A Passion for Preaching

Desiring God 1992 Conference for Pastors

God, Congregation, and Codependency

Thank you, David, for that generous introduction. I’m delighted to be here with you all today. I’m delighted to be here all week. It was a privilege to be able to come in early as Dr. Crabb did and be able to join with Bethlehem Baptist in worship services on Sunday. That’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time and I hope that I get to do it again in the future. I hope that those of you who never have will try and return next year for their conference and come a day early and be a part of the ministry here. It’s very, very special and I just count it an extreme privilege to be here this week.

I feel a little bit out of place. I’m going to be perfectly honest. I don’t want this to sound like some sort of feigned humility. I don’t know Ralph Winter, we just met recently and I’m sure he will become a hero of mine, but the two other speakers with whom I share this pulpit have had such a profound impact on my life that I really feel out of place standing before you. Larry Crabb and John Piper have meant more to me than I can possibly describe or possibly thank them. They have truly been used by God in my life as I think you’ll see in some of the comments that I have and I just feel deeply appreciative for the opportunity to be here with them this week.

Love for God’s Name in Serving the Saints

I’m going to ask you if you would take your Bibles and turn to Hebrews 6 for a Scripture reading. I need not to say anything to you about the controversial text that precedes the one that I am going to read. You know the debate that surrounds Hebrews 6:1–8. It is not with that debate that we are at all concerned today, but rather I want us to look at Hebrews 6:9–12, and particularly one text that will become significant for us in just a moment. Hebrews 6:9–12 says:

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Look again with me at Hebrews 6:10:

For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name . . .

How did they show love toward the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? It says, “in serving the saints, as you still do.”

Two Men in One

I want us to begin this morning by thinking just briefly about the title for the message that I am to deliver to you. This title was selected for me by Dr. Piper. Think about it: A Passion for Preaching and a Passion for People: Teaching Truth and Touching Hearts. Now, I want to be perfectly honest at the outset of this talk and tell you that there are times when I honestly and sincerely wonder if maybe the more appropriate word is or rather than and, as if to say “a passion for preaching or a passion for people, teaching truth or touching hearts.” Is it really practically possible for us to do both? Seriously, is it really possible for there to exist in the same mind and in the same ministry both a passion for preaching and a passion for people? Are we not dealing here with things that are mutually exclusive?

Don’t the rigors of ministry and the harsh realities of life in a local church, with which all of you are familiar, demand that we just muster up the courage and confess that John was suffering from some sort of idealistic delusion when he suggested that I talk about a passion for preaching and a passion for people? Is it just some pastoral dream, or does God really expect us to have both?

I was honestly wrestling with this very question when I was delighted to discover a providential fact that brought me back to what I think the Bible really says about this particular issue. I don’t know if you realize it or not, but this Friday, January 31st, 1992 is the 100th anniversary of the death of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. When I discovered that, I immediately turned to read again about some of the aspects of this man’s life and ministry and I was delighted to discover, as I already knew, that here was a man who was flesh and blood just like you and me who really did have both a passion for preaching and a passion for people, a man who by God’s grace really did touch hearts and teach truth. A neighboring minister, not always a close friend but a neighboring minister, and contemporary of Spurgeon had this to say about him:

Mr. Spurgeon was absolutely destitute of intellectual benevolence. The only colors he recognized were black and white. With him, you were either up or down, in or out, dead or alive. As for middle zones, graded lines, light compounding the shadow in graceful exercise of give and take, he simply looked on them as heterodox. On the other hand, who could compare with him in moral sympathy? Who else was so responsive to pain and need and helplessness? In this view, Mr. Spurgeon was in very deed two men.

Another contemporary of his concurs. He said:

The brain of this truly great man was of a giant order. He did with ease and spontaneously mental feats, which men of name and inordinate vanity struggle in vain even by elaboration to accomplish. He could grasp the bearings of a subject, hold his theme well in hand, and deploy his thoughts like troops in tactical movements. He was never at sea, all was in an orderly arrangement.

And of the same man this individual goes on to say:

Yet could any face more fully express geniality, friendliness, warmth of affection, and overflowing hospitality? We know of none in whom these traits so shown forth. His greeting was warm as sunshine. It mattered not what might be the shadow on the spirit or the trouble of the heart, it all vanished away at the voice of his welcome. There was light on his countenance that instantly dispersed all gloom. I have never known one whose presence had such charm or whose conversation was such a rich and varied feast.

I was heartened by those comments because it reminded me once again that yes, it is possible by God’s grace to be both passionate for people and for preaching.

Keeping Two Passions Alive

In the last three or four years, God has shown me that both passions not only can but must coexist in the same mind and ministry. In showing me this, I have had to wrestle with some very painful realities in my own life, and God has shown me, among other things, three truths that I want to share with you today.

These three truths may not seem to be connected in your thinking as I present them, but they are in mine — and not only in my thinking but in my experience. These are three rather painful realities that I have had to come to deal with in realizing that God does expect and will provide power both for passion for people and a passion for preaching.

A Change in Perspective

God has shown me three things. First, I’ll share something about myself. Secondly, I’ll share something about the nature of ministry. Thirdly, I’ll share something about the nature of the church. I want to share those three things with you today.

For years, in fact, for about 12 or 13 years, if you had spoken to me about a passion for preaching and a passion for people, I would not have used the conjunction and, nor would I have used the conjunction or. I used a different word. I used the word by. It was my conviction that my passion for people was expressed by my passion for preaching, and that the way in which I would touch hearts was by means of teaching truth. And believe me when I say this, that is true.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m going to share with you this morning and conclude that I do not believe that we can love people by preaching to them. We can. We do. One of the greatest expressions of our passion for people and our love for them and our desire to see them grow is by teaching the truth. We must touch their hearts by teaching them God’s word. Please do not think that anything I say detracts from that truth. But let me tell you something about me.

For many years, this otherwise altogether legitimate and biblical principle was used by this pastor as an excuse for not becoming personally involved and entangled in the lives of the people that I was teaching. Let me see if I can explain to you what I mean. For a number of years in my ministry, the vast majority of those years, I maintained that talking about personal problems really wasn’t a very mature, and dare I say, very Calvinistic thing to do. I was convinced that people who were determined and bent on expressing their pain and their struggles were really weak in their faith. My question was, “Well, isn’t the Bible enough for you? Isn’t the word of God sufficient?”

Larry mentioned last night a man who after many, many years dropped out of pastoral ministry because he didn’t have anything to say to people who came up to him after his sermon, so he went into the classroom where students wouldn’t ask those kinds of questions. I had something to say to those who came up to me after my message and who mentioned their struggles. I just simply said, “Well, what you need to do is take better notes.” Or I might say, “I’ve got a reading list here. Here are four or five good books.” And then I would leave them to their troubles.

I never felt very comfortable wrestling with the troubles in their life. I never felt very comfortable dealing with their struggles. I would spend time in their homes but only on the condition that we debate the millennial issue or some such notion. I didn’t feel very much at ease dealing with the struggles and the hurts that they were having to go through at that time. Now again, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not waffling on the power of God’s truth, not in the least. My preaching has not changed. My homiletical style has not really experienced that much of a change in the past several years. I still believe very much and always will in the sufficiency of Holy Scripture, but I discovered something about myself with the spirit’s help, and that is that I had for many years used the doctrine of the authority and the sufficiency of Scripture as an excuse for insulating myself from the pain of the people to whom I was preaching.

A Personal Responsibility to People’s Pain

It was interesting, providentially, how God made me aware of that. It was through a comment in Larry Crabb’s book Inside Out. Perhaps you’ve read the book and you came across the comment. It may not have affected you the way it did me. I was so angry with him when I first read it and very defensive. I didn’t like it and I know why now. I want you to listen to this statement that he made. He said, and I quote:

Perhaps it’s time to screw up our courage and attack the sacred cow. We must admit that simply knowing the contents of the Bible is not a sure root to spiritual growth. There is an awful assumption in evangelical circles that if we can just get the word of God into people’s heads, then the Spirit of God will apply it to their hearts. That assumption is awful, not because the Spirit never does what the assumption supposes, but because it has excused pastors and leaders from the responsibility to tangle with people’s lives. Many remain safely hidden behind pulpits, hopelessly out of touch with the struggles of their congregations, proclaiming the Scriptures with a pompous accuracy that touches no one. Pulpits should provide bridges, not barriers, to life-changing relationships.

I didn’t like it. It still hurts to read that because it is so true. I suddenly realized that perhaps my philosophy of preaching had been at least partly shaped by self-interest. Now, I believe in 2 Timothy 3:16–17, I believe in Hebrews 4:12–13, and I believe the word of God does all the things that it claims for itself, but I also believe now that for years I had used that truth, that perfectly legitimate truth, as an excuse for distancing myself from the personal problems of the people to whom I was preaching. It was a convenient and a seemingly biblical way of justifying my detachment from their lives. I not only preached from a pulpit, I was literally hiding behind it. Their problems, their struggles, as far as I was concerned, were too time-consuming, too demanding, too agonizing, and I had a perfectly legitimate (it seemed to me), theologically sound, and biblical way of justifying my detachment from their anguish.

Ministerial Reformation

That was until March of 1988 when I was able to attend my first of two basic seminars of the Institute of Biblical Counseling taught by Dr. Crabb and his colleague Dan Allender in Dallas, Texas, at which time the Holy Spirit touched my life in a way that was as revolutionary as anything that I had ever known.

Just to give you an illustration of how radical this was, when I attended the conference, I encountered a former classmate of mine. I hadn’t seen him in over 10 years. We had been at Dallas Seminary together and when I saw him, I wasn’t all that surprised. When he saw me, he almost passed out and he came up to me and with a trembling hand, he extended it and he said, “Sam, what’s a good Calvinist like you doing at a conference like this?” The question was not inappropriate. I understood what he meant.

The fact of the matter is being a strong Calvinist, as I am, it did seem a little bit inappropriate because — and again, I hope I don’t step on too many toes, and if it doesn’t apply to you, then just ignore what I say — we of the Reformed faith who love the doctrines of grace do not have a very good reputation when it comes to pastoral compassion. You may think you do, but at least the perception of those within this particular camp is not very good on the outside. I must confess to my everlasting shame that I’ve probably contributed a little bit to that image, and he was shocked and surprised to find that I was there. What God has done to me as a result of that seminar and some of the truths that I learned as a result are what I really want to share with you today. There were two things that God awakened in my mind as a result of what happened during that week of March 1988.

First of all, I learned for the very first time after 11 or 12 years of ministry — it’s so hard to have to tell you this, but it’s true — how deeply and how badly people are hurting. I really hadn’t known that before. I was telling Larry at breakfast this morning that I was raised in one of those rare phenomena of society. I was raised in a functional family. I really was. What a glorious blessing it is to have Christian parents who led me to the Lord and loved me and affirmed me and were firm and when they needed to be and gentle when I needed gentleness. I had a Christian father, a Christian mother, a Christian sister, and a really functional family. And I never had to face the pain and the anguish and the abuse and the neglect and the abandonment and the hatred and the hostility that so many others have.

And I carried that into my ministry and I just assumed that everybody else came from a functional family. I’m not really sure I know what a dysfunctional family is. I’m learning. I’m not sure I really liked the term, but I began to learn for the very first time how badly people were hurting.

Love for God, Love for People

That led to a second revelation from the Lord, and that is that I could no longer separate my love for him from my love for these people. Hebrews 6:10 is one text among many that illustrates the truth that God unveiled to me. Hebrews 6:10 says that God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward his name in having ministered, and in still ministering, to the saints. What a remarkable statement. I had read that so many times. I had even preached through Hebrews without knowing what the author was saying in that passage.

Observe again, he says that the love which I have toward God is demonstrated not simply in my worship of him, although it is in that, not simply in my mastering of theological concepts, although it is true there too, not simply in an evangelistic zeal and a desire to see the lost saved, but fundamentally my love toward his name is manifest in my ministering to his people. I cannot claim to love God in the absence of the kind of sacrificial ministry and compassionate service that he’s talking about in this passage and elsewhere in the book of Hebrews.

I have a very good friend whom I’ll call Debbie, who by the way happened to be attending the same IBC seminar in March of 1988 with me. She has been deeply touched by the truths that came from that experience and her life has demonstrated that she was very active in a local church. Her pastor one day confronted her with something that bothered her initially. He said to her, “Debbie, I hear you talking a lot about people in their pain, but I don’t hear you say much about the Lord.” And that hurt her very much. She called me one day and she was in tears and we talked about it a great deal. I understand where her pastor was coming from, but I also know Debbie’s heart.

She understands the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength, and she understands also that the second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Debbie never loved other people as an excuse for not loving Christ, and he didn’t love other people more than she loved Christ; she loved other people because she loved the Lord Jesus Christ. She had come to realize the truth of Hebrews 6:10 that you can’t separate, you cannot differentiate between your love for God and your love for his people.

It was precisely in burying the pains and the burdens and the needs of people in her own fellowship that she displayed her love for God. This passage is interesting for many reasons. In Hebrews 6, I think all of us realize that there’s not a great deal of fame or notoriety in serving the saints, in loving other Christians. I’d rather write books and have a TV ministry and be on the radio. I mean there’s where notoriety is to be found. I mean, merely serving others, you run the risk of slipping into the cracks of a church and ministering in virtual obscurity, going unappreciated and unnoticed. But the glorious thing that our author tells us is that’s okay because God remembers. In fact, he says it’s a matter of divine justice. God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward his name, having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.

No Shortcuts to Costly Love

Let me tell you how I used to get around a passage like this. I got around it by doing two things. First of all, I simply made sure that I was in a position to love people who were lovable and I thought I’d fulfill the text. I made sure that the people that I was around and loved were pretty people, wealthy people, successful people, educated people, and sophisticated people — people who were capable of loving me back. And that made loving them easy.

I’ll talk a little bit more about that in just a moment, but I also had a second way of getting around this, and it may step on a few more toes. I used to say, “Well, yeah, I understand a statement like that, but I’m not a people person.” Have you ever said that about yourself? Maybe you say, “I’m not a people person, so I really don’t have to concentrate too directly on this sort of thing. My gift and my calling is over here.” Friend, this passage doesn’t have anything to do with spiritual giftedness. There’s nothing in this text that indicates our author intended to address only people-persons in the local church. Now, I’ll grant you that yes, there are gifts of mercy and there’s the gift of hospitality, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us are then excused for being unmerciful and inhospitable.

No he’s talking here to every single believer. The exhortation is not selective, it is universal, and furthermore, even if it is true that in your personality you are not a people person, are you willing to give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to remake you into one? It seems to me that we need to be prepared to allow the Holy Spirit to do that very thing. Some of us have a great deal of difficulty yet with Hebrews 6:10, and I think that there are some reasons why when we consider loving the brethren.

By the way, I’m not an expert on codependency and I’m glad that Dr. Crabb is here to tell you what it is and its good points and its bad points, but in the reading that I have done, I have come across one statement that bothered me. I don’t know what Dr. Crabb will have to say about this. One of the characteristics that the co-dependent authors write about is that they say the co-dependents are people who love too much. I was bothered a little bit by that statement and I asked myself, is it really possible to love too much? And I’ve come to the conviction that it’s not a question of the quantity of a person’s love. The issue of loving too much is missing the point. It’s not how much you love, it is why. It’s the motivation behind the love that someone shows toward others.

In other words, do you love out of lack in order to fill up what is absent in your own life? Do you love with a view toward deriving from others what you fear is not present in your own experience? Or do you love out of the abundant overflow of God’s love for you? In other words, it forced me to ask a very important question of myself, and I hope you’ll ask it of yourself as well: when you look at your ministry, when you look at your life, when you look at your relationships with other people, what is the energizing force? Is it the void created by the pain of your wounds, or is it the abundance that comes from the joy of God’s forgiving grace? It’s not a question of how much or how little we love, it’s the question of why do I do it. What do I seek to gain? Out of what? Does it flow?

The Reason for Our Love

I look at the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I ask the question, did Jesus love too much? Was Jesus codependent? No one ever loved more than he. Could it then be said that he loved too much? Well, certainly not because Jesus loved, not because he saw in people a supply to fill up what was lacking in himself, but because he himself had a supply to fill up what was lacking in them. So God has taught me a great deal about myself in dealing with this question of both a passion for preaching and a passion for people.

It has been a very painful experience in realizing how far I had distanced myself from my people and how inexcusable it was for me to use a theologically valid principle to insulate myself from their struggles and their pains and their hurts. I hope and pray that if you come away this morning with anything from what I’m sharing with you, it will be to reexamine your own motivation for preaching the sufficiency and the authority of the word of God.

A Lesson on the Nature of Ministry

God taught me something else. Secondly, about the nature of ministry, it was about this same time three years ago that I decided to preach through the Gospel of Matthew. I spent two years preaching through the Gospel of Matthew and God revealed to me and gave me insight into something concerning my ministry that I’d never really considered before. I’d always looked to Paul as a model for ministry, and I still do. I mean, he tells us to be imitators of him and rightly so.

There are also many other saints through the ages and even some who are alive and present today who became something of a model for me in ministry. But I learned that our preeminent model for ministry is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. And as I worked through the Gospel of Matthew and also some in Luke, I discovered — in fact, I was stunned to discover — how much people meant to Jesus and how much more they meant to him than they mean to me.

I had always been amazed by our Lord’s teaching, his authoritative treatment of the truths of God. I had been deeply impressed with his power and with his knowledge and so on, but as I studied his life in the Gospel of Matthew, what touched me more than anything else was his compassion.

I discovered that there were two things about our Lord’s ministry that were absent from mine, and I was devastated by it. I noticed that there was a depth of compassion in his ministry that was devoid of mine, and that there was also a personal element that was not true of me. Let me just share a couple of thoughts.

Overlooked Aspects of Christ’s Ministry

When you read the Gospel records, what strikes you most about Jesus? Is it his power? Is it his miracle-working wonders? Is it the knowledge and the insight that he had into human nature? Surely all these things were great, but I am most deeply struck by his compassion. For example, here are just a couple of illustrations. In Mark Chapter 1, when a leper is brought to our Lord, we are told that it was because of his compassion that Jesus healed him. The man whose boy was demonized came to Jesus and appealed to his compassion as a motivation for setting him free.

When Jesus approached the city of Nain and saw that funeral, the only son of that widow, we are told that he felt compassion for her and as a result raised her son from the dead. We all know the story of Jesus feeding the 4,000. Why did he do that? Why did he take those few fish and pieces of bread and transform them into enough food to feed 4,000 people? Was it to confirm and authenticate his messianic identity? That’s not what the text says, though it surely did that. Was it to inaugurate the power of the kingdom? Sure it did that, but that’s not what the text says was his motive. The text says that Jesus summoned to himself his disciples and said, “I feel compassion for the multitude because they’ve remained with me now for three days and they don’t have anything to eat.”

Why did Jesus heal the sick? Was it to display God’s glory? You bet it was. Was it to confirm and validate his claims? Yes. Was it to prove the presence of the kingdom? Yes. But we’re also told in Matthew 14:14 that when he came out, he saw a great multitude and he felt compassion for them and he healed their sick. As I began to go through Matthew, I just saw time after time after time that our Lord’s motivation from ministry, his love for people, flowed from his compassion for them, and I was broken because it wasn’t true in my own experience.

The Compassion of Christ

There’s an interesting statement in Matthew’s Gospel in chapter nine concerning this. In Matthew 9:35, it says:

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.

Now, Josephus tells us that there were approximately 200 villages and towns in Galilee at this time, each with an average population of about 15,000, which means that there was a population that at that time of about 3 million people. If Jesus canvased, let’s say, two towns a day doing what the text tells us he did, it would’ve taken him about four months. Now, let me ask you something. I ask you what I asked myself.

If I had preached in two towns a day for four months to 3 million people, with the pressures of their presence and the demands that they made upon my time, and the request for private conversations, and the constant barrage of questions, and all of the things that they would have foisted upon me in ministry, my reaction would probably be, at the end of a couple of days, utter exasperation, exhaustion, irritation, and frustration. I would want to say, “Get away from me! Show a little compassion toward me.” I preach twice on Sundays, and I’m not much good for anything or anybody after Sunday night. All I have in mind is three aspirin in my easy chair at home, and I’m working on it. I hope God is helping me to be a little bit more compassionate to the needs of people.

Here was Jesus after this exhausting ministry and we’re told in the next verse, Matthew 9:36:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them . . .

I would’ve thought it would say, “He felt irritation,” or, “He felt put upon,” or, “He felt used and exploited.” But no, our Lord Jesus Christ we are told felt compassion.

The Personal Touch of Jesus

But there’s another element to his ministry that has profoundly touched me, and that is that it was not only compassionate, it was deeply personal. Let me give you an example of this in one particular incident that has meant a great deal to me. I share this in my book To Love Mercy, but let me share it with you again. It comes immediately after the Sermon on the mountain. In Matthew 8:1–3, we read this:

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Now, let’s think for just a moment about the nature of leprosy. I know that’s probably not a good idea right after breakfast. But leprosy was really the AIDS of the ancient world, and perhaps in some respects worse because its physical symptoms were so obvious. I don’t want to describe in detail for you the symptoms of leprosy. You probably know what they are, but leprosy had more than just a physical impact upon an individual. It had social and religious and moral implications as well. That’s why, interestingly enough, in all but one instance when Jesus dealt with lepers, it said that he cleansed them rather than that he healed them. Because leprosy was not only a physical disease, it was symbolic of the spiritual disease of the soul caused by sin, and yet here is our Lord dealing with a leper in a most unusual way.

Here is a leper who approaches Jesus in a public gathering. People didn’t just do that in the ancient world. You know, of course, the rules governing lepers. We’re told in Leviticus 13 that the person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, his hair be kept unkempt, he must cover the lower part of his face, and everywhere he goes, he has to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” And as long as the infection remains, he has to stay outside the camp. Luke tells us that this particular man was full of leprosy indicating that most likely for the majority of his life, he had had this disease, this affliction. For the majority of his adult life, perhaps even his childhood, he had this disease. Here was a man who had never known human touch. He had never known what it was like to be embraced by somebody.

Here’s a man who everywhere he went had to yell, “Unclean! Unclean!” And people turned through rocks at him and held their noses and lifted up their robes. The rules, according to the Pharisees, said you don’t come within six feet of a leper and in some regulations it said that you had to stay 150 feet away if you were ever downwind of one. They stunk, literally, physically. They stunk. The disease was so bad. And yet, we’re told that our Lord, seeing this man, reacted not with fear, not with revulsion, but he reached out and he touched him. You did not touch a leper. No one, by no means whatsoever, ever touched a leper. No one except Jesus.

The Lepers of Our Day

Now, Jesus didn’t have to touch him. We know of instances in which Jesus healed by a word. Jesus didn’t even have to be in the presence of somebody who needed healing. He could have told him, “Why don’t you go wash yourself seven times in the river Jordan,” or something like that. Or he could have said, “Go put mud on your leprosy or,” some other means that he used in other circumstances. Why did our Lord choose to minister to this man by touching him? I think our Lord was showing us the depth of his compassion because he dared to touch what everybody else found repulsive.

Now, what does this have to do with the nature of our ministry? Well, let me tell you what it means to me. It means that as pastors and associate pastors and elders and deacons and just average Christians, we need to be willing to come out from behind the pulpit and touch the moral lepers and the physical lepers and the social lepers and the educational lepers in our churches. And let me tell you, there are a great many of them. There are people who are dying for a touch from a pastor of a church. I know that there are churches and I know that there are pastors in which after preaching, they immediately run and hide unless they are engulfed by the people. I used to do that. I didn’t like to talk to people after I preached. I was exhausted. I was tired. I thought I had done my job. I had discharged my ministry. I had been faithful to the text. Now leave me alone.

But Jesus, we are told, reached out and made contact with that disfigured flesh. There’s a fascinating statement to this effect in Luke 4:40. We’re told that while the sun was setting, all who had any sickness were brought to Jesus, and we are told that laying his hands on every one of them, he was healing them. I was struck by that when I read it. Thousands of people were brought to Jesus and he took the time — and Luke makes it explicit — to lay hands on every single one of them. I know the laying on of hands is a controversial subject, but why did Jesus do that? Well, was it because there’s some magical power in physical contact? Well, of course not. I think Jesus did it as an expression of his love. I think people want the physical contact of a pastor.

I think that you would be shocked to discover how many people in your congregations come and go week in and week out who are absolutely convinced that they are moral and social and religious lepers and that they don’t deserve to be touched, and that nobody would dare care enough about them to come up and shake their hand or embrace them and just tell them how much they love them.

Our Lord Jesus Christ ministered not only in compassion, he ministered very personally. He came out from behind his pulpit and he mingled with the people and he touched them.

From the Pulpit into the Lives of People

Now, there’s significance also in the fact that this occurs in Matthew 8. Remember again, our Lord has just preached the Sermon on the Mount. He’s just been up on the mountaintop. He’s just been up behind his pulpit, as it were, and all of his disciples were sitting down and taking copious notes. Jesus comes down from the mountain and the first thing that he does after preaching the most glorious sermon ever uttered is to touch a leper.

May I use that analogy for you and me. I know where we’d all like to stay. We’d all like to stay sitting at the feet of a good teacher and taking notes, or behind the nice confines of a pulpit and not be bothered by the inconvenient, demanding character of the problems that people have. But Jesus came down from his pulpit off the mountaintop, down into the reality of the people to whom he was preaching, and he touched a leper.

We have to be willing to do that. We have to be willing to come out from behind our pulpits. We have to be willing to get entangled in some very complex, time-consuming, irritating, and exasperating problems that our people are facing. We cannot hide behind the altogether legitimate truth of the sufficiency of Scripture. The sufficiency of the Bible, dear friend, was never meant to excuse you and me from touching the lepers in our congregations and dealing with the lives of those who are hurting so very, very badly.

Better to Be Exploited

Now, I know what some people might want to say at this point. They might say, “Sam, if I ever gave of myself like that, as you’re saying to people in my congregation, if I was ever that exposed to individuals, they would exploit me. They would take advantage of my time and they would impose upon my energies. I just can’t make myself that vulnerable. I mean, don’t you think that that would really put me in a very touchy position?” And my response to that is — and I don’t mean this to sound nasty or anything — so what? I mean, wasn’t Jesus exploited? Didn’t people take advantage of him? Didn’t they prey upon his goodness and his love? Certainly they did. We’re not here to live a life of convenience. We’re not here to preserve our comfort as the ultimate priority of our ministry.

We’re here to follow the lead of the master pastor, Jesus. Yes, you will be taken advantage of. Yes, it will be difficult. It will take time that you thought you didn’t have. And yes, I know that we want to get out because lunch is being prepared by our wife and that football game is starting and you hate to miss kickoff, but there are people there that need you. There are people there that need me. We need to reevaluate ourselves in the light of the compassionate personal ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.

My mind goes to John 13 when I think of this. Our Lord is there at a time of his greatest need. If anybody needed somebody to reach out and touch him, it was Jesus in the upper room just prior to the most devastating sequence of events in his life. And yet we are told in John Chapter 13:1–2:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

What did he do? Well, he didn’t say, “Fellas, I need some comfort and encouragement now. I’ve been ministering hard and long all day and all night. Can’t you show a little compassion toward me?” No, he didn’t say — in light of the fact that he knew he was going back to the Father and he was going to resume his place of dignity and glory — “Peter, my robe. John, my scepter. Andrew, my crown. Men, bow before me. I’m going back to my Father to the restored glory that was mine before the foundation of the earth.”

No, and he didn’t even say, “Oh, I don’t think Peter loves me anymore, and Andrew likes John better than he likes me. Philip isn’t really pleased with my teaching. What can I do to regain their affection?” No, it says, “Having loved his own, he loved them to the end.” He was in his most desperate hour of need, maybe with a headache — and I think yeah, even Jesus probably had headaches on occasion — under the stress and the strain of what was impending, and with all of the needs that he himself had, he loved them, not out of a lack which he wanted them to supply, but out of the overflowing abundance of his Father’s love for him and his love for them. So he got up and he put on the towel and he did the most demeaning, humbling thing he could — he washed their feet. That in my opinion, is our model for ministry.

Slipping Through the Cracks

Do you think Jesus got the way he treated outcasts from the word, and also reconciliation and love and forgiveness and support? You bet he did. That’s exactly what he had in mind. Is that what we see today?

Now, what I’m going to say about evangelical churches now may not apply to yours. I hope it doesn’t. But I think you’re probably fooling yourself if you think there’s no truth here in terms of your own congregation. Let me ask you a question to bring this home. When people in your congregation hit rock bottom, when the whole world in which they live begins to crumble, when their parents reject them for their faith, when they have troubles with their in-laws, when there’s a difficulty or a struggle with alcoholism, when their kids are suddenly discovered to be on drugs, when they face stress and depression and rejection, when there are problems in their marriage and their business fails, have you ever noticed how those people very quietly disappear from the life of the church?

I noticed that in my own fellowship and I want to tell you it broke my heart. We have a family in our church, a man whose business has just gone under, and he’s filed for corporate and personal bankruptcy. In all likelihood, he’s going to face criminal charges and he knows that. They had to sell their house. They have sold virtually everything they have. They don’t have a thing left, and the wife, a fine Christian woman, just went into a depression that was almost unbearable, and all of a sudden I began to miss them. I noticed that they weren’t there, and when I finally found an opportunity to go and visit and to find out why, I was brokenhearted. They just didn’t think that the church had the support that they needed. They didn’t think the church was the place that would understand their pain. They just couldn’t face what they thought would be the judgment and I-told-you-so attitudes of self-righteous Christians.

We have another couple in our church, a lady that I’ve worked with, who’s had incredible problems for two years, who comes faithfully but can’t get her husband to attend for the simple fact that he’s overweight and he’s convinced that the people in our fellowship will reject him for appearing so unfashionable. I have a couple of other families who are struggling with their children and they feel utterly humiliated to come to church because they think everybody else has great kids and are successful parents, and they just can’t bear the thought of losing their testimony when the others might find out that they haven’t turned out so well in the raising of their kids.

Religious Country Clubs

Isn’t it amazing that when you hit rock bottom, the very first thing on your agenda ought to be to run to your church family, to go to your spiritual brothers and sisters for the understanding and the support, maybe the rebuke, maybe the instruction from God’s word, but also for a message of forgiveness and grace. And yet tragically that’s the last place that people oftentimes want to go. Why is that? Why have evangelical churches become that way? Let me tell you a couple of reasons. One of them is because we have created a spiritual monster — we evangelicals — in which a church building has become more like a religious country club than anything else.

It’s almost as if church is where you go to show other Christians how well you’re doing. You think, “I’m going to church today so everybody else will know how well I’m doing financially and our business is booming. Look, here’s my wife and here are my kids.” We think people will admire us for that, so that’s where we go to show off. We don’t go to encounter God and to be overwhelmed by his glory and to be edified through his word and to be an encouragement to other people. We go to elicit the accepting approval of other Christians. We go with, in the back of our minds, the desire that when others leave they’ll say about us, “Whoa, wasn’t Joe great looking today? Man, he had a new suit. And Alice looked tremendous. Boy, they must be great Christians. I wish I were like them.”

Rarely do we go with a view toward truly listening to the message and discussing its meaning and its application afterwards. What’s the first thing on our lips as we get into the car as we leave? We say, “Judy sure has put on a lot of weight,” and, “Where was Fred?” and, “You know, Jim was here, but I wonder why,” and we talked about who was wearing what new dress and how much it must have cost. We have almost turned our churches into religious fashion shows.

I have nothing against good clothes. I like them. I think it’s great for people to dress nicely. But when our approach to church life is, “I’ll go to elicit the approval and the praise of other Christians to show them how well I’m doing,” it’s no wonder that when people finally crater. That’s the last place they want to be. I didn’t coin this phrase, I don’t know who did, but they were right when they said that “the church has become a museum for saints when Jesus intended to be a hospital for sinners.”

Ask yourself a question. Think of your own fellowship and when somebody comes in off the street, somebody who smells, literally smells, and somebody who perhaps makes their living by selling their body to some stranger. Or if an alcoholic enters, or someone who is on drugs, or somebody who’s gone through a very scandalous divorce, or somebody who’s been abandoned, how do you react to them? How do your people respond?

What Makes Jesus Sick

Let me tell you what happened in our own church and it pained me deeply. We have an extremely charismatic church in our community, and this isn’t against charismatics in general. We have one though that has gone to great extremes and has hurt some people very deeply. They have some very authoritarian approaches to church life and some people were crushed and their lives were destroyed. This church has a horrible reputation in our community. Several of these families that were hurt came to our fellowship when they got booted out of this other one, and it broke my heart when I realized there were some people in our congregation who looked upon them and turned down their noses and turned their backs and said, “Why have they come over here? That’s not the kind of people we want. Are we going to have an influx of those kinds of individuals?” Let me tell you something, that kind of attitude nauseates the Lord Jesus Christ.

You know what that’s like? That’s like going to a hospital emergency room, and you walk in and you’re bleeding. Maybe your arm has been severed. Or you walk in and you have a horrible disease and all the nurses and the doctors go, “Ooh, I’m tired of this. Here we have this marvelously new constructed emergency room and all these clean sheets and beds and this technical equipment that’s state of the art, and we have to waste it on sick people. Why can’t we get some healthy folks in here for once? I am just going to quit. I’m going to go work at another hospital.” What’s become of us when we fail to realize that the church exists for the disheveled and the disfigured and the disabled and the deformed and the disenfranchised? Stop and ask yourself sometimes how much the percentage of our Lord’s ministry was devoted to people just like that.

For the vast majority of his miracles the recipients of them were the disabled, the disfigured, the downcast, the rejects, the social pariahs, and yet our religious country clubs turn their backs on those who are hurting most.

Shutting People Out of the Kingdom

Here’s another reason why this has emerged in this fashion: we evangelical Christians have made it virtually impossible for other evangelical Christians to fail. Now, I’m not condoning failure, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not a sin to admit you’re a sinner, and yet we have made it such. We have made it where Christians do not feel the freedom to acknowledge the fact that they have failed, that they are sinners. And we’re so selfish. People with problems are inconvenient. I know they are. They require more time than we want to give. They’re a burden. They demand sacrifices of energy and commitment that we’re not prepared to make. That’s why our churches have become so sadly disfigured, and then there’s the poison of what I call “lookalike Christianity”.

Yeah, we want visitors. We want people to come in, we want new members, but as long as they look like us. We think, “Well, she’s too fat. He’s too poor. They’re too uneducated. She’s too unattractive. What good are they? They’re just going to be an embarrassment to me and to the Lord. I wish they’d go someplace else.” We’ve created an atmosphere in which the people who are hurting are suspicious even when we do extend help to them. They suspect that beneath and behind the smiles and the overtures of concern we’re saying, “What’s the matter with her anyway? Why didn’t you get her act together? I never would’ve done that sort of thing.”

They stay away because they’re so scared of being judged, rejected, and hearing, “And I told you so you.” See, the assumption is that Christians don’t have those kinds of problems and people think, “I’ve got those kinds of problems, so maybe I’m not a Christian.” And even if they know they are, they don’t want to face the suspicions of others who think that they’re not. They think they’re just not good enough to go to church anymore. Church is for good people and I’ve let the Lord down and I don’t want to lose my witness. I believe the church needs more people who are honest strugglers rather than pious pretenders.

I read the other day of a church that has a little announcement, some sort of a poster with words on it in their bulletin board that says, “If you have troubles, come in and tell us about them. If you have none, come in and tell us how you’d do it.” I wish that were true. Unfortunately, it’s the people with the troubles and the struggles who are being driven away from our evangelical churches, and it breaks my heart.

An Honest Self-Inventory

Now you say, “Sam, what can we do about that? How can we merge this passion for preaching (which I hope all of us have) with a genuine Christ-like passion for people?” Sure, we all love teaching the truth. I don’t enjoy anything more than I do reading books and preparing messages and delivering them. I love it. But how can I also touch lives with the same devotion and the same dedication? Here’s one suggestion, just one. It involves a rigorous and honest and painful self-inventory. Let me ask a question this morning of myself and of you. Because we have to start with ourselves before we can even begin to start with our churches. Ask yourself this question, am I the kind of person with whom other people would feel comfortable sharing their deepest and darkest secrets? Am I the kind of person with whom others would feel comfortable sharing their struggles and their pain?

When I walk into church and I see me, am I the kind of person that I would want to go talk to? And I know this kind of sounds a little strange, and I don’t mean to get too introspective here, too psychological. But seriously, when you look at yourself, when you evaluate your demeanor, your talk, your dress, how you interact with people, if somebody else were on the outside looking at you, would you be the kind of person that says, “Come here and let me share your burden.” Or would you be the kind who sends off the signal, “Stay away.” Are you inviting or are you intimidating? Do you communicate? What are your spiritual signals? Do you communicate acceptance or rejection? Do people think of themselves when they look at you and when they hear you preach, and think, “Well, I’d like to go talk to him afterwards, but I feel like I’d be in imposition.”

Or do they say, “I think I might even be an opportunity for him, and that he’s looking to minister to someone like me”? Do you convey a spirit of condemnation or compassion? When other people look at you and hear you and see how you act and where you go and what you do with your time and your tone of voice in the pulpit, are they attracted? Are they drawn, knowing that you’ll look upon their need as an opportunity to minister the love of Christ to a needy individual? Or do they feel like they have to turn and go the other way? You see, the problem really isn’t so much in the state of the church; the problem is in the state of our souls, and that’s where we have to begin.

Yes, I do think it’s possible to have both a passion for preaching and a passion for people, which is only by God’s grace, and I hope and pray what I’ve shared with you today, which I shared from my heart, will mean something to you, and I do not by any means want to sound as if I’m standing in judgment on others because I know how far short I fall today still and how selfish and how self-protective I am of my time and of my ministry, and I know how lacking in compassion and lacking in the personal touch and lacking in a passion for people that I am. But I hope and pray that you’ll realize that there can be Spurgeons today. There can be people with great and expansive minds who also, just in the tone of a welcoming voice, make people want to come and say, “Man, my life’s falling apart. Can you help me?”

I really do believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is not only our Savior from sin, he is our paradigm for ministry. I do believe that we need to come down off the mountaintop and touch lepers. And I hope and pray that God will ignite in your hearts that fire, not only for preaching, but also for people, and that they will come to mean as much to you as they meant to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Questions and Answers

Some recommend that pastors not engage in long-term counseling relationships, that they should in fact refer to those supposedly (and sometimes truthfully) more competent than themselves outside the church. What do you think?

That is a very difficult question. I must tell you that there’s a both-and in the answer. I have had several long-term relationships with people in terms of counseling that I would never have dreamed of referring elsewhere. There have been others where I have felt truly inadequate and just simply not competent to deal with the nature of their problem. I’m very upfront with them and tell them that. I do not believe that pastors should view themselves as the world does, namely as incompetent, and that they really can only deal with so-called “spiritual problems” and that they need to get “professional help”.

I think we have to be honest about our own shortcomings. We have to be honest about our own inadequacies, about the limitations of our ability. But I agree with what Larry said last night, that we really are competent to counsel. I don’t think however that means we ought to dismiss as useless and as dangerous all who have ministries outside the church. I think there are many who are good, godly, competent and more capable than ourselves. I have no problem referring certain people. I have no problem if I feel that it’s the Spirit’s leading to continue with someone over a lengthy period of time. I don’t know if that’s kind of a non-specific sort of answer. It’s a both-and. You almost have to evaluate each case individually, I would think.

It seems like compassion is a dangerous virtue, for a pastor or for the average Christian, because it sets one up for rejection, for being exploited, for being taken advantage of, for being hurt, and for being betrayed. And it seems the tendency could be to react and withdraw as a result of that. How should we deal with that?

That’s a very difficult issue. I’m not really sure I know how to respond to that other than to say — and again, I don’t want this to sound crass — so what? I know that sounds crass, but I really had to come to a point where I realized, so what if my reputation is soiled? So what if I have been betrayed and let down? Sure it hurts. Nobody likes to have the best that they offer thrown back in their face. And I don’t say the “so what” in the sense of a hardened, I-don’t-care-about-you, who-cares type of attitude, but I mean in the sense of the reality that if we do not have a depth of security in our relationship with Christ that is sufficient to free us up to risk those kinds of situations, then we’re a far, far away from being the kind of pastors that the Lord wants us to be.

I almost sense that perhaps what’s behind the question — maybe you didn’t intend it this way — is, “How can we maintain this kind of ministry and be pain free?” And you can’t. It just simply isn’t possible.

What can I do if I know I am called to love people and be willing to be exploited to do so, but am feeling overwhelmed with how difficult it is to persist in it? How can I restore my warmth for people?

Where’s Larry when I need him? Oh, I hope you’ll ask that question again this afternoon and maybe his insights will help. I feel really inadequate to answer that. I guess the only way I know how to answer that is simply that I look at the life of Jesus and I see how people treated him. He had far more reason to react in the way that you’re describing than I or you ever would, and yet there was a depth to his love for them that somehow was able to see him through and to restore that warmth. I think Jesus got irritated with people. I mean sure he did. I think they were exasperating, but it never became a hindrance or an excuse for his withdrawal from their needs.

I guess the only way I know how to answer that from my own experience is every time that sort of feeling overwhelms me, and every time I begin to feel that kind of coldness and detachment in a counseling relationship or in my ministry, I just simply go back to the Gospels and I look at the life of Jesus and I see once again how much people meant to him and how much they must mean to me. And it drives me to my knees. It drives me to my knees in prayer to ask of the Lord to restore unto me the love for his people, just a small measure of the love that he had for them when he made such an incredible sacrifice of his Son for their sake. Beyond that, I don’t know what else I could tell you to do. I’m sorry I don’t have more to help you with answering that. Ask Larry and John and Dr. Winter, maybe they can help.

How should we think about your call for us to love people and get tangled with their lives with the reality in Acts 6 that the apostles were not willing to stop preaching to serve tables?

The question relates to the emphasis on preaching in the epistles and the fact that even in Acts 6, we see that some were especially delegated in the area of service to free up the apostles for teaching and for prayer. Nothing that I have said is designed in any way to negate the biblical teaching that there are elders in churches and there are deacons and they both have clear biblical responsibilities, and that there is spiritual giftedness, and that some are equipped by God to serve in other areas, perhaps more so than me, and I in this area more so than they. Nothing would indicate that I’m trying to undermine that. I’m simply speaking out of my own personal experience in terms of how I had allowed my sense of personal calling and sense of personal giftedness to become an excuse for not being involved to any degree in people’s lives.

I’m going to be perfectly honest. What has happened in the last three or four years has had a profound impact upon my daily routine. There are some worldly (and I don’t mean by that sinful, but pertaining to the world) leisures, pursuits, and pleasures that I’ve had to forego. I just don’t have the time for them anymore. There has been a change in my schedule. There has been a readjustment in the use of my time. I realize I’m not going to be able to write as much as I would like to in the future, but that’s all right.

People have a new meaning for me and I have a new sense of their value in God’s sight. And granted, I hope that I will still have time for those pursuits, but as far as my life is concerned, it has required a great readjustment of the use of my energies and of my time. But I certainly am not suggesting that elders become deacons. There is a diversification and a difference in responsibility in a local church. As much as anything, what I’m talking about is a spirit. I’m talking about an attitude.

I don’t have to be the one who arrives at the church early on Sunday morning to make sure the heat is on and the lights are working and there are hymn books in the pew rack. I don’t have to be engaged in that kind of service or that kind of ministry in order to fulfill what I’ve been talking about here. I realize that there are others who are called in those capacities. So, more than anything else, it’s something that happens in our heart as much as what happens outside, and it’s how I react to people in my relationships with them. Now the second question pertained to something in Hebrew 6.

Is the text in Hebrews 6:9–12 that you quoted about the saints, or about all people?

Well, I think it’s primarily the saints. I mean the household of God is our primary responsibility and objective, but if you’re asking do I think that there is a call to social involvement and ministry to those in need outside the body of Christ, I think the answer is yes. I don’t think necessarily that all are called to the same degree and in the same capacity, as John was saying Sunday in his message related to our involvement in the pro-life movement. Not everybody is called to function with the unbelieving community in the same way. But certainly I think the emphasis of Scripture — and I believe perhaps especially for pastors — is in the ministry to the saints. And of course that ministry can take so many different forms. The author there doesn’t specify which form.

It seems important to also emphasize how the rest of the church has the responsibility to love each other and care for each other, and not just the pastor. Since pastors can’t do everything, they have to be wise in their use of energy and time and know their limitations. Could you speak to how the whole church works together in this way to care for each other?

I’m with you totally. And by saying this, I think I’ll repeat your question by affirming my agreement with you. I am the sole staff member in a church of about 200. I have a full-time secretary and a part-time youth minister, but I am pretty much alone in that respect. And yes, I do believe that my other elders and deacons and all the people, have to take up the responsibility of this kind of loving ministry to the saints. And yes, we do have to be wise in the use of our energies and our time and our talents and our gifts, and we have to put limitations on where we can be and on how many nights we can be away from the family and on how much time can be given to counseling. Certainly we have to use common sense. I agree with you totally in that regard.

In my own experience, what it has meant — and this may sound awfully simple and maybe a little trite — is that I have found that one of the ways in which I can do this in my busy schedule is that I make it a point every Sunday to find one or two people or one or two families who I know are especially uncomfortable in a crowd. Maybe they just kind of slither in on the side of the wall and hide and sit down. They realize that nobody wants to talk to them. They think they’re not worth conversation. Just make it a point on a Sunday morning or a Sunday night or a Wednesday to go to that person and sit down with them and just have a two or three minute conversation and pray with them right there and follow it up with a little letter during the week or a phone call.

And again, not as discharging some sort of duty, but doing it because that if Jesus were there, that’s probably what he’d do. Now that’s a simple thing. That doesn’t make great demands on your time. It doesn’t require a whole lot of effort. It may involve a sacrifice of pride. It may mean that you have to begin to mingle with those who probably can’t do anything in return for you, but I really think that little things like that in the midst of an obviously burdensome schedule that many people have are things that we can all do.

Whether you’re in a church of 1,100 or 100, taking the opportunity to select individuals like that can be a way to love them. And ask the Lord before you ever meet with anyone in any setting, “Lord, awaken me to the need of the person that requires my love this morning. Make me sensitive to the fact that they perhaps have a desire and a need and a longing for a touch that maybe I don’t have, and give me the opportunity to do it.” And if that’s all that you start with, I think that’s great. I think that’s a tremendous opportunity.

What might the role of a pastor’s wife be in sensing some of the needs and concerns of people and helping her husband in ministering to the church?

Now, I thank God for my soon-to-be-20-years wife who has the most glorious gift of encouragement and mercy that I’ve ever seen, and she really is my Holy Spirit in some respects. I say that reverently. She calls me on the phone during the day and says, “Can you drop a note to so-and-so? I just sensed the other day that they’re really hurting.” Or she might say, “Could you be sure and give a call to this person or run by there?” Sometimes I want to say, “Leave me alone, Ann. Just get off my back. I’m reading a book.” And the Lord stops me from doing that most of the time, and I have to listen.

You know, she’s never been wrong. Don’t tell her that. I hope she doesn’t listen to this. She’s always right. I’ve never yet followed her counsel in reaching out to somebody for just a minute during the day that it didn’t prove to be the correct thing. So thank you for that.

Would you say your people have noticed a difference since you started to see these things in Scripture and adjust your ministry?

Yes, they should’ve noticed the difference in how they experienced the change. I’m a little reluctant to answer that because I hope and pray they’ve noticed it, but I feel uncomfortable talking about that. That makes me feel like I’m patting myself on the back.

I’ll just share one thing with you that I am absolutely in grief over and I’m going to do something about it when I get back, an area in which I have failed. A lady came into the church on Tuesday and her brother-in-law had taken a gun and put it to his wife’s head and in front of their two children pulled the trigger. Now he knew the gun was empty, but she didn’t. He’s in jail and she just left the request for my secretary, “Could someone at the church perhaps go down to the county jail and see him? He needs help.” I thought, “That’s an understatement.” And you know what I did? I said, “Lord, I got to get ready to talk to these people. I have to get ready for this trip.” And I didn’t go, and I have been really burdened by that.

I wasn’t Christlike. I should have dropped it right then. I should have gone down there. It wasn’t by chance that that lady came in and made that request, and now she’s under the perception that I don’t do those sorts of things and that’s really an infringement on my time and so forth. I called my secretary Monday when I got here and said, “Call that lady and you tell her that when I get back Thursday morning, I’ll be there if it’s not too late.” And I hope by God’s grace I follow up on that. So you ask how the congregation has seen a difference. Sometimes there hasn’t been one, sadly so. Other times I hope that they are aware that I’m there for them in a way that perhaps I wasn’t before, and I really do try to be available and make that known to them and to let them know that their hurts really are mine as well.

Does a passion for loving people sometimes conflict with the truth? For example, Jesus and Paul sometimes say very harsh things to people that don’t sound very compassionate. In those cases, it seems like compassion may be contrary to truth.

The answer is no. I don’t think it does. I do not think that those are conflicting actions on the part of Paul or Jesus. When you go to a doctor because you haven’t been feeling well and the fact is that you have a cancerous tumor and he, fearful of the pain that surgery would put upon you and fearful of the inconvenience and the financial burden it would impose, says, “Well, I have such compassion for you. I would really just take a couple of aspirin and here’s an antibiotic and we’ll see how things develop.”

Now, that’s not compassionate, although it may seem to be. The most compassionate thing that a doctor can do is say, “Now, look, you come back here next week and I’m going to gut you. Now I’m going to put you under anesthetic first, but I’m going to gut you and I’m going to dig inside and painfully remove that tumor, and I’m going to sew you back up, and you’re going to have to undergo chemotherapy, and it’s going to be a terrible financial burden, and you’re going to undergo a whole lot of pain.” That’s the most compassionate, loving thing that man can do for that particular patient. And the most compassionate thing that Paul could do for the man whom he delivered over to Satan was to deliver him over to Satan, because his desire was that his spirit might be saved on the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And the most compassionate thing that Jesus could do was to vent his anger and his righteous indignation on the money changers because in doing so, hopefully by God’s help and through the Holy Spirit, he awakened them to the hypocrisy of their deeds. So I don’t think that compassion and truth are inherently conflicting. I think that maybe we are the ones who put them in conflict when in fact they aren’t, and it’s just our failure to understand genuine compassion and genuine truth.

How might you define compassion in relation to how we minister to people?

I don’t know if I can give a definition, I’ve been asked that before. I think the definition I would give would simply be Jesus. Instead of trying to give you some sort of synonym that would define it, I would say, “Look at what Jesus did. How did he relate to people? How did he respond to them? How did he deal with their rejection of him? How did he handle the woman at the well? What did he do with Zacchaeus?” I see in concrete actions and in words that he spoke the best definition of compassion that I know, and I wouldn’t even know if I would even begin to define it in specific terms. I’d rather point to what he did.