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What Are You Looking For?

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

“‘Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.’ And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, "We will hear you again on this matter." So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:30-34).

One message, heard by all, brought about vastly different responses. Some scoffed, some said they would think about it and discuss it later, but some believed. What made the difference? The difference is not found in the message, but in the hearer. There was only one message, but there were numerous listeners.

Such is always the case. A message taught brings about varied responses. Generally it is not the message, but what the person is looking for. That is why Paul told the young preacher, Timothy, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (II Timothy 4:1-5).

I can sympathize with Timothy. I dislike controversy, but the fact is, if I do my duty to God, I’m going to stir some up at times because teaching the whole truth will require telling people their wrong when they sin. Since we all sin, the opportunities for stepping on toes, knowingly or unknowingly, will arise on occasion. As Paul told the Corinthians, after taking them to task over a variety of issues, “For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing” (II Corinthians 7:8-9). Does a preacher regret making people uncomfortable or even angry with the message he brings? Of course. But if it causes a change in course toward the better, then it is worth it.

When you come to services, what are you looking for? A pat on the back? Words to soothe your guilt? To hear the preacher give it to someone else? Or guidance toward heaven?

Ancient Israel failed to head the message of the prophets. They didn’t like what they heard. “Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city” (Matthew 23:34). Let us not follow that course. May we have tender hearts to hear the words of God and a desire to improve as we all journey toward home. Like others of faith, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).