I remember when I went before the Northern District Committee of the United Methodist Church and a man asked me to describe God in one word. (I wish I would have said “Jesus”. He probably wouldn’t have accepted that.) I said “Love.” I then said, “If I could have a 1A, I would say wrath.”
Some people preach all love, all the time. Many people only want to hear about love. I’ve heard pastors say, “There’s enough bad news in the world, I want them to be encouraged when they come to church. I want them to hear good news.” Joel Osteen is the poster child and has become very rich and very famous staying away from the “wrath” aspect. Likewise, they like to stay away from calling people to repentance.
While it’s absolutely true that God is love, and He loves us, and that He wants what’s best for us, there is also wrath. God has wrath. Ask Uzzah, and ask Ananias and Sapphira. The true “Good News” is that Christ’s sacrifice keeps us from God’s eternal wrath. And God requires repentance. We may as well talk about it.
There’s a great line in 1 Kings 22:8 where King Jehoshaphat asks King Ahab if there isn’t another prophet of the Lord. You see, 400 prophets had told Ahab what he wanted to hear. Go and attack and the Lord will give you the victory. Ahab already had his mind made up what he was doing and he just wanted them to agree with him. Then Jehoshaphat asked Ahab if there wasn’t another prophet of the Lord that he could call upon. Ahab said, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” After hearing Micaiah, verse 18 tells us “The king of Israel (Ahab) said to Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?” It didn’t really matter if it was good or bad news to the hearer, the important thing was to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That is still the important thing.
And the truth is God’s top priority is for Jesus to be glorified. His top priority is His glory. If your blessings bring Him glory, then His purpose is being served. If your sufferings bring Him glory, then His purpose is being served. Most don’t want to hear it, but your comfort and my comfort is not God’s top priority. I do believe He will bless us, but sometimes we do not get the point through blessings. Sometimes we need the sufferings to get the point. Sometimes we need the sufferings to grow. I also don’t believe God brings on every suffering, but can bring something good from all suffering. (And I don’t know how to reconcile that with the fact He could prevent it if He chose to.) I’ve heard it said that Israel never did well with blessings, but they usually did pretty well with sufferings.
It would be so easy to always preach God’s love, tell stories about grandmas and puppies, and stay away from topics that make us uncomfortable. My friend Tim Edin sent me this link: Preaching So as to Convert Nobody. Rule #1 is “Let your supreme motive be to secure your own popularity; then, of course, your preaching will be adapted to that end, and not to convert souls to Christ.”
Robert L. Thomas says in his book, The Master’s Perspective on Difficult Passages, 1.) kings have more to fear from true prophets than true prophets from kings, and 2.) false prophets have more to fear from God than from kings.
As a pastor, the congregation may love me if I tell them what they want to hear, but if I truly love them, and if I’m obedient to God, I can’t just tell them what they want to hear. I have nothing to fear from speaking the whole truth (as to the best of my ability) to the congregation and the world. I have everything to fear from God if I don’t.