Life sure can be funny. You have ups, you have downs, and you have to be certain not to get hung up anywhere along the way. I have been blessed over the years to teach, preach, and write for a variety of venues. Whether it has been large or small congregations; classrooms with little kids, teens, or adults; a prison facility; outdoors in a park; VBS gatherings; camps; senior centers; online forums and websites, or in someone’s home, the gospel has been spread in earnest. Sometimes folks grab on to the gospel with complete gusto! Most times they can sadly be indifferent. Occasionally, outright rejection or rather vicious words can be shared. However, these reactions typically roll off my back rather simply. Still, I want to share a rejection that gave me pause and the desire to write about the matter.
A few years ago, a unique opportunity to teach the scriptures arose. It was approximately 20 minutes every Wednesday around the lunch hour at a local high school. Wonderful situations to share the gospel in public schools do not come about frequently, especially in this age of anti-God attitudes in most government facilities. For many years the class had been taught by a gentleman of the charismatic faith. Briefly, but most recently, it was directed by a young girl who taught Galatians as salvation by faith alone. This teaching was the last the group received before my introduction to them the following week.
Upon my first visit, I found the format of the class was rather simple. Six girls were present and we sat at school desks in what was more or less a circle. After introductions, we examined in brief the book of Philemon. The study focused on assumptions that are often made with the gospel and in life. The second visit, approximately twenty students were present and after a quick review we examined Zacchaeus out of Luke 19. Again, we discussed assumptions and then before closing, I introduced a couple of verses about salvation as I had heard it was of interest to the group. With the verses, it was purposely brought up, that we cannot assume based on one or even two verses that we know all that is necessary for salvation. For example consider Romans 10:13:
“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Taken alone, without the full gospel of God, it would appear that the only concern a person would have regarding their eternal salvation would be to call upon the name of the Lord. That would be a fair assumption with only this verse in view. However, what if Hebrews 5:9 (speaking of Christ) was read?
“And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,”
From this verse it appears that salvation comes from obedience. But what about only calling on the name of the Lord for salvation? Thus the ground work was now being laid to demonstrate man cannot make quick assumptions about salvation using only part of the gospel and expect to have a complete or even accurate understanding. When assumptions are made, error occurs.
The third visit to the High School was the final visit. Three girls were present. I was a bit surprised, but the first two classes had veered widely in regard to attendance, so maybe another activity was going on at the time. However, I did inquire where the others might be. The response was somewhat hesitant, but truthful, “They don’t like you”. I greatly respect the honesty of the young girl who shared this. Of course, people have been told of contrary attitudes toward them since childhood, and for preachers, it shouldn’t be a surprise. However, I admit to being taken aback a bit by the response. We did happily continue the class that day and I presented the group of three with a list of New Testament verses regarding salvation (again a topic they desired to study). It was noted that God has mentioned many things involved in being saved. Among the many items mentioned were: grace, faith, obedience, calling on His name, Christ’s blood, repentance, confession, baptism, and endurance. This would be the last time I met with the group as later in the week they decided to continue the class without my further participation.
As I have reflected, then and now, about the way everything came to a close, I first state that it is often a heartfelt thing when someone takes a disliking to you. Non-preachers and preachers alike typically desire to be at peace with all men. Preachers especially desire a good relationship so that salvation can be embraced and they can view the flowers that blossoms from it. Involving myself and this particular class, I began to ask myself many questions. Was I not dynamic enough? Should I have taught light and fluffy topics before tackling salvation? Should I have made them laugh more or engage them to share their opinions with the group? Was the topic too difficult or advanced? There are so many questions that go through a person’s mind when failure seems to have occurred. Even personal things are asked such as: Am I too old? Too heavy? Too hairy? Not modern enough? These are typical questions that fly through a person’s mind in situations like this.
Ultimately, a person must focus on what the scriptures direct when questions begin to swirl about failure. Were the lessons given in love? Yes. Were they given in an understandable fashion? Yes. Were they given according to the truth the scriptures present? Yes. It is funny how over the years I have directed others to look to these same principles when they have encountered rejection. Certainly, I have done so in the past as well. Yet, with each new occurrence, there is a fresh new opportunity for doubts to arise. So often I hear preachers contemplate the concept that they should simply move on to other professions. They feel like they are not making a difference. They feel as if no one is listening or worse yet, there is an adversarial relationship brewing. “They don’t like me. I am failing. I am not effective.” The focus has been moved from scripture to self. Every individual is different in their presentation of the scriptures, but they and others should only focus on the Word.
Certainly there are non-preachers and preachers who have made mistakes which turn people away from or against them. Absolutely a person must reflect upon themselves each and every day and especially in times of trouble.
2 Corinthians 13:5 – Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
James 1:22-25 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
2 Peter 3:18 – But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…
However, if you have reached a point where you are concerned about being liked by men rather than pleasing God, understand this is a place that the apostles before us have been already. In that moment they declared:
Act 5:29 – …We ought to obey God rather than men.
Disciples of Christ have an obligation to teach the truth. When questions go beyond whether or not they are liked, the next likely consideration is presentation. Dynamics and presentation are things preachers may worry about, but they may do so for the wrong reasons. If they are doing so to save their job, be admired, impress, make people happy, or simply draw larger numbers for the appearance of success, then the motivation is wrong.
2 Timothy 4:2-3 – preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts;
1 Corinthians 2:1-4 – And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
Individuals, groups, and congregations that are looking to be entertained or be made comfortable will not heed the words of a sound preacher. The prophets of old were rejected by men. Certainly, those men inspired by God spoke with greater might than do men of today. The apostles of Christ were rejected by men as they taught. None today are inspired as they were. Jesus, the messiah, the son of God, God himself, was rejected by men. He taught with compassion. He shared hope, joy, and comfort. He also preached of hell, punishment, and sin. Despite the rejection, how is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus seen?
1 Corinthians 15:57 – But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Victory is accomplished in Christ. However, victory does not come without its bruises. Many a Godly man has walked the path of earthly failure while being guided along the path to eternal success. “They don’t like you?” Consider the words of Jesus:
John 15:17-19 – These things I command you, that ye love one another. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
Matthew 10:34 – Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
Jesus understood that many would not like Him or any truly following Him. Just be certain that the reason of dislike is not because we are walking in error or teaching without love (I Peter 4:14-16). Do not be deterred from speaking the truth and being direct. A look at scripture shows that inspired men of the gospel were very direct with their messages (Acts 2, 7). What a blessing when someone tells you as I was told by a teenage girl, “They don’t like you.” Truth needs to be told. Sometimes, the truth hurts. When you feel humbled by a teenager, a child, an adult, anyone because of the truth, remember, sharing the gospel is not about you. Sharing the truth is about giving glory to God. Sharing the truth is about enabling eyes to be open and souls to be saved. Ears should not be tickled, but instructed in love. If they don’t like you, do not worry, God loves you. Consider the source, examine your actions (repenting if necessary), then Preach the Word.