
So, preacher of the gospel, stand tall and preach the Lord's message. But when it comes to addressing the sins of society, stay with the bigger picture. If you feel the need to call names, do so face to face, otherwise, exercise courage and discipline and be silent.
After all, what man of God among us would not like to be the one to introduce Brad and Angelina or Madonna and Elizabeth to Christ?
Or were we just trying to win some hearty amens out of our self-important, self-centered contributors sitting on the front row?
Pray for your pastor. The temptations to compromise come in all forms.
Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt. Used with permission.
Original publication date: August 12, 2009